My First Job Search in Canada

Done with Dubai:

If you migrated to Canada from Dubai or any other place in the middle east, the irony is quite stark. You relocate to Dubai from whatever place on earth, only if you have a job in hand while on the other hand, 99 % of us arrived in Canada with a job not even on the distant horizon.

So, here I was full of swag and happy in my job in a senior managerial position at an advertising agency in Dubai. Then 2008 global financial meltdown happened and suddenly all the jobs in Dubai started going South. With no light at all at the end of the Shindagha tunnel till the year 2010, we decided that a permanent relocation to the immigrant friendly Canada would be a right move for our family of four.

Although it took couple of years for all the procedures and approvals to come through, we arrived in Toronto on a sort of ‘ feel the waters trip’ of ten days in the Spring of 2013. The ‘first landing ‘was now officially done and dusted.

Now,the fun began…. Except for my old college friend who was settled in Canada for last two decades, we did not know a soul in the whole country.So,to get a hang of the place, we spoke to everybody and anybody we came in contact with. Starting from the airport taxi chap who brought us to our downtown hotel, to the front desk personnel at the same hotel or the guy/gal who came down to have a smoke outside the hotel at the same time as I did… and many others who were willing to speak with us.

The questions were about pros and cons of life in Canada.The responses were remarkably consistent across the spectrum. Pros… Excellent place to raise a family and for kids’ education, superb quality of life, fair and free society. The cons were…. very high taxes, harsh weather and job insecurity.

So we were like..ok we get insecurity but newcomers do get jobs in their chosen profession,right?The responses were once again remarkably consistent…Roll of the eyes and, ‘ Are you kidding me ‘!! You don’t choose a profession…the profession chooses you, if you are lucky. In other words, you take whatever jobs came your way and then climb your way up. It’s the norm, they said…sort of cast in the Canadian snow.

The euphoria felt by the thought of moving to Canada and becoming a Canadian was now officially over within my family.

The trip back to Dubai via Abu Dhabi on a half empty Etihad flight was spent in silence watching ‘Big Bang Theory’ and ‘ Homeland ‘ on the in-flight entertainment system and contemplating whether the decision to abandon the Middle East in favor of the Commonwealth would prove to be a stupidity of Donald Trumpish proportions.

BienVenue Au Canada:

The die was however cast and there was no turning back. However we did decide to put our conservative, safety and security first, upbringing to good use and so again a family decision was taken.

I would shift to Canada, lock stock and barrel…wife and two kids would continue to be in Dubai for at-least six more months and ‘inshallah’ by then I would be settled well enough so that their transition to Canada would not be filled with anxiety amidst an air of helplessness brought about by joblessness.

The internet once again became our best friend and aided by my better half, I began taking steps that would facilitate the job search in Toronto. Our novice research revealed that few steps were essential before one moved to .CA domain from .AE

These included, growing your linked in network to include as many professionals and professional groups from your profession,registering online at Govt of Canada funded job facilitating organizations like Costi, Access,Career Edge and others. All these organizations have been created for the sole purpose of helping the newcomers and they do their job quite admirably.

We also attended a totally free, two day seminar at Hyatt Dubai, organized by Canadian Immigrants Integration Programme( CIIP)  in which besides other things, expert professionals provided helpful information and proven tips about how to go about landing a job in one’s chosen profession.

The net also proved to be quite a dampener as there were countless first person account about how tough and almost impossible it was to find a job in one’s area of expertise and how regretful people were about choosing to leave a settled professional and personal life in their home country to become struggling newcomers in Canada, dipping into their hard earned savings.

The ‘Canadian Experience’:

July 2014.It was Al Wada or farewell Dubai and Hello Canada! Rented a bachelor apartment which was ‘steps to ‘ both Bloor/Yonge and Sherbourne TTC @ $ 975 per month plus Hydro.The idea was to stay as close to the transit and downtown core to facilitate physical aspect of the job search.

Went to meet my guidance counselor at Costi’s Keel branch and the first thing that she said, after going through by CV was….Unfortunately in Canada we don’t have CVs, we have  Resumes !

