Finding a job and working in Canada

Chapter 5: Create a Canadian-style resume and write your cover letter

Published: 24-02-2020

Author

isa

Create a Canadian-style resume and write your cover letter

Canadians tend to ask applicants to send them a “resume.” The term “CV” (“Curriculum Vitae”) is often used for academic or research-oriented positions where a lengthy, highly detailed and impressive document is expected instead of the usual one-page or two-page resume most employers will be happy with.

Basic tips for your Canadian-style resume
● Your resume won’t be gender-neutral because you should include your first name, and your potential employer may also be able to guess your cultural background from your last name. However, you must leave off your resume all the personal facts that could expose you to potential discrimination—marital status, number of children, birthdate, religious beliefs, etc. Including a passport-sized picture is also a cultural faux pas but offering a link to your LinkedIn profile is fine. Canadian employers aren’t looking for information about your personal life. Including it means you don’t understand the Canadian work culture and you may not be a good fit.
● Don’t use the same resume you created when you applied for your WHV. In this resume, you had to list all your work experiences and your complete education history. When you apply for a specific position, it’s best to highlight and detail relevant experience and training. Focus on what the employer is looking for in a candidate—your complete background is irrelevant.
● Your foreign degrees may not mean much to a Canadian employer. Even if you attended the best university or a very selective high school, chances are a Canadian employer won’t be wowed (Oxford and Cambridge in the UK may be the exception!). Focus on getting the message across. If you don’t have a lot of work experience yet, explain what your study program taught you or trained you for. State the level of post-secondary education attained clearly, for instance: “name of degree” (four-year university degree).
● It’s best to list your work experience before your education.
● If you work for a company famous in your country but unknown in Canada, give a bit of background. For example: “Woolworths Group (a major Australian retail company)”.
● Format your resume for letter-size paper and create a .ca or .com email address. Details matter!

Tailor your resume to the job description
We’re not telling you to exaggerate your job titles and embellish your responsibilities but it is important to highlight the skills and experiences your potential employer is looking for.

You have a number of “soft skills,” i.e. transferable skills you developed in one situation and can be transferred to another situation. For instance, leadership, time management, prioritization or delegation are skills that can be developed in any industry and applied to many experiences—list them and exemplify them.

A resume for a generic customer service position and a resume for a specific offer in your field should be very different. It’s probably not the best idea to highlight your post-secondary education for a fast-food job because the hiring manager will think you’re overqualified and unlikely to stick around. A better strategy would be to list skills that fit the work environment—able to multitask, good communication skills, etc.

Should my resume be in English or in French?
If you’re proficient in both official languages, you may have a French version of your resume and an English version. It’s best to send a French resume if the offer was posted in French and an English resume if the offer was posted in English. For bilingual positions, feel free to send both versions!
What resume format should I use?
To start, include your contact information at the top of your resume—full name, address, phone number (in Canada!), email address and if applicable, a link to your LinkedIn profile.

Unless specified in the job posting, you can choose one of the three main resume formats.

Chronological: If you’re using this traditional format, you’re listing your work experience and education history in a reverse-chronological order, starting with the most recent job titles and degrees. This type of resume lays out your experience in a clear, orderly manner and makes it easy for a hiring manager to get a complete picture of your background. It’s a good option if you want to stress on career growth and if you’re applying for a job in your field. However, it’s probably not the best fit if you have gaps in your employment history and if your work experiences aren’t closely related. If you choose to use this format, select your most relevant experiences and describe your tasks and achievements for each position.

Functional: If you’re using this format, you’re listing your skills and accomplishments instead of focusing on your work history. You should also list your work history but without much detail—simply include your position, the name of the company and your date of employment in another section below the skills. This format is a good option for non-traditional career paths, job seekers trying to break into a new industry or recent grads without much practical work experience.

Combo: This format is literally a combination of the reverse-chronological and functional resume formats. A section called “summary of qualifications” or “professional profile” highlights a series of skills and achievements, but you’re still including the reverse-chronological work history section below the list of skills. This is a good format if you have the set of skills an employer is looking for and if you have a number of professional achievements.

To learn more about resume formats, check out the links in the “resume resources” section below. You can also read resume writing advice from the University of Ottawa.

How long should my resume be?
One-page or two-page resumes are the norm. Three-page resumes should be for those with an extensive (and relevant) work history or positions in academia.

Remember that it’s not about the length of your resume. Hiring managers receive dozens of applications. Most of them won’t be read carefully but scanned during the initial screening phase of the hiring process. If your resume doesn’t clearly show why you’d be a good candidate and doesn’t use the right keywords, it won’t be considered.

Professional references dos and don’ts
In Canada, professional references are very important. At the last stage of the hiring process, your future employers usually contact two or three people who know you personally and can talk about your professional skills, your character, your strengths and weaknesses.

These are some of the golden rules of job reference etiquette:
• You should always ask people if they are willing to provide a favourable job reference on your behalf. Don’t list someone as a reference without asking for permission.
• You can list former bosses, managers, teachers or mentors. Friends, roommates and relatives aren’t usually acceptable references.
• Ideally, warn your reference when they may be called. Tell them about the position you applied for and give them the name of the hiring manager.
• Don’t tire your references out! Reference check is usually the last step of the hiring process. The hiring manager will ask for references if needed, don’t give out the info too early. If you’re in the middle of a job search, you don’t want your references to be called every day.
• Always follow up with a thank-you note when the reference was contacted and consider giving them an update (were you offered the job? Did you take it?).

Providing Canadian references will be a challenge at first, so it’s best to come prepared with letters of references (in English!) from your former employers. You can also provide contact information abroad even if a Canadian hiring manager is unlikely to call overseas (except maybe in the US or the UK).

Your references may have to answer a few questions over the phone or fill out a questionnaire. Typical questions asked revolve around confirming employment dates, job title and responsibilities; speaking to your work habits (punctuality, team spirit, etc.) and checking achievements to see if you’re reliable and if you’d fit into the work culture.
Resume resources

WHV holders and Canadian university grads have one point in common—they’re both entering a job market. To help students navigating the workforce, most Canadian universities have a “Jobs” section online with employment strategies, as well resume and cover letter resources.

The University of Toronto’s “Jobs” section features resume samples for different sectors (computer science, finance, management, etc.). The PDF documents, available for download, are commented and several versions are ranked from “poorly prepared” to “most effective.” The entire resume and cover letter resources section is a goldmine of information to create an effective resume.

For the French version of your resume, you can use the PDF document (to download) “Les essentiels : CV et lettres.” Check out pages 9-10 for a list of action words to strengthen your statements. A similar list of action words in English is available from the University of British Columbia: “Marketing Me Inc.” (PDF to download).

Chapter 5 of 12

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