Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada (free illustrated PDF guide)

Chapter 22: Looking for job offers and going through the hiring process

Published: 02-03-2020



Looking for job offers and going through the hiring process

Now is the time to figure out what kind of work opportunities you’re looking for, proof your resume one last time and launch a few proactive job search strategies.

You probably already know a thing or two about your industry—even in Canada, the hiring process for a line cook in casual dining is different than the hiring process for a project manager at a non-profit. Let’s review the different ways to look for opportunities and what you need to do to get hired.

Dropping off your resume

Some of you probably find the idea of pounding the pavement with a stack of printed copies of your resume terrifying while others will enjoy the physical and practical exercise. Hand-delivering resumes is still a thing for some entry-level positions as well as for retail or food service jobs. You can focus on businesses with “hiring” or “XXX wanted” signs or adopt the good old “spray and pray” method and step into every restaurant in a specific area.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to introduce yourself to the manager—don’t show up in the middle of the lunch rush or during a sales event! Franchises and big-box stores may ask you to fill out their own application on paper or online while small businesses generally have a more flexible hiring process.

Expect an informal interview. Prepare your “elevator pitch”—especially if you’re not a native English speaker—and simple answers to common questions such as “what are your main skills?” and “why do you want to join the team?”

The salary question may come up and you should know the minimum wage for the position you’re applying for. Check out the Current and forthcoming minimum hourly wage rates for experienced adult workers in Canada for a good overview. You can also use Job Bank to see salary ranges for occupations and current work opportunities.

Approaching a company directly

If you’re dead-set on working for a specific company, don’t hesitate to submit your application even if there are no advertised opportunities. Many organizations are interested in hearing from great talent and you could be added to the internal database of applicants.

Your cover letter will have to be particularly strong and highlight unique skills and experience to be noticed.

Looking for job offers online

Start with job search websites like Monster and Workopolis and browse offers by location, industry or job title. You may also find local opportunities on Craigslist and Kijiji.

You can post your resume online on websites like Monster and LinkedIn. It can be an efficient job search strategy if you’re a professional qualified for in-demand jobs and if you include all the right keywords in your resume (for instance, in IT, programing languages). However, expect to be contacted by many staffing agencies trying to grow their database of candidates and the occasional scammer.

Job Bank, the Government of Canada’s website for jobs and labour market information, is a very useful tool. You can browse current offers by location and in the Explore careers section, you will get information on wages, occupational outlook, skills needed and requirements to meet for specific jobs.

Finally, don’t forget to do a simple Google search to find websites for professionals in your field. Simple enter “job+keywords related to your field” to find offers, networking groups, etc.

Read Finding a job and working in Canada for a more comprehensive list of job search websites.

Registering with a staffing agency

There are plenty of staffing agencies (also called “placement agencies” or “employment agencies”) all over Canada. If you’re looking for clerical, IT or finance jobs, it’s worth registering with several agencies even if the process is tedious and the screening tests are fairly repetitive.

Registering with a staffing agency as a candidate is free. The agency charges the client (i.e., the employer) a fee.

The tests you will have to take depend on the position you’re looking for and the skills listed on your resume. Common skill tests include performing various tasks using Word, Excel and PowerPoint (mostly for admin jobs), data entry and typing (note that Canada uses a QWERTY keyboard layout and the Multilingual Standard keyboard in French). If you’re bilingual, you may have to take a multiple-choice language proficiency tests as well.

The following staffing agencies have branches all over the country:

Adecco, Kelly Services, Manpower, Quantum, Randstad, Altis HR

Once you’re registered with an agency, don’t hesitate to call your contact regularly to inquire about openings. Many staffing agencies are good at harvesting your info and adding your profile to their database of candidates but until you’ve completed an assignment or two, you’re candidate #125487—don’t expect the staff to remember you or give you personalized attention.

Using your network

Refer to “Leveraging the power of networking and volunteering” in the previous section for advice on building your network.

Keep in mind that many positions are filled without ever being advertised. This is known as the “hidden job market” or the “invisible job markets,” millions of openings where candidates are found directly through networking. Networking is the hidden door to tap into this market!

Watch out for job offer scams!

Chances are, at one point or another, you’ll be contacted because you’d be a very good fit for an awesome well-paid job—for which you tick all the boxes! A big paycheque, a nice title, an easy schedule … sounds too good to be true? Most if the time, it is, occasionally, it’s not.

Before falling or scam or skipping a legit opportunity, remember that you should never pay to work or work for free. Research the company on Google or Glassdoor where you can read company reviews written anonymously by employees.

Writing a cover letter

The format

There are no specific industry standards when it comes to a cover letter’s layout, font or length.

Most commonly, it starts with your contact information at the top (full name, address, phone number and email), then the date, employer contact information and the subject line.

Always try to address your cover letter to the relevant person—avoid the “to whom it may concern” salutation. You can call the company or check its website to find the name of the hiring manager.

Make sure to use an easy-to-read font and proper formatting (i.e. paragraphs, etc.).

The content

Much like your resume, this one-page document must grab your prospective employer’s attention and highlight the core strengths that make you the best possible candidate for the job.

