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10 job search mistakes to avoid as a newcomer in Canada


Published June 24, 2024 • 11 Min Read


  • The Canadian job market is different from what many newcomers are accustomed to in their home countries: not only do they need to adjust to a new job market, but they also have to deal with challenges specific to newcomer job seekers.

  • Newcomers should avoid classic job search mistakes, like using the same resume for all job applications, showing up to job interviews unprepared, or having too broad a scope for their job search.

  • Newcomer job seekers also need to understand that they shouldn’t limit themselves to applying to job postings, since the majority of roles in Canada are filled through recruiters’ networks: building a solid network and leveraging it at all stages of the job search is key to job success. 

As a newcomer, finding a job is often the first step in building financial stability in Canada. You might find that, despite your skills and experience, it can be challenging to find a job that checks all the boxes. Job-hunting in Canada is often quite different from finding work in your native country. Not only will you be unfamiliar with how the job market functions in Canada, but you also may not have access to a network of people who can recommend and refer you to job opportunities.  

The good news is you can arrive in Canada ready to embark on your job hunt, as long as you plan carefully. To set yourself up for success, here are some common job search mistakes to avoid. 

Mistake #1: Not adapting to the Canadian resume format

Your resume is how you introduce yourself to recruiters and hiring managers, so it’s important to clearly showcase your skills, work experiences and accomplishments, in a format that recruiters are looking for (which is likely a little different from the format you used in your home country).

Your first step is to craft a Canadian-style resume that is 1-2 pages in length, and to customize it according to your industry, experience and career goals. Don’t include irrelevant information, such as your age or marital status. Make sure to present your experience in the form of accomplishments, rather than just job responsibilities. Your professional experience in your home country should absolutely be included where relevant to the job you’re applying for, but it may need to be framed so that Canadian recruiters can easily understand it. For example, don’t just state the name of the company and assume a recruiter will research what that company does; instead, add basic information for context (ex: top 3 fashion retailer in the Philippines, or #1 telco in India). Be sure to include key achievements in your professional career, such as successful projects, awards or certifications within your field of expertise.

Many Canadian employers use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which automatically filters out resumes that are not a good match to the job description. This means that, in order to have a chance at a role, you must customize your resume for each and every role you apply to, ensuring you are using key words from the job description in your resume and cover letter.

Applicants often assume their resume has everything the job poster needs and often fail to include a cover letter. While not always required, a cover letter is great way to complement the information in your resume, speak to your motivation and highlight how your past experience makes you a great fit for the role.

Mistake #2: Not building and leveraging your professional network in Canada

Your network includes personal, professional, academic or family contacts. As a newcomer, you will likely have a small network to begin with, since you are new to the country, so you should take the time to develop your network, as it will be one of your most valuable assets in your Canadian job search. 

In Canada, networking is done in a one-to-many setting at networking events, or on a one-to-one setting with coffee chats. Often, a connection made during a networking event can be deepened with a follow-up coffee chat. This is a great way to directly connect with someone in the Canadian workforce who can offer insights into open roles, the skills required for your job search and potential career paths. Share your resume and request feedback on how you can improve it, and ask about the ups and downs of their professional journey in Canada. 

You can reach out to individuals in your network to learn about job opportunities within their organizations or their wider network, to learn about your field or industry in Canada or to learn about a specific organization’s culture. When you connect with one individual in your network, you can ask them to introduce you to additional folks they know who can help with your job search.

Read: How to build your network from scratch in Canada

Mistake #3: Only applying to posted jobs

In Canada, it’s estimated that 65-80 per cent of jobs are filled through recruiters’ networks and employee referrals. This means if you’re only applying to job postings on job banks, then you are missing the vast majority of opportunities.

Connect with people in your network on a regular basis to learn about potential upcoming opportunities in their organizations. Make sure your connections are familiar with your skill set and experience, so that they can refer you to suitable opportunities.

Mistake #4: Having too broad a job search

For many newcomers, it can be tempting to apply for every job that lists just one of your skills. While it’s good to be flexible in applying for jobs adjacent to your experience and skill set, your priority should be on jobs that best fit your overall skills and experience. While it can feel like an accomplishment to apply for 50 jobs in a single day, it’s actually a much better use of your time to customize your resume to a smaller number of job opportunities that are closely aligned to your skills and experience. You may also want to avoid applying to multiple positions posted by the same company, as recruiters may think you’re unsure of what you want in your career.

Finding your dream job may take some time, and some newcomers choose to take on a “survival job” that is not aligned with their experience and education level, but it helps cover their living expenses while they continue their job search. If you choose to go this route, it’s recommended to look for a survival job where you can sharpen your current skills and job experience — and later leverage those skills when applying for (or starting) the job you’re really looking for. For example, you may take a survival job as a retail salesperson, but leverage the insights you’ve gained about Canadian consumers when later applying to business strategy or marketing roles.  Try to find a role that allows you to build or leverage transferable skills that are valuable to employers in your primary industry.

Mistake #5: Not optimizing your LinkedIn profile

As of 2024, Canada boasts 23.7M LinkedIn users for a working population of 25M, so having a LinkedIn profile that is optimized for the Canadian job market is an essential part of your job search.  When you apply for a position, the hiring manager or recruiter will most likely review your LinkedIn profile (and possibly other social media pages) to get a sense of your professional profile and interests. For this purpose, you should keep all your social media pages updated, optimized and professional. Use a professional-looking headshot, include a concise intro paragraph, and be sure to list your skills and certifications.

Many recruiters also actively look for prospective candidates on LinkedIn, so make sure your profile clearly states what type of job you’re looking for, your skills and work experience. Avoid cluttering your LinkedIn profile and clearly state your career goals in Canada. Remember to post regularly and keep your content professional and engaging. If you’re regularly interacting with people from your industry and sharing insights, it can lend more visibility to your profile. Do not post anything you wouldn’t want a recruiter to see.

Mistake #6: Lying on your job application

Exaggerating or lying about any details on your resume or job application is deemed unacceptable in Canada. Canadian employers typically conduct extensive background checks, reaching out to former employers and educational institutions to enquire in detail about your past work experience and education. Lying on your resume is likely to get you blacklisted, preventing you from gaining employment in that organization in the future. Most employment contracts in Canada have a condition that allows employers to terminate employees who are found to have lied on their application, so absolutely steer clear of misrepresenting yourself on your job application.

Mistake #7: Being unprepared for your interview

Once you’ve landed a job interview, you’ve overcome one major hurdle, but you’re only part of the way there. Going to the interview unprepared and thinking you’ll be able to wing it is one of the biggest job search mistakes you can make.

Your soft skills — which include your ability to communicate, work collaboratively and execute other interpersonal skills — and your technical skills will be evaluated during the interview. Lack of preparation shows a lack of interest in the role that will reflect very poorly.

Know your resume inside and out: be ready to support all the information on your resume and cover letter with examples, preferably leveraging the STAR format (Situation – Task – Action – Result). Familiarize yourself with commonly asked questions in Canada, making sure you understand what the recruiter is looking to learn from them, and prepare talking points for each one. Your answers should sound natural and not rehearsed.

Conduct research into the company, team and individuals you’ll be interviewing with. Leverage your network at this step to learn what you can about the organizations short- and long-term objectives, values and culture — and use this information to ensure you position yourself, your skills and expertise advantageously. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with your own list of questions for the interviewers, as this shows your enthusiasm for the company and role.

Mistake #8: Setting unrealistic job search goals

For many newcomers, moving to Canada marks a bump in their career. Because Canadian employers may not be familiar with the educational institution you graduated from or the corporations you worked for, you may need to prove your value and your skills to get back on the career track you were on back home. This is not to say that your experience from your home country is not valuable; it may, however, need to be showcased in a way that Canadian recruiters can understand it. You can draw parallels about what your experience has taught you and how you can translate it in the Canadian context.

The aforementioned Applicant Tracking System (ATS) assesses how good a fit you are for a role based on keywords from the job description and your resume. This means that you have a better chance of qualifying for a position that is close to the previous job titles you held. Once you have proven your value in your first Canadian job, you may be able to climb the corporate ladder faster than you think.

Mistake #9: Not leveraging volunteer work

Most Canadian employers want to hire applicants with Canadian experience, which poses a problem for newcomers. This is where volunteer work or freelance work in Canada can help add experience to your resume. Many Canadian employers consider volunteer work an important asset. Not only can volunteering showcase great work experience on your Canadian resume, but it also showcases your community involvement, which holds great value in Canadian culture. Volunteering for community causes and non-profits also helps you gain valuable workplace skills and meet new people who can become part of your professional network.

Mistake #10: Unrealistic salary expectations

Many companies (though not all) list salary ranges in their job post, but you may still be asked to share your expected salary during the interview. Be sure to research the average salaries associated with the position, which you can find online at websites like Glassdoor or learn about through your networking efforts. Note that salaries can differ by industry and geographic location, so make sure to consider those factors before quoting a number. Asking for a salary that is either much higher or much lower than the market rate may show you are unfamiliar with the Canadian job market.

When quoting your salary requirements, you may want to provide a salary range instead of a specific number, to leave room for negotiation. If the job offer salary is lower than you were hoping, remember to look at the complete package which typically includes workplace benefits, health insurance, vacation days and other valuable perks, and do negotiate before signing the contract.

Job hunting in Canada can be daunting for a newcomer. By being proactive about networking, showcasing your transferable skills and strategically applying for the right jobs, you can increase your chances of finding meaningful employment opportunities and set yourself up for success in your career in Canada.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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