40 International Students or Job Seekers

Are you an international student who is interested in finding employment while you study? Have you recently graduated from your program and are looking to continue residing in Canada and pursuing your career?

You have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture while also sharing your culture with those around you.International students’ social and cultural perspectives enrich the post-secondary experiences of learners by promoting the diversification of thought. Furthermore, international students and job seekers bring a wealth of benefits to the Canadian job market as they inspire a heightened sense of intercultural awareness, open-mindedness, innovation, and more global perspectives.

Adjusting to a New Culture

Adjusting to life in a new country, with completely different cultural expectations, is challenging. Once you add studying and finding work on top of that, it’s completely understandable that you may experience feeling overwhelmed, confused, and uncertain, also known as culture shockIf you are experiencing culture shock, you may experience a range of symptoms, including boredom, homesickness, helplessness, and irritation.

There are four phases of culture shock (Oberg, 1954), and each individual will experience these phases differently, as the process is not linear.

  • Honeymoon: You feel very positive, are satisfied with your decision, and are excited and fascinated by your new surroundings.
  • Frustration: You become anxious or confused that there are so many differences and you feel as though you lack the understanding to deal with them. It is common to experience feelings of depression or even to withdraw from your surroundings, with the desire to return home where things are familiar.
  • Adjustment: As your surroundings become more comfortable and expectations become clearer, you are more able to manage the changes and solve cultural problems; slowly you begin to appreciate the differences and incorporate them into your own beliefs. Adapting to a new culture does not mean losing your culture.
  • Acceptance: You are able to comfortably participate in the new culture, and you even feel a sense of belonging.

Although it is normal for an international student to experience culture shock, it is integral that you have the appropriate coping strategies to deal with it.

As an international student or job seeker, it is essential to understand and adapt to the major differences in the Canadian college system and the Canadian job search process to successfully pursue, maintain, and manage your career and employment success.

To manage your symptoms, consider the following suggestions:

  • Regularly keeping in touch with your family and friends back home.
  • Staying connected to your roots by having things in your space that remind you of home.
  • Interacting with other international students, sharing your experiences, and seeking their advice.
  • Becoming familiar with your surroundings, accepting the common norms and behaviours.
  • Connecting to the culture, making new friends, and participating in Canadian cultural activities.
  • Taking care of your health by properly eating, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
  • Being patient with yourself, it will take some time to adjust.
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For support in managing your cultural adjustment, reach out to:


Canadian Job-Search Expectations

In addition to having a well-developed set of technical skills that are required to effectively perform your job, Canadian employers are looking more favourably at employees who can demonstrate a range of soft skills. Soft skills are skills that have been developed across your diverse life experiences and can include qualities such as communication, problem-solving, leadership, a positive attitude, adaptability, and teamwork. When an individual can effectively identify concrete examples of how they have demonstrated various soft skills through past experiences, an employer will see the candidate as more valuable and a greater long-term asset to the company.

Across cultures, it is not unusual that there are considerable value-based differences with respect to an employer’s expectations. Without understanding these values, differing behaviours, and cultural norms, you may find it confusing when interacting with employers in the Canadian job market. Different workplaces, like countries, have different cultural norms and can vary from job to job. Explore the following concepts and recognize how these will impact you through the Canadian job search process.

Career Planning

In cultures where a job is assigned to you, it is assumed that you will take it, there is less emphasis placed on identifying your career goals as your career is often decided for you. In Canadian culture, taking ownership of your own career decision-making, and demonstrating a high degree of self-awareness towards your short and long-term career ideas is expected.

Job Search

In other cultures, job searching may be more reliant on your school, government, or family to assist you in finding work. You may identify with this scenario from your past experiences and feel the responsibility falls more heavily on the people assisting you. In Canadian culture, the job search process is very independent; you are responsible for your own efforts and successes in finding a job. As detailed in Unit 3, an effective job search in Canada means that you need to use a diverse variety of methods to find employment, including but not limited to networking, online job boards, and accessing help through the Employment Support Centre.

