Is a survival job a good first step in Canada?

You’ve arrived in Canada and now that you have found a place to live and settled the kids in school, it is time to focus on getting a job.

But now you’re confused. You used to be in a highly skilled position before moving to Canada, but a lot of the nice new people you’ve met here have suggested you get a survival job. What should you do?

Let’s start by unpacking the terminology “survival job.”

What is a survival job?

In general, a survival job means getting a lower skilled job to just earn money, while still searching for a higher skilled or dream job in one’s field of expertise. At least that’s how I personally define it. Often a survival job for newcomers includes customer service or some form of manual labour.

Over several years of helping newcomers find work, I have had some clients who started with survival jobs as their first step, and some who have not. The latter focused on getting jobs in their industry as soon as they arrived. They stuck to their field and stayed with their Plan A. From seeing their experience, I have come to the opinion that newcomers should try to avoid a survival job as their first job in Canada, if at all possible. Now, I’m sure there will be an uproar from the career development and settlement community because of my last statement. So, allow me to explain.

When is it time for Plan B?

I believe that there is a place for a survival job (a Plan B job) in everyone’s life, but it depends heavily on a person’s financial circumstances at the time and, often for newcomers, their English skill level as well. Sometimes a survival job can also be a good option if a newcomer is still nervous about working in the Canadian community. These factors can definitely justify targeting a survival job as a newcomer’s first step.

I need to emphasize, however, that just because a survival job is often lower skilled and easier to obtain, it does not mean it’s going to be easy. You will still need to work lengthy hours, learn the needs of the job and the company, and work on passing probation.

And, since this is only supposed to be a temporary survival job, you should still be looking for your higher skilled dream job when you are off work — i.e., looking at job postings, targeting your resumé, sending out applications and doing interviews. Unfortunately, I’ve seen how survival jobs can end up as a barrier to getting a higher skilled job because clients were just too tired after work to continue with their dream job search.

‘Plan A’ job search checklist in Canada

So, this is my checklist to determine if you should pursue your Plan A job when first arriving in Canada.

1. You are financially secure for a few months.
From my experience with newcomer clients, most people come to Canada with savings to tide them over for a few months while they look for their first job. Use this opportunity to get the job you want. Getting a lower skilled job could take up to three months, but getting a higher skilled job could take three to six months, or longer.

2. Your English level is already aligned with the needs of your field in Canada.
If you understand the scoring system of the Canadian Language Benchmark Tests (CLBT) then you can use this as a guideline: CLB 6 can be enough for some occupations, however usually a minimum of CLB 7 or higher is needed for some technical and high communication positions.

3. You’ve seen postings for jobs in your field where you have a minimum of 70-80 per cent of the specified key requirements.
Your roadmap to learning what the local industry needs mostly lies in the local job postings. If you have most of the key requirements (70-80 per cent), then you should be able to confidently apply. Note: some occupations require licensing, this is often a non-negotiable key requirement you must have before applying.

4. You understand what the Canadian labour market wants for your field
You’ve done research on what your industry’s needs are in Canada and are confident that you are ready to enter the Canadian job market.

5. You are able to determine when it’s time to switch to Plan B — start targeting a survival job
Targeting a Plan A job might end up taking longer than initially thought. It could be because of many factors; the characteristics of the industry, the position’s requirements, the competition or even the time of year you are applying. Your savings are now depleting as well. Whatever the reason, if you still don’t have solid leads on a job in your field, at this point it would be wise to switch to Plan B for now, and resume your Plan A job search when it’s feasible again.

Hopefully, this will give you the confidence to stick with finding a job in your field before switching to survival mode.


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