Category Archives: It was already said…

6 Questions You Need to Answer When Starting Over in a New Country

A friend recently told me that any decent person would have a list of questions or would follow some kind of checklist when they decide to make a big change, any change. What about you? Big changes dig at our own being, they sculpt and model us, but we must understand how much of this sculpting work can be controlled and we must have the necessary tools.

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Starting over in a new country has harsh ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and no matter how ready we thought we were, it will give us a bit of a shake down the road. In a blog article I was reading just yesterday, 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself, I came across a topic we have discussed in several group training sessions: being yourself. The impact this has on someone who is moving and starting over in a new country is huge, for one of the biggest challenges in life is bearing to be yourself. Because it is so much easier to pretend to be this or that, to ignore those thoughts knocking at you from time to time, to pretend this doesn’t matter or that doesn’t count. Yet standing up for what we are, acknowledging what we are not, passionately offering what we can give, taking responsibility for the promises we make – are all steps that only seem to be simple. These promises are the result of extensive research and realistic assessments, but what we don’t take into account during the planning stage is the new perspective we will gain after. Yes, after spending up to one year in the new country. And this new perspective will override some of our initial assessments and will require a new start.

It is challenging to determine exactly what one should expect once in a new country. Let’s call it Canada this time. Looking at the questions below, I thought this is far from being a comprehensive list, but it is meant to be an organic one. A living one – the kind that should get inside you and change itself according to your own needs, living behind a natural instinct of what needs to be done.

These steps are mainly focused on your career development, on how to obtain relevant employment faster and are barely meant to provide more terrain for your further research.

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1. Are you ready to start your life in Canada from a settlement point of view? This may translate as well into “are you ready to focus on your career?” Allow time for settlement specific issues and do not rush through it. Those who are taking their time to settle and learn more about their new environment have proved to be more successful in their next steps. The allotted time and financial needs for this period should be planned in advance and given the required importance. Several websites, including those made available by the Citizenship and Immigration, provide extensive resources and links that take you through the medical care system, planning of finances, getting to know the taxation system, finding a place to live, enrolling your children in school or daycare and other tips on adjusting to your new life in Canada. When you can honestly check-mark as “done” all the issues in this chapter, you are ready to focus on your career path.

2. Have you assessed your language skills against your profession and the level you wish to work at? Many times, as newcomers, we assess our technical skills, we evaluate our credentials, but we forget to look at what are the industry / professional communication and language requirements or norms for our specific occupation or a specific position that we are interested in. While an excellent IELTS score is good to have, all it means is that you can communicate at a certain level. What are the accepted norms (these may vary from one province to another)? And most importantly, what do we do if we are not there yet? Planning how to overcome this barrier includes talking to professionals in your own field of expertise. Relying purely on the advice of your relatives and friends will show a lack of initiative and poor research skills.

3. Have you met with a career / employment professional to start shaping out your career path? This involves extensive labour market research on your side, with professional help and advice. Understanding what the labour market projections are for the next 10 to 15 years is really important and you need to have a long term plan that encompasses your international experience and education and is pointing towards a “dream” job. Yes, you are allowed to be bold… in a realistic and humble way. This is not always easy to achieve, but if you believe in it, if this is what you are really good at, you will certainly get there. Receiving professional help in assessing your strong transferable skills and setting certain steps to help you move forward is quite important. Make sure to take into consideration alternative careers that make sense from the point of view of accumulating the much required local work experience as well as acquiring new skills and broadening your professional network.

4. Do you feel comfortable and confident when taking about your profession, experience, and skills? Writing a decent Resume and Cover Letter is crucial, yet only one of the first steps. Once done, you will need to take it to the next level and work out a way to talk about your work experiences. Make sure you are using specific professional terms (relevant to your industry) and adequate communication skills – to nail that right first impression. Tell your story in a beautiful way. Do your research and be ready to make pertinent comments when it comes to compare how the same occupation is seen in different industries, or in different countries, or when it comes to compare credentials obtained internationally with those current in your new country. Provide specific examples. Make sure you know the licensing process well and do not complain or use negative comments during your conversation with a local professional. Someone comes across as confident and qualified, when they manage to be positive about their career path, no matter how difficult or long this path may look at the present time.

5. Have you met with at least five professionals working in the occupation you target? Having a diverse and real perspective on the future of your chosen career is crucial. No matter how much you read about it, not matter how precise the statistics in one or the other area might be, no matter the test you just passed successfully, you will not be able to have a good grasp on the profession you are getting ready to practice in your new country unless you talk to people who are in that same position for at least 5 years. They will provide you with examples and unique stories, therefore, the more people you are able to interview on this topic, the better. Again, in order to be able to complete this task successfully, you will have to undergo some training on how to successfully set up, conduct, and follow up on an Informational Interview.

