Finding employment in a pandemic

Employment specialists suggest that digital networking, reskilling and recognizing what employers want are strategies that could help you land your dream job in a post-pandemic world.

The pandemic year has been challenging for job seekers to say the least. So, when Lebanese-born Georges Oneissy reveals that he landed not one, but two jobs within months of landing in Toronto from Dubai, one wants to know more.

“Though I prepared an entire year to get ready to come to Canada, like many others, I wasn’t expecting a global pandemic to hit our lives. I’ve been here for about 18 months now and it still feels unreal,” he says.

According to a study by Statistics Canada, the Canadian labour market lost about three million jobs in March and April 2020. The study says that immigrants seem to be more negatively affected than their Canadian-born counterparts for a variety of reasons. One of them being that recent immigrants tend to have shorter job tenures and therefore could be more vulnerable to layoffs when the economy is in a downturn.

Georges Oneissy

Oneissy lost his first job offer in March 2020 – right when the world was shutting down due to COVID, and he was devastated.  “It was depressing and demotivating but I had to carry on and so I did,” he says.

Oneissy’s prep before immigrating to Canada proved to be a lifesaver. He had hired the services of a career coach while he was still in Dubai who not only helped him perfect his resume but also encouraged him to take up a course in digital marketing, which he promptly did at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

“I was very clear in my intention. After years of working in outdoor advertising in Dubai, I decided to switch to the digital space. I recognized very quickly that my international experience may not be sufficient and that I needed to upgrade my education,” he says.

He kept applying for jobs and did not settle for the first job that came his way. The fact that he was bilingual also helped Oneissy when he applied on LinkedIn for a digital specialist position with a sound and music production college. For his second job with an automotive company, he was approached by a recruiter again, on LinkedIn, for a digital strategist position. But every newcomer’s job hunt journey is different. In times like these, the process of looking for a job is vastly different and one has to adapt and reassess to secure success.

What do employers want?

When applying, looking beyond just the job description is crucial, especially in this current job market. Researching the company, finding out about their recent projects and their goals, enquiring about their work culture from current employees and finally determining if your values and goals align with that of the company, improve your chances of getting a call back for an interview.

Sweta Regmi

According to job search expert and career consultant Sweta Regmi, “Professional immigrants who come to Canada are very qualified, but sometimes the attitude is one of ‘they (the company) need me more than I need them’ which might be true, but you need to showcase what the company wants and is looking for, in your resumé.”

Based in Sudbury, Ontario, Nepalese-born Regmi has been working recently with immigrants who have been laid off because of COVID. She says that a job seeker needs to assess how close of a match his/her skill set is to the requirement of the job.

Regmi also suggests projecting yourself as a specialist rather than a generalist. “In some countries, professionals have done a bit of everything as part of their jobs but that’s not helpful in Canada. Employers are looking for a person who can fix that specific problem that they might have. You need to be that person,” she says.

Networking doesn’t stop

Dalia Farra

Digital networking is here to stay and is relevant now, more than ever. Says Dalia Farra, manager of employer partner relations and mentor engagement at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC): “We noticed that there was a huge uptick in the number of people connecting randomly on LinkedIn and getting positive responses. People are connecting more via social media platforms. They are engaging about job opportunities via community WhatsApp Groups – something I hadn’t heard of before the pandemic,”

Signing on for online networking events hosted by industry organizations and professional associations are also a great way to connect with people in your area of interest. Seeking out people with similar interests on Facebook groups or Slack chats can lead to job tips, enlightening conversations and open up new avenues that one may not have thought of.

Regmi, in her coaching sessions, often reminds job seekers to build meaningful relationships that are not merely transactional. “You don’t just land up at someone’s door asking for a cup of tea, do you? You need to engage with people you want to network with. Read the blogs they post, express an opinion, react and follow up with them. It shouldn’t be all about, “What’s in it for me?”, she says.

Use available resources
There are tons of free employment support services, neighbourhood support services, government funding programs and online skill building resources that can assist you with your career needs. A great resource is the PINs directory at TRIEC that has a comprehensive list of professional associations to help newcomers connect to resources and supports that are industry specific and relevant to their careers.

The Government of Canada job bank site is a resource for COVID-19 essential job postings. ACCES Employment’s ‘How to Find a Job’ has programs ranging from workplace communication workshops to programs for internationally trained professionals seeking employment. Another valuable resource is the expertise that comes from immigrants who have established themselves in Canada and have a similar career path that they are aspiring to. “Approach these individuals with the mentality that you want to learn from their experiences. Ask for their suggestions on what courses you may need to take to upskill yourself. Connecting to relevant people makes a world of difference,” says Regmi.

As more and more Canadians get vaccinated and the job market stabilizes, job seekers will need to step up their job search efforts. Looking for the perfect opportunity might turn out to be a marathon rather than a sprint but approached strategically, it can be quite rewarding in the end.

“Remember to be kind to yourself as you are searching for a job and to those who are hiring. Everyone is going through a challenging time and things are working at a different pace. Empathy and patience are really key right now,” says Farra.

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