Indicate the position you’re applying for, how you learned about it, then explain what you have to offer and how you can contribute to the company’s mission. Draw on the key competencies from your resume and exemplify your hard and soft skills.

At the end of the letter, talk about your availability for the job, where you can be contacted, and when you are going to contact the hiring manager for an appointment to discuss your application. Thank the hiring manager for his/her time and consideration of your application. Add your full name and signature.

Make sure to proof your letter before you send it!

You can see a few cover letter samples in the Career development section of the Government of Manitoba’s website. Their Resume and cover letter builder is also a great tool.

Cover letters aren’t usually expected for entry-level positions in the retail or food service industry.

Overcoming the Canadian experience catch 22

Even experienced professionals may have to work around the first-Canadian-experience catch 22. Sure, you have a degree, work experience and skills but you didn’t work and study in Canada and employers may find it difficult to assess the resume of a newcomer. They may also wonder if you’re legally allowed to work in Canada, if your language skills are good enough, if you know basic Canadian work etiquette, if you’re going to commit to the job, if your references can be contacted, etc.

There are several strategies to overcome the “no Canadian experience” catch 22.

You can apply for an entry-level job in retail, customer service or in the food service industry. Employee turnover is high in bars, restaurants, retail stores and call centres and newcomers are more likely to be given a chance. Learn a few new skills, perform well and when it’s time to move on for a better opportunity, you will have Canadian work experience and references to put on your resume.

Volunteering is also a great way to ease into the Canadian job market. Unpaid experiences are valuable on the job market and they are a great way to start building your network. Note that a few organizations require you to volunteer for a certain period of time before asking for a professional reference.

Not all WHP holders will have to take an entry-level position in an unrelated field, but it’s best to get used to the idea—and who knows, maybe you’ll land your dream job right away!

Going to a job interview

Some interviews will be fairly informal and simply making a good impression will be enough. On the other hand, you may have to face more stressful high-stake interactions when meeting key managers for a skilled position with responsibilities.

The most “routine” interview you’re likely to experience is a meeting with staffing agency recruiters to discuss possible employment opportunities. While you may feel less pressure than if you were going to a formal interview, you still have to be very professional. The client (i.e. the company using the staffing agency to find suitable temp employees) won’t always interview you, they may rely on the agency’s recommendation alone. If you feel you bombed the interview, don’t stress out. The agency’s main goal is to fill a demand and grow their database of potential employees. You stumbled over your words? The staffing agency probably won’t recommend you for a call-centre position but if there’s an opening for data entry, you may be the right person!

Interviewing directly with a company is probably a scarier perspective. Follow the tips below to ace your first Canadian interview!

What to wear

Dress professionally and use common sense—don’t show up wearing jeans for a job in a financial institution but don’t walk into a busy restaurant wearing a suit and tie for a dishwasher gig.

When in doubt, dress the part and go conservative. Wear neat, clean clothes. You can never go wrong with dress pants/skirt and a button-down shirt.

If you suspect your industry allows a more casual dress code, wait for the offer letter to show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Your employer will let you know what’s acceptable and what’s not soon enough. You may also discover that your workplace relaxes the dress code on Fridays—“casual Friday” is the wardrobe reward for making it to the end of the work week!

What to bring

It’s always a good idea to bring a copy of your resume just in case your prospective employer didn’t print it out or misplaced it. It can also be a visual reference as you discuss your work experiences.

What to say

Just like with your resume and cover letter, once again, you have to convince the prospective employer you’re an excellent candidate for the job. Don’t just read your resume out loud, give examples, explain skills, mention quantifiable achievements.

At some point you may be asked the “interview 101” question: “What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?” Don’t blurt out that you find it hard to work as a team when you’re applying for a team leader job! Pick something relatively harmless that won’t affect your performance in the role or a recovered weakness, something you’re admitting to be working on.

Another cliché interview question is describing a particular situation and the way you reacted to it, for example, missing a deadline. If nothing comes to mind, draw on your experience as a student or in other non-professional settings (e.g. rushing to prepare your WHP application before the deadline!)

Project confidence throughout the interview. Explain you have all the qualifications needed for the position and if you’re missing one skill, state you will learn it quickly with your future coworkers.

Interviewing in Canada when you’ve just arrived and haven’t yet mastered all the cultural codes may sound like a daunting prospect, especially if English isn’t your native language. It all comes down to confidence—believe in yourself!

Language tests and language skills

If you are interviewing in an English-speaking province for a bilingual position, you may have to take a language test. Similarly, if you’re interviewing in French and English is also required for the job, you may have to take an English test. Remember to brush up your language skills before the interview.

And what if neither English nor French is your native language? Well, millions of immigrants to Canada have been in your shoes. Sure, there’s always a chance you might misunderstand a question or have the right word on the tip of your tongue, but it doesn’t mean the interview is over. If you look skilled and motivated, you can still be the right person for the job. Besides, chances are working in an English—or French-speaking environment will help your language skills.

Make sure to learn enough vocabulary related to your field, practice common interview questions and answers, start with a non-customer-facing position and work on your language skills—you can do it!