Resume and Cover Letter

There are some significant differences in the information that is presented on resumes in Canada. Further to following the resume and cover letter templates provided in Chapters 7 & 8, here are some suggestions for you to consider when developing your resume:

  • Do not list personal information such as nationality, marital status, gender, date of birth, religion, social insurance number, visa status, or a photo of yourself.
  • Include your Canadian residence address (you do not need to list your international permanent address).
  • Personalize your resume to reflect soft skills and accomplishments from paid and unpaid experiences, do not just provide a chronological account of your work experience.
  • Include your international experience and education if it is related to the positions you are seeking.
  • Emphasize any other languages that you speak in addition to English.
  • Do not include primary-level education on your resume; secondary and post-secondary are appropriate depending on their relevance to the job.
  • Do not display your education in a chart format – write out the titles of your diploma and degrees.
  • Avoid copying a resume from the internet or a friend, or putting false information on a resume – employers will question you about your experiences so you need to be truthful.
  • Include a customized cover letter, even if it is not requested.
  • Have your documents triple-checked for syntax, grammar, and spelling errors.

Interview and Workplace Expectations

During the interview process, a hiring committee evaluates you based on several different factors. These factors typically include body language, attitude, behaviours, communication skills, visual presentation, and the content and articulation of your answers. Embracing Canadian cultural values and developing intercultural skills will help you to better navigate the interview process and adapt to the Canadian workplace. Consider the following ideas as a way to manage your own expectations and prepare yourself for success:

  • Dress, scent, and hygiene: When preparing for an interview or starting a new job, it is imperative that you follow the appropriate dress code. Please refer to Unit 4 to learn more about appropriate attire and don’t be afraid to ask about the dress code prior to starting a job. Many workplaces have instituted a scent-free policy, meaning that you should not wear perfumes or strong-smelling products in the workplace. In preparation for interacting in a professional environment, you are expected to maintain your personal hygiene by regularly showering, wearing deodorant, grooming, wearing clean clothes, and having fresh breath.
  • Timeliness: Being on time is a sign of respect in many cultures, including Canadian culture. By arriving 5-15 minutes early you are showing an employer or individual that you understand that their time is valuable. Keep in mind, timeliness is more than just arriving early to work or to a meeting; it’s adapting to the pace at which you are expected to perform your tasks. This often varies by sector and organization and is something you will learn on the job.
  • Personal space, touch, and privacy: Personal space is important to Canadians and refers to the distance between you and another person when you are interacting. Keeping an arm’s length of space is seen as respectful; pay attention to what another person’s body language is telling you. In some cultures, touching another person’s arm or holding hands in a public space may be appropriate. Canadians may feel comfortable shaking hands at the onset of meeting, but don’t usually touch while speaking to one another, especially in a business setting. Typically, Canadians are more private and less likely to talk about personal matters like family, income, or religion until they get to know you. Furthermore, respecting privacy in the workplace means discussing problems or concerns behind closed doors.
  • Assertive communication: Many other cultures interpret eye contact and directness of responses with their superiors as disrespectful. In Canada, eye contact and directness typically translate into honesty, interest, and engagement and should be practised when interacting with all levels of individuals. At the end of the interview, the selection committee will expect you to have open-ended questions about the position and/or company. Where you may feel that this is imposing or rude, an employer will be impressed by well-thought-out questions and associate that with your interest in the company.
  • Self-marketing: In Canadian culture, you are expected to take a more direct and confident approach to openly highlighting your own strengths and accomplishments. Although this approach may make you feel like you are being boastful or bragging, it’s actually seen as a needed strategy to sell your skills in a competitive job market. Similarly, it is expected that you take the initiative to follow up with an employer; you may feel that this is impolite, but it’s actually seen as being responsible and could set you apart from other candidates.
  • Informality: In other cultures, it may be considered inappropriate to sit with people who are considered to be of higher status than you. Questions or the informal exchange of information can be seen as disrespectful to the person’s position. In Canadian culture, talking openly in an interview environment is encouraged. In this type of setting, you are expected to interact with your interviewer and share information. In an initial meeting, you may address a supervisor or manager more formally by using Mr. or Ms. before their name. This is respectful; however, it is appropriate to address them by their first name once a relationship has been established. Avoid calling them by their title, as they want to be seen as working with their teams and not above them.
  • Equality, power, and curiosity: The Canadian workplace represents a wide degree of diversity as it stands; individual characteristics are not supposed to affect hiring processes or on-the-job treatment. Therefore, respect is shown across race, gender, age, and position within the company. Diversity in the workplace also stimulates curiosity among coworkers; respond patiently when people ask you about your culture and don’t assume they are ill-intentioned. Canadians generally accept differences and show interest in learning about another person’s culture.
  • References: It can be challenging if you don’t have any Canadian experience and, as a result, lack Canadian references. However, if you do have references you can provide from your experience in your home country, feel free to offer them as long as they can communicate in English and are available to be contacted. When references reside out of country, it may be helpful to provide email addresses as a more convenient way to contact them. If you are looking to gain Canadian references quickly, consider volunteering.
  • Gain Canadian experience and get involved.
    Obtaining Canadian experience shows an employer that you are able to acclimate to the local employment market. Including Canadian experience on your resume will make you more competitive in the job market. Although a part-time job may offer you many benefits, experience can also be gained through summer jobs, volunteering, or joining extracurricular activities on and off campus. Subsequently, you will learn more about workplace culture, practise your language skills, and build Canadian networks.
  • Understand your on- and off-campus work authorization.
    Not all employers will be familiar with study and work permits, as well as the restrictions you may have on where you are able to work and for how many hours. The more you know and understand about this, the better you will be at explaining this to an employer and the more confident they will feel about hiring you as an international student. For more information on the laws and regulations with regard to studying and working in Canada, please refer to the Government of Canada website.

