job hunting

When Canada Sucks…

What will make today even better than yesterday?

I got a surprise this week when I went to track down a blog I was following.  I thought I had subscribed, and so should be getting updates, but then I realized The Budgie Spirit had been very quiet for a while, so I dived deep into the blogosphere to find her.

Turns out I’ve missed quite a bit.  After 4 turbulent months in our fair city, these new immigrants returned to England in 2011, and should by now be enjoying the benefits of great cheese, cheap wine and a new baby.  Their decision was hard to make, and Budgie’s writing is thoughtful and somewhat regretful.  What I particularly like (being very sensitive about my wonderful home) is the very positive way this couple left us and how happy they are “back home”, but a few of the comments about their struggles with Vancouver sounded very familiar.

Budgie talks about how hard it is to make friends in a new city.  They lived at the University of British Columbia (UBC), which is somewhat isolated, then in Kitsilano which is anything but isolated.  Although the speed of life in Vancouver is nothing compared to London, Paris or even Basingstoke, this is still a city, with city attitudes and busy people.  The only ones not busy are the panhandlers and crazies, and even some of them seem to have a packed schedule of mumbling, cussing and stumbling into the road.  We had the advantage of the Magical Introduction Makers, otherwise known as children – wherever we go, we will make friends through school, playdates, kids clubs and random people our kids attract on the beach.  Without them, we would not have moved to the complex we chose because of the large number of children living there, thus immediately making some great friends.  Without them, bless their hearts, I think we would have struggled in the same way.  Without children, try setting up some contacts before you come; expat websites like Internations, or friends of friends who might be willing to lend a supportive hand.

Another factor was the job market.  Mr Budgie (Ed) was let go from his job after only a few months, which was a devastating blow.  Emigrating is an expensive business, and when you need that job, it is no comfort to read on the ex-pat forums that it can take 6-9 months to get a paycheck.  Dim is job hunting again after his last company went under, and it’s a depressing business.  He’s been going to a few workshops and at one, they discussed the unionized environment.  Through my work in HR, he has heard enough about my opinions of Unions, but his co-searchers at the workshop were surprised that the existence of strong Unions is often the reason fresh blood can’t find a way into the company.  “But I thought Unions were supposed to help!” cried one confused jobseeker.  They are, but they help those who are currently employed, and that means a lot of internal promotion and moves, and few opportunities for those who don’t want to come in at the ground level.  The flipside of that particular coin is getting a job in a non-unionized company, and losing the stability because they can let you go too easily.  One of the statistics Dim learned was that 80% of positions are never even posted – they are filled through networking or internal moves, so make sure you make friends, join professional associations and follow up contacts.

And finally, Food.  The Budgie Spirit is written by a Frenchwoman, and if anyone appreciates good food, it is the French.  I really sympathized with her initial reaction to the Vancouver grocery scene – over-priced, over-packaged foods in silly over-large stores.  We also suffered when we realized that our new life would not include as much chicken, no orange squash, no decent cheese and no chocolate.  We couldn’t even drown our sorrows because the wine was so expensive, and why would it be expensive?  It’s made right here in BC!

Gradually we came to terms, found substitutes where we could and learned to live without where necessary.  We changed our shopping habits to find the best value and discovered many wonderful new foods and dishes.  When we returned to England last year, the younger children could not even remember orange squash.  It helped that we were not passionate foodies, in the same way that we are not passionate about pubs or football or soap operas, the other major ingredients for expat misery and homesickness.  I covered this in “What You Can’t Get”, and it’s worth considering what is really important to you before you even make the decision to emigrate.

This couple had the worst experience of emigrating, but in no way failed.  They discovered a lot of great things about Vancouver – free stuff on Craigslist, yoga, the great outdoors.  I am still convinced that a smooth emigration is 90% luck, and you can plan as much as you like, but if luck is not on your side, you may have to accept a long, hard struggle, or a short stay and a quick return.  Don’t go burning any bridges – you might find yourself heading back over them sooner than you might wish!

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10 Things You Need To Know About Jobhunting

I first posted about job hunting some time ago, and a request for job hunting tips reminded me that this is a hot topic that needs updating regularly.  So, although I am not currently looking for a job, here are some ideas from one who survived the job search and is now one of the managers who might just be deciding your future!

Tip 1:  When we moved here, I budgeted for 3 months out of work.  It took 6 months.  Everyone I have spoken to since has said “It always takes 6 months to land a job here.” Why?  I don’t know.

Tip 2:  A Canadian resume is like a British CV, but there are subtle differences.  I eventually landed a job going with a Functional layout, rather than the traditional Chronological, but if you don’t want me to get all technical, just research on all the great web resources and get the resume right.  It is best to get someone to read through both your resume and covering letter (each application needs a fresh covering letter and resume targetted to the specific position and, most importantly, addressed to the right person and company); spelling and grammar mistakes make a big dent in the first impression.

Tip 3:  I didn’t bother getting my qualifications converted before we moved here because it’s very expensive and I’m a generalist, but after 5 months unemployed, I was prepared to pay!  I translated my qualifications on my resume, to give prospective employers some idea of the levels (GCSEs = High School Diploma etc).  If you are a specialist, it pays to get the conversion documents before you start applying for jobs.

Tip 4:  You will need an internet connection from the start.  I used all the main search sites (workopolis, monster, vancouverjobshop), and checked all the recruiting pages of the companies or local government agencies I wanted to work at.  The Provincial and National sites are great (bcjobs, Government jobs, workbc), and a lot of companies use Craigslist, although you must beware of the many scams posted there.

Tip 5:  The job search landscape seems different to me – it’s a highly unionized workforce, but personal recommendation is the way to go.  Networking and forcing introductions pays dividends.  The job hunt process is more personal too – follow up applications with a phone call, follow interviews immediately with a thank you email or card – things that felt pushy in the UK but are expected here.  Now that I am doing the recruiting, I push good prospects to send me their resume and I network to spot the next great addition to my flock.  I heard on the CBC News today that 80% of jobs in British Columbia are “hidden”.  That is, they are never posted, but are filled through networking, personal recommendations or head hunts.  A common tactic is to contact the company you want to work for and request an informational interview with someone in your chosen area (use the company website to find the right name).  Gather information about what qualifications they are seeking and how best to present yourself.  At best, they will like you and offer you a job.  At worst, they will refuse to see you (politely, because we are Canadian).

Tip 6:  The traditional view is that you will take a career and salary step down when you emigrate.  You should expect this.  Even with outstanding written and spoken English and great qualifications, even in the multicultural melting pot of Vancouver, employers are cautious of the unfamiliar.  I couldn’t see how I could be unfamiliar – we were all speaking the same language, and using the same skills after all.  That was until I started sending my first emails at work, and receiving puzzled requests for translation – many of our quaint old phrases haven’t made it across the pond, but you can win over anyone with a carefully placed “Blimey.”

Tip 7:  I joined a couple of agencies to get some temping work, and was very disappointed.  Perhaps my timing was wrong but I eventually got picked up by a local college for the general clerical pool.  A far cry from the HR Manager position I was looking for, but 6 months is a long time for someone who has never been out of work in her life.  My husband was recently laid off when the company he worked for went out of business.  They paid for a career consultant to work with the employees, but with little success.

Tip 8: It depends what you are looking for, but like house hunting, it can help to drive around the area within a decent commuting field, looking for suitable companies, and for Hiring Now signs.  This really works if you are interested in retail or looking for part time work close to home.

Tip 9:  Work BC was recently overhauled and revamped.  This is part of the Provincial Government’s scheme to focus on employment for all, and replaces many of the specialized job search services with more general offerings.  The website has an interactive map of office locations as well as many online services.

Tip 10:  Consider the growth areas.  If you have not entirely set your heart on Vancouver, you might find that your particular skill set is in demand somewhere else in BC.  Kelowna is a growing city with some great opportunities, and in a beautiful part of BC near to the Okanagan with its wonderful climate, vineyards and fruit orchards.  Further into the interior, the weather grows increasingly extreme, but that’s where the logging and oil are, plus a big demand for all essential services like teachers and medical staff.  Vancouver Island is also an option; Nanaimo is pushing itself as a growing city and there are opportunities there.

Bonus Tip:  Do as much work as you can before you arrive, arranging introductions  and networking through Linked In or GMail.  Join professional associations to get into discussion forums and arrange some social or professional development events when you arrive – it makes you feel like you are being proactive and gets you into the work environment quickly.

Gizza Job….

After a brief diversion, we’re back on track with helpful advice for those considering emigrating from the UK to Vancouver.  At least, I hope it’s useful advice but with this post in particular, I am very aware that I may not be the best person for the job.  Perhaps it’s best to just write what I know and let others supply the rest…

  • When we moved here, I budgeted for 3 months out of work.  It took 6 months.  Everyone I have spoken to then and since has said “It always takes 6 months to land a job here.” Why?  I don’t know.
  • A Canadian resume is like a British CV, but there are subtle differences.  I eventually landed a job going with a radical Functionality layout, rather than the traditional Chronological, but if you don’t want me to get all technical, just research on all the great web resources and get the resume right.
  • I didn’t bother getting my qualifications converted because it’s an expensive business and I’m a generalist, but after 5 months unemployed, I was prepared to pay!  I translated my qualifications on my resume, to give prospective employers some idea of the levels (GCSEs = High School Diploma etc).  If you are a specialist, it pays to get the conversion documents.
  • You will need an internet connection from the start.  I used all the main search sites, and checked all the recruiting pages of the universities and colleges I wanted to work at.  The local government sites are great, and a lot of companies use Craigslist.
  • The job market seems different to me – it’s a highly unionized workforce, but personal recommendation is the way to go.  Networking and forcing introductions pays dividends.  The job hunt process is more personal too – follow up applications with a phone call, follow interviews immediately with a thank you email or card – things that felt pushy in the UK but are expected here.  Now that I am doing the recruiting, I push good prospects to send me their resume and I network to spot the next great addition to my flock.
  • The traditional view is that you will take a career and salary step down when you emigrate.  You should expect this.  Even with outstanding written and spoken English and great qualifications, even in the multicultural melting pot of Vancouver, employers are cautious of the unfamiliar.  I couldn’t see how I could be unfamiliar – we were all speaking the same language, and using the same skills after all.  That was until I started sending my first work emails, and receiving puzzled requests for translation – it’s amazing how many of our quaint old phrases haven’t made it across the pond.  The advantage is that you can win over anyone with a carefully placed “Blimey.”
  • I joined a couple of agencies to get some temping work, and was very disappointed.  Perhaps my timing was wrong but I eventually got picked up by a local college for the general clerical pool.  A far cry from the HR Manager position I was looking for, but 6 months is a long time for someone who has never been out of work in her life.  I never got to work at the college because the next day I got a call to interview for a job I had forgotten I had applied for.  It turned out they were looking for Mary Poppins to tidy up their messy lives, and the rest, as they say, is Supercalifragalisticexpealidocious.

 

And, Snap, The Job's A Game...