Wrapping up the interview

It’s time to make a good lasting impression on the interviewer to be remembered as a promising candidate for the job. Reiterate why the position fits your skills and is a good match given your assets as a candidate.

Thank the interviewer for their time and ask what to expect with the hiring process, e.g. the timeframe for finalizing their decision.

Following up

It’s okay to send a short thank-you note after the interview. You can also contact the interviewer if you don’t hear back from them within the specified timeframe. This follow-up is a normal and professional part of the process—you’re not annoying anyone, you’re just a motivated candidate looking for updates.

One final caveat about interviewing in Canada. Canadians tend to be friendly and generous with superlatives. You may hear very encouraging feedback during interviews—you’d be “a perfect fit,” your resume is “awesome,” etc. Maybe you did ace your job interview and maybe you’ll get a call back right away … but you may just as well be never contacted again. Occasionally, you will be “ghosted” after being led to believe you had every chance to get the job. You can follow up once, then move on if you don’t get a job offer. Maybe another candidate was more qualified, maybe the position was filled internally, who knows. Following up is the chance to get closure and know for sure whether you still have a chance or not.

Getting a job offer

Congratulations, you’re hired!

After accepting the offer, don’t worry if you don’t sign an employment contract—large companies with a HR department might ask you sign a bunch of policies but smaller employers may skip this practice, and it’s not illegal to do so. To learn more about the documents you’ll need to provide, read Finding a job and working in Canada.

In most full-time jobs, you’ll work between 35 and 40 hours a week. Traditional office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but you may have a completely different schedule if you work in a call centre or in customer service.

Annual vacations

If you’re from Europe, where employers are more generous with paid time off, you may be disappointed—the basic entitlement is two weeks of vacation for every completed “year of employment.”

You can always try to ask for another unpaid week of vacation time—this kind of request is part of the negotiable non-monetary benefits to discuss after the job offer is made.

Don’t forget to keep a few vacation days. Employers have the right to assign when vacation time will be used and many small businesses close between Christmas and New Year, for instance.

Being self-employed

Web designers, copywriters, journalists, translators, etc. can work as freelancers during their WHP. Being self-employed is fairly common in Canada and there isn’t too much red tape to work under this status.

The CRA has online services available for businesses and self-employed individuals. Make sure you save enough money to pay income tax at the end of the financial year.

Average salaries and wages

Check out the Current and forthcoming minimum hourly wage rates for experienced adult workers in Canada for a good overview.

Job Bank, the Government of Canada’s website for jobs and labour market information, is a very useful tool. You can browse current offers by location and in the Explore careers section, you will get information on wages, occupational outlook, skills needed and requirements to meet for specific jobs.

Median salaries and the federal minimum wage vary from one province/territory to another. How much you could make also depends on your experience in the field, your education, skills, the company and even on the city you live in. So many factors determine the hourly wage or salary offered that it’s impossible to give accurate estimates.

Here are just a few examples. For comparison purposes, salaries were converted to an equivalent hourly wage.

Examples of gross hourly wages for WHP holders:

  • Cashier in Saskatoon: $12
  • Gross salary, for information purpose only.Waiter/waitress, Montreal: $10.55 + tips (this is the minimum wage rate for employees receiving tips (usually, in the food service industry, most of the income is from tips)
  • Web developer in Toronto: $30-35 (with two years of experience)
  • Fast food employee, Whitehorse: $14
  • Sales associate in a clothing store, Winnipeg: $14 (with two years of experience)
  • Call centre employee, Fredericton: $11 (entry-level position)
  • Receptionist in a ski resort in Canmore: $15 (with experience)

Gross salary, for information purpose only.

Paying taxes

If you work in Canada, you will have to pay the personal income tax. This amount is calculated based on your taxable income (income earned less allowed expenses) for the tax year. The federal income tax system is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

For most employees, income tax is deducted at the source, i.e. employers withhold money from your paycheque and remit it directly to the CRA. At the end of the tax year, you will receive a T4 tax slip from your employer indicating what you have been paid before deductions, as well as other contributions deducted from your pay cheque during the tax year.

You will have to file a tax return reporting the sum of the previous year’s (January to December) taxable income and provide all your T4s (if you worked for several employers). This tax return is due at the latest on April 30.

In the best-case scenario, you don’t owe anything to the CRA or you get a tax refund (i.e. you paid too much tax and the CRA gives you back the money). If you did earn a comfortable income, you might owe money.

Whether you file your tax return in Canada or after you go back home, you can do it alone, hire an accountant or use a filing and tax refund service like Taxback (check out their special offer for WHP holders!).

If you know you won’t be working a lot in Canada, you can ask your employer to fill out Form TD1. If you state that you won’t claim more than the “basic personal amount” (for 2018, every taxpayer can earn a taxable income of $11,809 before paying any federal tax), you will have less payroll deductions. This can be a smart solution for those who stay in Canada for the entire fiscal year. If you arrive in Canada in the middle of the fiscal year, you may end up paying more taxes the following year.

Chapter 22 of 34


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