An Immigrant’s Diary – The Blur

Preparing for a new life in a new country requires organization

  • Feb. 6, 2013 1:00 p.m.
Ajit Sinha

Ajit Sinha

by Ajit Sinha

Third in a series

When an immigrant lands in a new country, the initial days are a blur. He or she may plan a lot, but what actually happens is difficult to capture in words. There are many points to execute and get accustomed to: social security number, house, job, bank account, health insurance, clothing, driving licence, shopping, the scenic beauty of the place, bump free roads, no horns, disciplined traffic, the weather, the people, the need for queuing,  and above all, the culture. The list is endless. Basically, there is a cultural and a social shock to absorb. After a peaceful, comfortable and sustained existence everything starts afresh. Every country has its  idiosyncrasies.

Canada has its own. It has a culture which is accommodating, respectful and cognizant of diversity of nationalities which makes its citizenry. Most of the practices are pro-USA but there is complete freedom of practising one’s own religion and following the tenets of ethnicity of the individual. Canada embraces you as one of its own because the country needs you. That is why you are the chosen one. If one believes in such a philosophy, you will be on the path of success sooner than you plan. The key is that you must change and adopt the culture by best blending with people and practices.

My plans were quite well chalked out – social security number, driving licence, connect with immigrant support services, job, house and, of course, the permanent resident card which was taken care of at the airport . What hit me first when I ventured out in the city was the silence. People keep to themselves, or better stated, do not disturb others. When I had walked out of the Canada Service Centre after the issue of the social insurance number, I had noticed that people were quiet inside in the waiting area. There was no noise at all. Even a chair moved was done with the intention of not disturbing anyone. People were thoughtful of others. It was unlike what I was used to – a pleasant surprise to be sitting there in silence without loud ringtones, without the endless chitchat of topics varying from the weather to the socio-economic importance of China in a global macro economic outlook.

All Canadians are famous for their smile and friendly presence. Whether it is waving at you and wishing you well while crossing paths or greeting you at the store counter, there is always pleasantness around people here. It is but natural for every one of us to emulate this good habit. The art of small talk connects you with people whom you have not met . A polite “how are you” should elicit the answer “fine, thank you”. The culture is different here and it is important that you embrace it, since you have chosen to live here. Notice how each Canadian needs his own space and respects that of others. The discipline is all prevailing. Giving back to others is another important way of life.

Volunteering is also an important aspect of life here. Giving back to society is deeply ingrained in most of the people in Canada. I volunteered and still do in a subject close to my heart – teaching and research. This activity will give you visibility in the community and some people who will be instrumental in connecting you with influential people in the community, too. Volunteering should become an integral part of life if one is living in Canada.

The next big ticket item was opening a bank account. Here one needs to be careful in choosing the bank, based on your needs. Each service is charged. Banks do open accounts and they do not issue a credit card because you do not have a credit history. Without a credit history, some purchases critical to setting up a home are not feasible. For example, a new immigrant does not get a loan even if he/she may have a good job. Fortunately, the Canadian embassy in India had taught me well. I had opened my bank account meant for new immigrants while in India because they were issuing a credit card without my having a credit history and without charges. One  needs to research and explore.

I had everything that I needed to do before an active job search could begin. There are government agencies which support new immigrants to train them to be ready to job search . In March 2012, the system was being reorganized into one compressive agency called Works Employment Services under  Abbotsford Community Services. There are a few actions that a newcomer must take while meeting the angels of Abbotsford.

Get yourself registered with the nearest office of  Works Employment. You will be assigned a case manager.

Register for the Skills Connect program / BC Works program. This series of workshops will equip a new comer to prepare well for integration into the Canadian way of life, and also train resume writing, cover letters and interview preparation. This program is government funded and a newcomer has CAD finances to reimburse his/her educational / training expenses. This program will also test your English Language skills and if you need additional  training, there are options available. The world will open up for vocational training, too.

Register for Mentoring Connections, a program which will connect you to a mentor in your field.

With registration comes the chance to attend community events which will give newcomers a chance to expand their network. In Canada two things work real fast – networks and informational interviews.