6. What will a potential employer say about your online presence? There is so much talk going on about the Personal Branding, many of us are quite in the fog thinking what exactly this is and why is there so much expected of us? We are just individuals, not companies. We don’t have a marketing consultant on hand to come up with branding statements. The short answer is, whether you agree or disagree, with the intoxicating raise of various social media platforms – your online presence matters more than you think. Employers will eventually look at your personal brand as being a matching part of their own brand, and that is based on the fact that a company is shaped by its people, by its employees. It happened many times that a change at the management level, followed by a change in the hiring process, brought vital changes in the workplace culture of a company, which in the end ceased to be what it used to be. Therefore, when it comes to hiring a new employee, most employers are now considering several aspects they didn’t have to worry about a decade ago.

Published by Magdalena Mot on http://skillsconnect.wordpress.com

Workplace Culture & Team Dynamics

Canadian employers mention in almost every job description a preference towards someone who is a ‘team player.’ In turn, this is mentioned so often in a resume, that it got moved to a few buzzword lists in 2013. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop displaying our ‘team player’ abilities in our job applications; it only means we should describe these abilities via specific examples or explicit results. In Henry Ford’s words, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”. In a classic definition, successful teams are made up of effective individuals, who are open to address various problems and are action oriented. Now, for a team to be successful, its members have to be able to give and receive feedback in a comfortable environment where they can communicate honestly and openly. Sounds a bit like a fairy tale, eh? Well, don’t be so surprised, this theory is applied and actually functioning well in many work environments. For that reason, when we are new to a workplace culture, the best way to spend our time would be by learning and adding to our knowledge of that local workplace culture. Ideally, we should get to the point where we can actually understand the dynamics of a team working in its specific culture. Yet many of us just take things for granted, thinking about what we know already, about all the countries we visited so far, about all of the experiences we’ve had, and so forth. Instead, we should really ponder the missing pieces of this puzzle. A successful team player is focused on the future steps, on what was omitted, on what needs to be done to cover the gaps. In contrast, nostalgic team members will usually focus on the past. It is said that teams are often divided into high performers and low performs – see more on this topic in Mark Murphy’s book Hiring for Attitude1231

By now, my cherished reader, you’ll be ready to argue that the entire philosophy is coming down to the leadership style. By all means, an effective team leadership will ensure a collaborative climate and will build confidence of team members, managing performance through relevant, constructive feedback. Many times, team members will need to learn more about the team dynamics. Or as new members they will need to quickly integrate into the existing team and team building activities will come into play to help it move from the ‘storming’ phase back to its ‘performing’ stage (Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development may provide more context into this topic). Western workplace culture loves these activities and they are meant to improve how the team works together. Team building is not the equivalent of ‘team recreation’ (which consists of activities that are purely recreational) and should be regarded as a set of activities that will benefit team members’ self-development, positive communication, and the ability to work closely together as a team to solve a problem. To learn more about team building activities specific to our west coast workplace culture run a Google search and I promise you’ll have plenty to learn about. You may also take a look at Lawrence G. Fine’s book on Team Building.
How can a newcomer learn more about a new workplace culture? Volunteer. Participate in all kinds of events. Conduct Informational Interviews. Make friends outside your close circles/ communities. Bristle at prejudices. We’ve heard many times people mentioning the ‘Catch 22′ situation, where job seekers have a hard time to obtain that very first job because of the lack of local work experience, and how are they supposed to get that local experience if nobody gives them a chance. Yet experience tells us that all of us did eventually get into that first job. Some sooner, some latter. Some will move up fast, some will do it slowly, and some will just stay there. And again, experience tells us that this usually comes down to preparation levels. Commitment. Consistency. It comes down to “are you really ready to perform in this job?” A combination of good knowledge of Canadian workplace culture + excellent presentation skills + self-confidence + unpretentiousness will eventually get you that first professional position. It is well known that many newcomers think it takes technical skills + knowledge + intelligence to secure that position and they bid everything on this particular skill set. Unfortunately it is not the card we want to play. With all the excitement that follows an interview invitation, we forget that this is a meeting where 10 or 5 other people (the number is irrelevant, since there is just one position) are invited to, and they have the exact same technical skills (or very similar). We forget that the interview will primarily assess our soft skills, our ability to be part of a team – a team we don’t know anything about. Because we did not consider taking the time to do the research or because we did not know it was available to us. And this is why, with a poor knowledge of the local workplace culture, with the habit of making assumptions, when a candidate has the unique chance to meet with an employer, instead of selling apples (which is what the employer expects), s/he will sell oranges. Beautiful, shiny, ripe ones. Only it is not what the employer is looking for.

