Canadian Experience – Why Employers ask for it

Many immigrants arriving to Canada are faced with an unexpected challenge: the potential employers are asking for something a new immigrant cannot possibly have – Canadian experience.

If you are looking for a job in Canada – and while you are looking for a job in Canada – it is recommended that you start volunteering shortly after your arrival. Even if you are attending English classes, it is strongly recommended that you choose at least one day a week (and it could be as little as two-three hours a day) to volunteer. To learn more about finding a volunteer position, click here.

For an employer, ‘Canadian experience’ stands for the expectations of Canadian workplace and the knowledge of Canadian workplace culture. If someone has worked in Canada, it is at least some guarantee that the person has some of that knowledge and skills. These skills, even though they have the same names in an immigrant’s fist country, will usually be very different when applied in the Canadian context. For example, an immigrant from a collective culture could be excellent team player in their fist country, but when trying to apply the same skills in Canada – and you probably know that Canadian culture is highly individualistic and not at all collective – this person might encounter multiple problems at work and even develop conflicts with their co-workers!

Some immigrants, when they hear about the ‘soft skills’, may look at the list and think: “I got all of these/most of these.” And it is true – applied to their first country. ‘Are you hardworking?’ Yes! ‘Are you organized?’ Yes! ‘Are you flexible?’ Yes! ‘Are you a team player?’ Yes! ‘Do you have good customer service skills?’ Yes! and so on. What they don’t realize is that being ‘flexible’ in Canada might get a very different interpretation and that customer service skills in Canada are not the same as in many other countries. To read about the most important work skills in Canada and how they may be different in Canadian culture, click here.

It is preferable that in your first job /survival job / volunteer position you had to interact with people. Do NOT get a job at a factory or hide in the corner behind a computer! This is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Find a place where you could help customers or clients AND speak English to them.

As a new immigrant, you may think it’s unfair that you have to volunteer to get Canadian experience, but consider this: every high school student in Canada must complete 40 mandatory volunteer hours and many universities and colleges will look at your volunteer hours when deciding to grant you admission into a popular course. Over 44% of adult Canadians volunteer throughout their lives for different reasons – it is part of the culture and part of the written or unwritten requirements. Also, in order to get a promotion at work, you will have to volunteer some of your free time in order to show your dedication and your willingness to grow and learn.

The time you will spend volunteering is your investment, so invest wisely. Your goal is to learn about Canadian culture and Canadian workplace culture. Have the ‘I want to learn’ mindset, talk to people and be courageous to try new things. Understand that other people are not there to teach you but you are there to learn. Observe, observe and observe. And then copy those who are successful – copy the whole sentences, the intonation and the body language of successful people and especially those who are either Canadian born or have lived in Canada for a long time. Use them as your role models and you will find it much easier to succeed in this country.


Areas to pay special attention to:

  • body language (people’s faces, arms, hands, how fast/slow they move and talk, etc.)
  • repeated phrases / sentences that are typically used in particular situations
  • how to formulate questions
  • how to tell people what to do