“Looking for a job is a full-time job.” It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and, for the most part, it’s true. Searching for a job that you like, going on interviews, waiting for the call back – it’s some of the most emotionally draining and time-consuming work you’ll have to do.

One of the most important things one can do while hunting for a new job is to set a schedule and stick with it. For those who are employed in a job  they hate, it can be frustrating to go home and then spend more time trying to find a new job. All you do is go to work and then go home to do more work. But those without a job can find it even more frustrating, because of the endless time spent waiting, and the diminishing bank balance.

Here are some tips that I have learned while integrating into Canadian way of life and what mentors had to share.

Don’t waste your days sleeping. Get up early and set “office hours.” By acting as if you’re going to work, you’re actually getting into a mindset that will put you on task.

Set the scene: Be sure to remove yourself from all distractions when doing your job search. It’s one thing to go to a coffee shop to do your research, but when you start to write your cover letters and resume, you need to concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t be afraid to write in the morning and then revise in the afternoon — give yourself some time to edit and craft the messages you’re sending to potential employers.

Get specific: The “scattershot” method of applying for anything and everything usually leaves no one feeling good. Be specific about what kind of job you are looking for, what areas you want to focus on, what skills you have and what skills you want to develop in a new job. Learn about companies in your area that have these jobs, see what opportunities they may have, and connect with recruiters or experts in the field through resources such as LinkedIn.

Follow up: For many job seekers, the concern is the resume black hole. Because employers receive so many applications for each job opening, it helps to set follow-up calendar reminders so you know when to reach out to a company you’ve applied to if you haven’t heard back. That way, you’ll know where they are in the process or if the position was filled.

Set output goals: How many résumés do you want to send out per week? Make a number and stick to it, but be realistic. Don’t say 250, because you will only make yourself miserable. Focus on a manageable goal.

Practice your introduction/elevator pitch: It’s always important to sell your skills and your desired career opportunity in under a minute. Instead of focusing on day-to-day abilities, think of the big picture and sell your value.

Research: If you spend more time doing homework on companies you want to work for, you’ll spend less time applying for jobs in which you may not have a real interest. Remember that a job description only tells you so much. Your job could be perfect, but the company’s values could be in direct opposition to your personal values. Get to know the company via social media and through its corporate website.

Don’t sabotage yourself: If you’re employed and want out of your current situation, don’t look for jobs while at your job. That’s asking for trouble, and a pink slip is likely to follow. You’ll have to make time outside of your job to dedicate to your job search. If you’re unemployed, don’t sell yourself short in a cover letter by telling your entire story, because employers don’t care. Again, sell your value upfront, and the details can be filled in during the interview process if needed. Also, if you’re unemployed and searching for a job, make sure that your family respects your time to do so.

Use every tool: Use all the assets at your disposal – job boards, social media, recruiters, aggregators, etc. Diversifying your search method will help produce diverse results. Think beyond your traditional job-search methods and challenge yourself to find new ways to connect with employers or other job seekers.

Keep your humour: Looking for a job is tiresome and can be truly depressing, but don’t let it get the best of you. Remember that you are defined by more than your job or career, and while you want to be a productive member of society, your job isn’t the only way to do so. Get out and see family and friends, try to stay active by exercising and eating healthy, and keep your frustration and negativity to a minimum, especially in social media. By having a positive attitude, you will be able to broach the sensitive topic with others who are employed and could help you in your job search.

I remember what a support counsellor told me in my first few days in Canada. “Take one step at a time but be focused and devoted because there is a job for you.” Planning well is the key to successful integration and getting to the desired goal. Create goals for each stage of accomplishment. Immigration is difficult because your educational qualifications, experience, skills, knowledge, language, and you as a person need to be known, understood and validated by the Canadian system.  I created a step-by-step plan for myself, knowing  there are people in the immigrant support system providing the help that I need. I had written down each goal statement clearly in the logical order of importance and kept moving up the ladder of success slowly.

I knew that there are many angels in Abbotsford who will hold my hand and encourage me in my struggle.

Now a resident of Abbotsford, Ajit Sinha has specialized in human resources. He is a military veteran, and is in his third career. He enjoys writing to connect with people. His love for culture and challenges has brought him to Canada.