Important Work Skills in Canada
Many immigrants make a mistake of thinking that teamwork in Canada is the same as teamwork in their first country. It’s not. The same applies to most other ‘soft skills’ or ‘people skills’ – leadership skills are different, communication and interpersonal skills are different, etc.
When an immigrant looks at a list of ‘soft skills’ (you can google that and find long lists of these skills), they often think ‘I got this.’ Yet, the fact that you were a good team player in your first country doesn’t necessarily mean you can be a good team player in Canada. You might need to make some changes.
Let’s compare. Here’s the list of skills considered important by many employers in Canada:
- Customer service skills (patient, tactful, clear communication, empathetic, listening, friendly, helpful)
- Communication skills (written, oral, body language, active listening, public speaking, presentation skills)
- Teamwork skills (conflict resolution, interpersonal skills, flexibility)
- Ability to work independently (with minimal supervision, problem-solving, initiative)
- Ability to work under pressure (in a fast-paced environment, prioritize, multitask, time management, adaptability)
This is not a complete list of ‘soft skills’ – this particular list has been created based on important cultural differences between Canada and some other countries.
- Customer service skills
A nurse, a teacher, a pre-board screening officer at the airport… What do they all have in common? In Canada, they are all considered customer service jobs. About 70% of all jobs in Canada are customer service. If you are working with people who are receiving some sort of service from your company, your job is customer service and you need customer service skills.
In Canada, customer service means you smile, you listen patiently, you speak with a pleasant intonation, you explain patiently, you are polite and helpful – your goal is to make your customer happy and ensure they will come back again.
- Communication Skills
On almost every job posting, one of the first things you will see is ‘communication skills’. In Canada, it means you speak
– clearly (don’t mumble, remember to articulate)
– politely (use ‘Would you like…, Could you…, Would you mind…, I’d like to…)
– keep it short (don’t tell a long story, people have only limited time to listen)
– use proper body language (smile, make eye contact, use your ‘nice’ voice)
- Teamwork Skills
Teamwork in Canada means:
– Always finish your own work first. Offer to help others only if you have time to do it.
– Never help others without first asking them. Don’t assume they want your help.
– Never do another person’s job if they are lazy – the manager may get angry at you. Communicate with that person and try to solve the problem. If that doesn’t help, then communicate the problem to the manager.
– Never help anyone if you don’t have a proper training to do that part of a job. If you break the safety rules, you may lose your job.
– Remember, Canada is an individualistic country. Individual is one person. If you make a mistake, it will be only your fault, not your manager’s or your team’s.
– If you are having a problem with your co-worker, first you must try to communicate with them and try to fix the problem. These are your conflict resolution skills. Listen to their side of the story and try to find a solution. Your co-worker might have a reason you don’t know about. Start by asking them ‘What’s happening?’ and ‘Do you need help?’
- Ability to Work Independently
Canada is an individualistic country. It is also much more egalitarian than some other countries. This means that, when you find a job, your manager might not explain to you how to do things. In Canada, you might not get any detailed instructions. That’s because they expect you to be able to work independently. You need to think for yourself.
What to do? Think and ask confirmation questions, for example:
Manager says: Could you do XYZ? (this is not a question – your manager is politely telling you to do it)
You answer: Yes, I will do it. If I do it on Friday, is it okay? If I put it in the file folder, is it okay?
‘If I do it like this and like this, is it okay?’ is a confirmation question. Do not ask your manager ‘When do I need to do it?’ or ‘Where do I need to put it?’ – these are bad questions, these mean you don’t want to think.
If you have a problem, DO NOT immediately run to ask your manager. Think for yourself and try to solve it to the best of your abilities. If you still don’t know how, your best strategy is to ask your co-workers to help. If you bother your manager all the time, you might lose your job.
Tip: At a job interview, if asked “Do you work better as part of a team or independently?” do not choose one. Your answer should be ‘BOTH’.
- Ability to Work under Pressure
Some workplaces get really busy – lots of customers, lots of things to do and very little time. Multitasking is a myth. The way to deal with the situation is to PRIORITIZE. ‘Prioritize’ means you decide which task is number 1, which is number 2, which is number 3 and complete them in that order. If you are able to think quickly and constantly adapt to the changing situation, you are able to work in a fast-paced environment.
Example interview question: ‘Working at a salad bar, you are making a salad when you notice a spilled water on the floor and, at the same time, a customer comes up to you with a question. What do you do first? Help the customer? Deal with a spill? Or finish making the salad?’
The correct answer is: First, put a yellow sign on the floor ‘Wet floor’ (safety first!!), then answer the customer’s question, and then go back to making the salad.
If there is a line of customers, you need to be nice and polite with each customer (remember to make eye contact and ask your questions clearly and use your ‘nice’ voice) but never to engage in a friendly chat with any one of them – others in line might get angry. A pleasant business-like exchange is what you should be aiming for. This shows you have good time-management skills as well.