CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Getting past the "Canadian experience" wall

By Shannon Jackson
Special to The Toronto Sun

It has been said that Toronto has the best-educated taxi drivers in the world. As a recruiter, I have found some of the greatest talent available in the city driving cabs, or behind the counters of corner stores. This is because Canada imports highly skilled workers, but fails to effectively use their talent.

There is no question about it -- job searching isn't much fun. The process of "sending yourself to market", to be analyzed and evaluated by recruiters or hiring managers, is stressful for anyone. Further complicate the nervousness of the job search with the frustration of being told that the years of professional experience you've acquired in another country doesn't count anymore, and you have what thousands of IEPs (internationally educated professionals) face daily in Ontario.
Shannon Jackson

If you are, or have spoken with, an IEP, you may have heard the concern. It can take months to land an interview, only to be passed over for a lack of "Canadian experience".

The good news is, if you are called in for an interview, the person you're meeting has likely already reviewed your resume (and knows your experience is international) and has decided to meet with you. Recruiters and hiring managers are busy, and aren't likely to interview you if they aren't interested in hiring you. If you are rejected after the interview, something is going wrong in the hour you are with them.

Several things will be evaluated throughout the interview. First, an interviewer is seeking to better understand a candidate's knowledge, skills and abilities, and how well they might meet the demands of the job. The interviewer is also investigating the applicant's interest in the vacant position. These explorations will help an interviewer determine whether the candidate can, and will, do the job effectively.

Also assessed during that critical meeting is the "fit" between the personality of the individual and the culture of the organization. Will they get along well with their co-workers? Do their values, beliefs and interests seem to match those of the company? Will they "fit in"?

This "fit" is evaluated largely through a candidate's ability to build rapport with the interviewer. It is that "gut feeling" that an interviewer has about an applicant after the interview. Simply stated, it is based largely on whether or not the interviewer likes the candidate.

It's estimated that, in the traditional interview, a hiring decision is made during the first seven minutes of the meeting. Couple that with the fact that interviewers are often trained to spend the first five minutes of an interview "building rapport", and we have a scenario where hiring decisions are based on about two minutes of skill discussion. A recruiter's responsibility should be to adjust how they build rapport to suit the candidate, though this isn't usually how it's done. Recruiters are trained to make "small talk" -- that seemingly meaningless chatter about the weather and directions, in order to relax a job seeker. Meaningless, perhaps, but if it takes five minutes of the seven-minute decision-making period, it is critical to a job seeker's success.

This is where a number of IEPs are hitting the "Canadian experience" wall. Small talk is largely a phenomenon of Western culture, and presents a real challenge for some IEPs. Instead of engaging in a discussion, IEPs often answer questions like "Is it still snowing?" with a one-word "Yes". A few one-word answers, and the rapport is out the window. The recruiter loses in that they may miss the best-qualified person for the job. The candidate loses more.

My advice to all IEP job seekers is simple. First, recognize that rapport-building small talk at the onset of an interview is important to your success. If you are uncomfortable with what seems like useless conversation at the beginning of an interview, practice. It may be what is keeping you from the opportunity you are seeking.

The best place to practice small talk? Take a trip to the mall and engage in conversation with retail clerks. Become familiar/comfortable with this rapport building conversation where you have nothing to lose. Then, take that skill to your next interview.

(Shannon Jackson is the national recruitment manager for Manpower Services Inc., the world's leading provider of higher value staffing services and quality employment opportunities.)

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