For newcomers to Québec, finding a job can be a massive undertaking. Not only do they have to figure out how best to present their skills to recruiters, but they also have to build a network of contacts from scratch.
Faced with these challenges, many newcomers fall into certain traps that could have easily been avoided.
As I was preparing to write this article, I coincidentally received an email from Mohamed Amani, a newcomer to Québec from Algeria. In his home country, Mohamed had completed a master’s degree in management and had worked for several years as a training consultant. He was hoping that I could help him identify some employment opportunities in the region.
Unfortunately, I had no ideas in mind for Mohamed – but I did suggest that he tell me his story so that I could better understand his perspective as a recent immigrant.
Like many other people, Mohamed and his wife quit their jobs and left their home country to pursue a better life in Québec. They came with their two children, aged eight and five, and Mohamed’s mother.
Mohamed and I put together this list of pitfalls to avoid if you’re new to Québec and looking for work.
After creating this list, I reached out to Lida Aghasi, general manager of the Centre social d’aide aux immigrants (CSAI), who has been working with new immigrants for 16 years. She added valuable perspective to the conversation. Now: let’s get to the list!
1- Trying to move too fast
The first few months after arriving in a new country can be financially challenging. There are many costs to absorb and little or no revenue coming in. Making and managing a budget should be the first goal of any newcomer.
Immigrants often face other, unexpected challenges as well. For example, Mohamed had to pay for unexpected medical fees related to two fractured arms suffered by one of his kids after an accident at school.
If both parents find themselves looking for work at the same time, it can be very stressful for the whole family. But at this time, it’s crucial to not send out CVs to apply to any and every job opportunity without first making sure that the jobs being applied for align with one’s overall employment strategy.
For new immigrants to Québec, the first step in terms of finding employment is to become familiar with Québecois culture and to focus on developing relationships in the community, even if this means becoming a volunteer.
For her part, Lida advises newcomers to stabilize their situation before expending unnecessary energy and, if needed, to take a temporary job to help pay the bills and relieve some of the pressure.
With the help of an employment counselor, it can be possible to find personalized solutions to help with integration, for example a training program or an internship that will act as an introduction to North American culture.
The goal isn’t to learn new knowledge so much as it is to adapt one’s existing knowledge to a new environment. The simple fact of having had some experience in Québec’s education system will benefit newcomers in the future.
2- Trying to reorient your career too quickly
When he began looking for work in Québec, Mohamed decided to focus on the same industry that he worked in back in Algeria.
Lida says she sees many newcomers try to switch fields as soon as they arrive, believing that finding something in their chosen field would be too difficult, particularly if their profession is highly regulated. In those cases, people will often seek out any type of training that supposedly will help them enter the job market. These people are often influenced by advertisements online.
Above all, newcomers looking to change careers should first analyze their situation and identify exactly why they want to change fields.
It’s important to choose a field that is in line with one’s true aspirations and to think long-term when it comes to choosing a job. It can be tempting to choose a quick boost to your income in the short term rather than develop a strategy to achieve your long-term goals, but it’s worth the time and effort to invest in your future.
3- Being too formal in your relations with people
Newcomer who wants to come across as polite and friendly with the people they meet may adopt certain comportments that they believe to be good manners. For example, in some cultures, avoiding eye contact with someone is a way to show respect.
However, taking a too-formal approach can backfire: Some Québecois employers may perceive this as a sign of aloofness or distance, or think the candidate is being inauthentic.
Québec is known for a culture of workplace familiarity that puts less emphasis on hierarchy. It’s important for newcomers to adapt to this culture and act accordingly.
Here’s a tip for job seekers: if an employer addresses you with the familiar “tu” as opposed to the formal “vous”, respond in kind, even if it feels a little awkward at first.
4- Trying to conform rather than stand out
To successfully integrate into a community, some degree of conformity with local norms is a must. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t try to squeeze yourself into the mold at any cost. If you do, you run the risk of losing your personality completely.
Mohamed says that for newcomers, the knowledge and know-how that they’ve acquired previously can seem superfluous in their new country.
But our knowledge of self and our values continue to exist and apply to the world around us, and they never lose their value. This is a universal experience.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to know how to focus on those things that form the core of our identity and to build a strategy around these distinctive forces.
A newcomer is more likely to find their place by showing their creativity rather than doing what everyone else is doing.
5- Letting yourself get discouraged
Mohamed stresses that it’s very important to surround yourself with positive people who love and like you for who you are, and to not allow yourself to be involved in toxic relationships.
For example, some of Mohamed’s fellow immigrants have a fatalistic outlook when it comes to finding a job. They weren’t able to achieve their own goals and, as a result, have a tendency to make generalizations about the job market. Rather than encouraging each other and finding new paths forward, they often revert to simply criticizing Québec employers.
As a newcomer, it’s challenging enough to keep morale up when few positive results are manifesting themselves. You need the support of a positive environment.
Lida agrees. For this reason, meeting an employment counselor can be helpful, since their job is to be positive and not make value judgments about other people. A nonjudgmental employment counselor can be a source of comfort at a critical moment.
I’ll finish with Lida’s advice:
I want to stress that unlike many other places, in Québec, we’re fortunate to have access to free professional services paid for by the government.
So why not take advantage of those resources?
Thanks again to Lida Aghasi, general manager of the Centre social d’aide aux immigrants and Mohamed Amani, job seeker, for their help in writing this article.
By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens