Helping New Canadians Interview Successfully
New Canadians face big challenges in securing employment. They lack the contacts to find job openings, the references to vouch for their competence and the subtle knowledge of Canadian culture to fit in easily in an organization. Career counsellors can help but it means being clear and honest with candidates on matters that are sometimes uncomfortable to discuss.
It would be a disservice to not alert new Canadians to things that are under their control, things that they could learn or change. Just as counsellors ask the hard questions in personal counselling sessions, we need to raise issues for clients that could interfere with a successful interview. Many hirings have to do with how well someone fits into the existing culture; can you help your client fit in? Are you sharing the necessary information and giving real advice?
Counsellors checklist for helping new Canadians.
- Is accent an issue? Can your client be clearly understood? There are courses to help with pronunciation. New Canadians may conclude that they are the victim of discrimination, when in fact, they are not chosen because they cannot be easily understood, particularly on the telephone where visual cues are lacking. If customer service is involved, an employer will be reluctant to hire anyone who can't communicate clearly.
- Appearance: From head to toe, are they in appropriate clothes? Do they understand the difference between summer and winter fashion? Are they using strong perfume?
- Manners: Do they know the customary niceties? Are they overdoing them? In a city with so many different ethnicities, all people do not share the same ideas around manners. People from one cultural background may sound fawning while from another, rude.
- Do they understand the hypocrisies of Canadian culture? The right answer to the question: ?Why do you want to work for us?, is not usually, ?Because I need a job?. New Canadians need to be coached on what answers are expected even though the interviewer is aware that the answer may be far from the truth.
- Voice volume. Some cultures use a much lower volume; some much louder than what is customary in Canada. Shyness and enthusiasm can impact volume also; clients can be coached to an appropriate voice level.
- Smiles tend to be neglected, but just the right amount is useful in an interview.
- Hand shakes. It is safer to wait for the interviewer to offer his/her hand in our multicultural environment. If candidates are not going to shake hands out of religious conviction, they should be prepared on how to handle this in an interview. This includes how they might discuss its impact on customer service if it could be an issue.
- Interviews usually feel like they go well. Interviewers don't want to say ?no? directly and usually thank the candidate and tell them how good it was to meet them. Candidates shouldn't assume they have a job until they get the offer. After a rejection, it is a good idea to attempt to find out how one might have improved during the interview but too many follow up calls or emails can feel like harassment.
- Watch language usage. ?You must give me this job?. The translation from one language into another may sound more like a command than a request.
- Enthusiasm and energy are important in an interview but overdoing confidence may sound like boasting, not a very Canadian phenomena.
- Dishonesty in the resume or application form can have severe consequences; clients need to understand the implications for doing this. Promises of competencies that really aren't there should be discouraged.
- The receptionist and other support staff get the same level of courtesy as the boss. Their reactions are important in hiring. In a panel or group interview, candidates need to make eye contact with everyone; not just talk to the boss. In some interviews, it may not even be clear who the boss is and assumptions need to be checked.
- If a candidate has not done their research, they are not ready for the interview. New Canadians, all the more, need to know this since they are less likely to be successful winging it. Research could include company websites, newspaper archives as well as trying to contact employees who would share information on the company.
- Counsellors need to be ruthless in alerting candidates to the dangers of giving too little as well as too much information in an interview. The pace of a conversational exchange needs to be taught if it isn't readily evident.
- Don't downplay the standard that may have to be reached to do well in an interview. Don't give false hope. The prevalence of behavioral based questions in interviews means that candidates have to be well prepared with stories of their achievements, experiences as well as challenges.
- Candidates should be prepared with a question or two for the interviewers, without this, they will appear to lack interest or initiative.
- Candidates should not say what they don't have but rather what they do have. New Canadians are often the first to downplay their work experience from their home country; they should be encouraged to speak to their skills wherever they practiced them.
- Explain the importance of references and networking, encourage new Canadians to establish relationships outside of their ethnic circle through volunteering, clubs, and school and community activities.
- Counsellors, share your own network and take pride in supporting Canada as a multicultural country. Move networking from the purview of nepotism and homogeneity into the realm of promoting workplace diversity.
When new Canadians can find a good job fit for their skills, then our workplaces will be more interesting for all of us and we can all try fitting in together. Contributed by Susan Qadeer. A personal and career counsellor with decades of experience, Susan currently works at George Brown College.