(by Magdalena Mot – initially published on http://skillsconnect.wordpress.com)

SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference

One amazing situation/question passed on by our audience at SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference last Saturday: In this competitive labour market, where everyone is so driven, so talented, so educated, and so willing to show s/he has the skills and passion to do the job, how do we, as candidates, distinguish ourselves, how do we find that unique side we all supposedly have?SFU-B2B

Theodore Roosevelt’s words, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there” stand strong when I think about this. We would all benefit from each others’ thoughts on this topic, so I consider the front open to answers and comments. As far as I’m concerned, there are not two people alike, not even after a so called “superficial” 5 minutes conversation. We’re usually not doing a good enough job at getting to know ourselves, and that doesn’t stop at youth or digital gen, but applies to all of us, thus we need help from others (anyone who can be completely honest will do) and we need to access/use available personality tests, such as MBTI, Personality Dimensions etc., to run a comprehensive research on ourselves. We need to start with understanding ourselves, this comes first. When we have a chance to talk to prospective employers at an event, they will see certain traits in us right away (surveys say it’s a game of seconds). We need to be able to help them see the rest of our abilities and soft skills, and we need to be able to convey that in a certain way, we need to become good at displaying it. Not that we should fake it, but do you recall any memories of imagining yourself at this event or party, walking elegant, talking with confidence, smiling, and all that in only a few seconds of keeping your eyes closed? Yeah, that kind of day dreaming.

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Then reality kicks in, and at the same event we have just imagined ourselves shining, we stumble in things, or people, or just mumble what was supposed to be a glorious speech. When we look back, we think “gosh, I should’ve said that!” Something’s missing, eh? Yes, you’ve got it, it’s called practice. A gold medal doesn’t come without hard work and lots of perspiration, so imagine the job you dream of is your gold medal. Fight for it. Think about your story. Have it ready. Say it with confidence. One of the students told me he kept a job along to pay for his own studies and I could see the sparkle in his eyes, he was proud of what he has achieved. I liked that. So use your story, make it beautiful, tell your friends about it, become a natural at taking about it. A short and compelling story, told from your heart. That is what will differentiate you from others. People remember stories, and while not all of us can be a good story teller – here’s the good news – most of us have improved by working at it. Once you became good at it – you may add this to your soft skills set.
Good luck!

When in Rome, do as the Romans

If you’re one of those who had a great time at the BC Professional Immigrant Conference this past Saturday at Hilton Vancouver Metrotown, you should read on. Have you missed this event? Then you should read anyway and try to expand your network / become more active on various social platforms, so you don’t miss similar future occasions. New Vancouverites – professionals trained all over the world – came to learn about how to be successful in their new home country. If in theory it’s quite simple – When in Rome, do as the Romans – practice proved as differently. To me, this event was great on a few different levels: I’ve reconnected with some old friends and some of my colleagues I haven’t seen since the Career Development Conference last year, met a few of my former clients from Richmond – so happy to learn about their success stories and even happier they came to see me, made a few new connections, was able to present on such a dynamic topic as Social Media, and to help some of the participants who stayed behind with questions. IMG_0268As a participant on the other hand, I was happy to meet Lionel Laroche, the keynote speaker and the author of – among others – Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions. He addressed an audience of over 500 participants on the topic of Succeeding in Canada. Laroche emphasized many of the points we bring up during our counselling sessions at Skills Connect, yet wrapped in some great stories, these points have moved the audience – myself included – from smiling, to laughing, and to noises specific to suddenly surprised crowds. The learning curve an immigrant expects to go through when s/he arrives to Canada is somewhere from 6 to 12 months, but in reality, as per Lionel’s discourse, this can go up to around 6 to 7 years or more. Once those numbers uttered, I looked around me and I could sense a heavy and silent shock, some heads moved slowly from left to right and back, some sighed heavily, some chins dropped down. As someone who has been here long enough, I could see Lionel’s point very clearly, but this is a hard to accept reality. On the bright side though, as a career advisor, I must say I have experienced beautiful success stories of people who managed to get all settled in a good position in less than a year. Not very many, however. And no matter how fine that position was, it was still at a lower level then what they did before moving to Canada. In a charmingly plain graphic representation, Lionel Laroche illustrated how along this learning and acclimatization curve, some factors proved to be more important than others, and among the central ones we find – again – the language skills and the soft skills. As a newcomer, as soon as you manage to tune your soft skills up to the standards of your new home country and as soon as you manage to develop your communication skills, you’re good to go. Many immigrants come to Canada with really high technical skills. When they fail at securing a professional position, their first attempt to fix this situation is to go back to school to take those technical skills one step higher. And this is unfortunate. Bringing-up an inspiring story about his own start-up in Canada, Lionel Laroche emphasized how it truly is the soft skills newcomers should tackle and improve, not the technical ones. I really enjoyed listening to this stimulating keynote presentation and it is my hope that all the participants have left the venue with some precious information in their pockets. If what you have learned has both inspired and moved you, don’t sleep on it for too long – get started, you’re the master of your own future! If there are questions that worry you, then seek professional advice and try to move on, make a plan and follow it, as time does not forgive. And I’ll conclude with a quote from the American author Wayne Dyer: Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal, live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone.