She then introduced me to their in house resume expert whose only job was to very politely tell all the newcomers like me that our almost 20 years’ of work experience, condensed and crafted into four pages of Curriculum Vitae was totally unacceptable in a country…which otherwise prides itself on its freedom of expression and respecting the ‘different-ness’ of its people.

Very solemnly, he declared that for me to have any realistic chance of having my resume even glanced at by a recruiter or a hiring manager, it was important to North Americanize the resume by…Limiting it to a single page or two pages at the most if i must, cutting out all the job responsibilities and focusing entirely on the job accomplishments in the various jobs/capacities.

In simple words the prospective employers were only interested in how many dollars you made or saved for your company!! I was also encouraged to leave out the geographical locations of the previous jobs out of the resume.

So, back and forth bounced my draft Canadian resume over several emails spread over couple of weeks before I finally had my first ever, ‘made in Canada’ resume ready to be floated into the big bad world of Canadian job market.

But wait …. this was just 10% of mission accomplished. The absolute, must do task now was to ‘customize’ this resume for each possible job opening that I was keen to apply for. Which meant that if I wanted to apply for ten different positions, I had to create ten different resumes conforming to each of these openings.

Each of these resumes needed to necessarily contain the keywords ie the desired characteristics advertised in the job opening or else the digital ‘resume guru’ would simply trash my Bio Data….Oops sorry… the Resume.

This was not the end of my woes.Each of these ten resumes needed to be accompanied by a suitable bespoke covering letter. So ten covering letters for ten resumes to apply for ten positions!!

I got the distinct impression that i was going to spend the next five years simply creating different resumes and covering letters. When would I actually start working and start providing for my family as well as contributing towards building a better Canada was probably still a very rhetorical question.

To be very sure, even after 3-4 weeks of churning out resumes and covering letters by the sacksful, my iPhone did not ring even once. I did score a lot of regret letters telling me how great my resume was..blah blah blah but unfortunately it did not match the current job requirements blah blah blah and encouraging me to keep applying in the future and wishing me all the best.blah blah blah.

However, one lazy afternoon I was able to get a living breathing headhunter on the phone. We chatted purposefully until she came to know that I did not have any work history in Canada. “Oh oh I am sorry, my client is looking for a candidate with some ‘Canadian experience’ for this position”, she said. I reminded her that I had already disclosed that I was new to the country and Canadian experience was exactly what I was looking for. That was the last time I ever heard from her.

And so it went, the same story again and again…Majorly there was no response and the ones who did reply or called to re confirm certain resume details cried off citing lack of Canadian experience. No job without Canadian experience and Canadian experience possible only if one has a job. A proper conundrum if ever and it sure looked as if I was headed down the path on which many newcomers trudged…. A survival job at McDonalds/Tim Hortons, security guard at a warehouse/construction site.

In between all these culture shocks, there were a lot of good networking sessions that I attended in the downtown Toronto area, all of them free of cost. I am not big in handing out unsolicited advice but would strongly urge all newcomers to register with Prepare for Canada and with CAMP, if you are from the world of marketing/advertising.

I also benefited greatly from the mentor-mentee program offered by Costi in partnership with TRIEC. As part of this Costi was able to pair me up with a mentor who was a seasoned marketing professional at Telus Communications.Mr Dhaval Vedia gave me his valuable time and provided priceless insights about work culture and work place atmosphere in a typical Canadian company and also resume & covering letter writing skills.

Very soon, my first Canadian winter loomed and so did my great depression. I was well and truly between a rock and hard place. It was back to the net once again and I gathered that volunteering  was a good way to get that ever elusive Canadian experience.So,for the first time in my life I offered my professional expertise,’ Voluntarily’ to a Community Centre,Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, helping them improve their website and building a social media presence.

Did It really help? Can’t really say as my responsibilities were mostly handled from home but I was not complaining as I was at least gaining some very welcome albeit virtual, Canadian workplace experience.

The name of the game, as any old timer would tell you is to hunker down and hang in there and before you know things change because hey…Lady luck was also a Canadian immigrant once!

It’s now 2016 and I have just completed one year plus a little more of a ‘paid job’ at a leading South Asian media house in Canada. How did I get this break? My guess is that… probably somebody was willing to take a bet on me as somebody, many years back took a bet on them. As Prime Minister Trudeau said not too long ago,’ This is Canada and better is always possible’.


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