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    Conestoga International is your home away from home during your time at Conestoga College. They are here to offer whatever support you need to adapt to your studies and life in Canada and connect with the college community and other students.

Job-Search Advice for International Students and Graduates

Job Scams and Safety

Always be cautious. If a job offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For more detail, refer to Chapter 23 to learn more about online job search safety. Most importantly, never give or accept money or provide anyone with personal information, such as your social insurance, before starting a job. Also note, it is not normal to be offered employment without going through an interview process first. If you have concerns about the offer you receive, contact the Employment Support Centre to discuss this in further detail.

More Tips

  • Practise and improve your language skills.
    One of the major challenges that arise in improving language skills among non-English speakers is confidence. You may feel less inclined to speak when you are afraid of making mistakes or being judged. Take any opportunity to practise your language skills, interact with English speakers, learn by watching and listening to English television and radio programs, and spend time rehearsing your answers for interviews. Practising your language skills through mock interviews will help you better articulate what you’d like to say, help you to feel more self-assured, and increase your chances of making a better first impression during your interviews.
  • Use accepted styles of job-search documents.
    Refer to the resources in this book to help you develop job search documents that match the content and formats that are expected among Canadian employers.
    Be prepared to address assumptions about hiring international students. Employers are often uneducated about hiring international students, which can lead to common misconceptions. They may feel that the process is too complicated or time-consuming, they may be concerned with issues surrounding work permits, or they may fear that an international student is not interested in staying on long-term. Confidently addressing an employer’s concern by providing them with more information and reassuring them of your commitment will help in the decision-making process.
  • Focus on networking.
    With such a large number of job postings not being advertised, it is imperative that you increase your visibility in the job market by expanding your personal contacts. As an international student, you may feel that you are at a disadvantage because your network in Canada is small. To build up your connections, consider volunteering, participating in career fairs and events, connecting with the Students’ Association, and conducting informational interviews with employers.

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    Contact Conestoga Students Inc. or visit their website for more information on joining clubs.

  • Showcase your diverse benefits.
    As an international student and job seeker, you bring a wealth of benefits to the Canadian job market. Focus on highlighting your unique qualities and market yourself confidently when engaging with your networks and employers. Aside from the transferable skills you acquired from the experience you gained in your home country, you are multilingual, able to see things from different perspectives, sensitive to multicultural environments, and knowledgeable of international markets. On top of all that, you have demonstrated resilience and determination by adapting to and integrating into a new country.
  • Take advantage of services.
    There will be roadblocks along the way, but you don’t have to go through this process alone; several on-campus services are accessible to you throughout your studies.

    • Career and Employment Advising is your greatest resource for receiving one-on-one support for all your career and employment-related needs as a student and a graduate.
  • Be informed.
    Knowledge is power; ensuring that you are informed and that you are being treated fairly and safely in the workplace is extremely important to your experience here in Canada. For more information, please refer to the following resources:

Media Attribution

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Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter is an adaptation of Be the Boss of Your Career: A Complete Guide for Students & Grads by Lindsay Bortot and Employment Support Centre, Algonquin College, and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

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