In the last issue, what I wrote about Canada was on a lighter note… this issue however, it’s getting down to business with a little more serious stuff – work related.
I have always maintained that coming to Canada has been and continues to be a humbling experience – or so it was for me as it is for so many that immigrate here. Surprisingly, many choose to come here quite oblivious to the challenges it poses. No doubt, it has its share of opportunities and potential to offer as well. Here, I am going to present some simple facts that anyone considering coming here for work – specifically us Technical Communicators – should be aware of. I’ll also walk you through a recent interview that I was at, which will give you an in-depth picture of the Canadian Technical Writer interviews. Most of what I say applies primarily to the province of Ontario, and though I don’t outright guarantee it, to an extent, the same should be applicable elsewhere in Canada as well.
Canada may not be an economy bigger than the US, but being the tenth largest in the world also makes it one of the wealthiest. As with most other G8 countries, Canada’s economy is dominated by the service industry employing approximately three quarters of Canadians (source: Wikipedia).
Let me start by saying that breaking into the job market here is not tough – it’s just an art. Those who master it, prosper; those who don’t, usually perish and head back to wherever they came from. A very popular Canadian fact is that less than 20% of the jobs ever get advertised and even less get filled that way. Over 80% of the vacancies or the hidden job market, get filled by word of mouth and employee referrals… and that is not a myth, but the raw truth. This is what makes the newcomer resource centers a starting point for most immigrant newcomers. Regardless of status, position, role or job title outside of Canada, the Job Search Workshops offered by these centers often become the tee-off point for most newcomers. These workshops help you get your bearings in a new labour market by focusing on preparing a Canadian style resume, offering interviewing tips, familiarizing you with the Canadian business English and teaching the techniques of networking for tapping into the hidden job market.
People who’ve worked in places like US and Singapore, may find the Canadian work environment not laid back, but slightly more formal and process oriented. In my one year here so far, what I’ve seen is that quality is important but process often takes precedence. I attended four interviews till now, and discussions relating to experience documenting and working within processes were ever-present.
Here’s an example of an interview I recently attended with one of the largest employers of Information Developers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). My interviews started in the beginning of May and four months and three rounds later, I finally got an offer. The first was a behavioral interview round. A panel of three senior managers started with a few generic and routine questions, went on to scenario based quizzing, which suddenly twisted into a rapid fire round that seemed never ending… they asked me about specific things to be aware of when writing for different cultures and had me list ten odd items in less than 25 seconds – I guess they weren’t after the content, but the amount of pressure I could withstand and get an idea of my breaking point. This round lasted exactly an hour.
For the next month and a half, I followed up – with no responses – not even a “HR will get back to you”. Then out of the blue, came the call for the next round – this time with two people – a senior manager and a senior writer on that team. I was asked in detail about process and procedure writing, dealing with clients and SMEs and several questions on information mapping, issue and time management, work prioritization and people management. It was a good thing I took my laptop and showed them samples of my work relating to every question they threw at me… if you have stuff to show, tout it – it helps to show off sometimes. This round also lasted an hour. Between this and the next round, were two more agonizing months.
This round was with the hiring manager – the person this position reports to. It was an interesting dialogue with both of us asking questions and having a conversation. We discussed our backgrounds, how bad a commute we currently have, or why we keep ourselves so composed at the workplace but show aggression and frustration at home with the people we love? I was interested in asking things I really wanted to know about that institution – structure of the doc team, types of projects, daily routine of a writer, processes followed, the team’s openness to constructive criticism and improvement. One thing to remember in Canada is: always be prepared to ask questions. Companies here generally look for thinking individuals – someone who seems genuinely interested and inquisitive, not necessarily someone who can answer all the questions but doesn’t take the effort to research and ask relevant or thought provoking questions.
One complain every newcomer to Canada has is that hiring managers insist on Canadian experience. IT is the same everywhere, C++ and Java is the same in India as it is in US or Canada then why this demand? Thinking about it though, I realized that it is not the technical content they are after, but the business etiquettes, the Canadian protocol. Embracing this fact will make settling down here a little easier. One way of getting this experience is volunteering in your career-related field. Volunteering and other unpaid jobs are considered proper work experience and mentioned in resumes as co-ops in Canada.
If anyone is considering coming to Canada and has any questions or issues, please email me and I’d be happy to address them as best I can.
About the author:
Sumedh recently expanded his India operations by opening a branch of CrackerJack WordSmiths Inc. in Toronto, Canada. He is a visiting faculty on Technical Communications at the George Brown College in Toronto, the Mentorship Manager for STC India and Events Manager for STC Toronto. You can read his article on Networking – New Age Mantra for Job Seekers published in the July 2009 Edition of the TechCraft. Sumedh can be reached at email@example.com.
About the illustration:
Used with permission from Mallika Yelandur.