by Magdalena Mot

Did You Consider an Informational Interview?

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Well, most of those I have asked, would say something like “I’ve never heard of it. What is an Informational Interview?” An Informational Interview is a business meeting between two professionals, with the purpose of learning more about an occupation, a specific role, or a company. What makes this interview uniquely useful is the nature of the information you gather. Not only will this be specific to a certain geographic area, but it will also speak to a particular life experience. This type of meeting can be arranged by a third person (by referral) or directly between two professionals: one seeking information and the other willing to help and provide it. The informational interview is usually very short and the purpose of the meeting has to be clearly outlined to your interviewee from the very beginning. For example, if you are an internationally trained engineer, you may want to conduct at least 15 informational interviews with professionals working in the same filed, but in your new country/ location. There are so many things, besides the licensing process, that you may find rather different and your path needs to start with understanding these differences. An Informational Interview helps less experienced professionals, such as new graduates, to have their questions answered by someone who is seasoned and has at least 5 years of experience in a certain position/ filed. This is a exceptional way to exchange ideas and learn directly from the source. How can you schedule such an interview? By all means, there are very strict rules to go about it, especially if you want to succeed. To begin with, you need to conduct extensive research to identify your target organizations/ professionals and learn more about them. Carefully analyze your intentions. You’re mistaken if you think that an informational interview is a job search activity, don’t set yourself for failure. These meetings are meant to help you create a professional network, build relationships, and expand your understanding while shaping your own path success. Therefore, to schedule an appointment, you may contact the selected interviewee by telephone or someone may introduce you. When calling, it is preferable to try a few times before leaving a voice message, especially if you did not have a chance to meet this person before. LinkedIn direct messages or email may be other options for the first contact, but most would prefer a phone call.

What are the steps? You need to know how to introduce yourself (remember that elevator pitch you practiced?) and have outlined a clear way of presenting the purpose of your request. Be flexible and set the time of the meeting around the schedule of the professional you’re going to interview. Make sure to specify that this would be a very short meeting, 15 to 20 minutes, and can be easily done during a coffee break. The preferred location would be at the workplace of the interviewed professional, as this will help you learn even more about the workplace, but if this is not possible, a coffee shop or cafeteria nearby may work as well. Sometimes people agree to be interviewed over the phone and you may conduct your interview this way, but most don’t find it as effective as a face-to-face and I don’t really recommend it, unless you have no other choice.
You’ve been successful in setting up the meeting. What’s next? Research, of course. Based on information about that specific organization you can easily reach, you will need to come up with 12 to 14 questions to be asked during the Informational Interview. To ensure efficiency, have them ready or even print them off. This meeting has to stay short and respect the time frames agreed upon beforehand. Please note that time is a very sensitive matter and you risk to make a poor impression and ruin everything ion case you will not abide by the agreed schedule. The questions you can ask may vary from position specific to organization/ workplace specific, feel free to look at other resources available on this topic or talk to a career advisor if accessible.
What do you gain? You will leave with invaluable information about your targeted occupation and, most likely, about that employer/ organization. How will you organize and use this information it’s totally up to you, but if well organized, your informational interviews will help you tremendously in the long run: at a certain point in the future you may interview with that organization and, as a job candidate, you will have inside information and the advantage of knowing firsthand what other candidates may not know. Moreover, you will be able to keep in touch with people in your field and expand your connections. Keep in mind that building trust takes time, created relationships will not become your trusted network overnight. Set realistic long-term goals and follow your strategic career development plan step by step. My grandma use to say – big things don’t happen overnight, there is always an incubation time, so be patient.
Why bother? You’d ask me now why spend so much time and energy planning and conducting these informational interviews? And you are right, they do take lots of time. Yet this is easy to explain, as we all know that good things don’t come easy. I also have a great quote that speaks for all it’s been already said: If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 6 sharpening the axe (Abraham Lincoln). If it happens you are new to B.C., trying to find a position that matches your personality and skills, consider that this may take lots of preparation.

Magdalena Mot