Careers: "More-than-Just-Survival" Jobs

by Marcela Mayo

Moving to a new country is not an easy task. It may take months or even years to learn the language, adapt to the new culture and find a job in your profession or skill area. It is a process that requires patience and hard work.

But the bills will not wait! Rent and home related expenses, transportation, food and appropriate winter clothing will start to add up soon.

Unless you have enough savings to survive until you can find a job in your profession, you may need to consider working at an entry level job or “survival job”.

“Survival jobs are some times necessary,” says Sharon Magor, Manager Marketing for JVS Toronto, a non-profitable community based agency which helps newcomers through a variety of programs. “Based on my experience, I would say to start working as soon as possible in order to support yourself, and, if you have the possibility, try to advance your education,” she adds.

Although most people look for entry level jobs for financial reasons, they offer other benefits. They will help you to start learning about Canada’s culture, meet new people and improve your English (or French, if you have immigrated to Quebec).

Like most immigrants, Daniel Blumenfeld worked in different “survival jobs” until he found one in his field, computer programming. For the first three years, he worked as a sales associate, data entry clerk and translator.

“Based on my experience, the best “survival” job would be one in a field related to your profession,” says Blumenfeld.

There are diverse entry level jobs offered in the market. The best approach is to research the different options available and find out which kind of job you would like to do.

“The best (survival) job will be the one that gives you the freedom to continue searching for your dream job,” says Magor.

But depending on the urgency to work, your age, gender and personality, you may prefer one job over another. Pay and work hours vary based on the type of work. By law, employers cannot pay less than the minimum wage established by the province where you live.

“Our salaries are competitive in this market,” explains Heather Seabrook, Communication Specialist for Best Buy Co., a North America’s specialty retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers and entertainment software.

“All our employees are required to work evening shifts and weekends,” she adds.

Retail chains such as Best Buy also offer seasonal work opportunities, like before the start of the school year and during the holiday seasons. If you would like to get a temporary seasonal job, Christmas is a good time to do so.

Sales associate, telemarketing (call centers), cashier, gas station attendant, office clerk, delivery person, cleaner, factory and warehouse positions are common entry level or survival jobs. It is important to search and speak to people who have been in Canada for a long time. They may be able to give you useful information and tips.

Most companies will provide you with paid training. Call centers pay relatively well in comparison to other jobs and they usually require people who speak a second language.

Entry level factory or warehouse positions usually pay minimum wage and demand shift work. Working for a moving company requires physical work and is not considered a stable job although it may suit your needs.

Sales associate jobs can be fun and a great opportunity to meet people. Don’t forget there are many kinds of stores. If you are a professional photographer for example, you may enjoy working in a photography store to start.

“The demographics of our stores is diverse. We have a variety of employees from different backgrounds,” explains Seabrook.

Newspapers would be a good place to search for jobs. A few of them are distributed for free. Websites such as workopolis.com and monster.ca are other great resources. If you don’t have a computer, you can go to your local library. Most branches have computers available for public use.

You may be able to apply for many of the jobs online. Find out by calling or visiting the company’s website. If you are walking in the mall and see a “help wanted” sign, don’t be shy. Go inside and ask for the manager. He or she will be able to explain about the opening and how to apply.

To apply for any job, you need a Canadian style résumé and cover letter. If you need help preparing them, search for a government funded organization and/or a Human Resources and Skilled Development Office in your area.

An example of these non profit organizations would be JVS Toronto which offers Job Search workshops, Newcomer Employment Services, Mentoring Services and Work Experience Programs.

“Our first step will be to assess your skills, abilities and interests, and check if they match the local employer’s requirements,” explains Magor. “I would recommend any newcomer to come to one of our orientation sessions, meet with a counselor, and draft an action plan,” he adds.

There also are online sources available to help you build your résumé and cover letter based on templates. On the internet, you can find many of these resources.

But networking is probably the best way to find a job. People in Canada love to network! Don’t be embarrassed to introduce yourself. Let people know you are new to the country and looking for a job. You will be surprised on how many people are willing to help. It is also a great way to make new friends.

Look at entry level jobs with optimism as a temporary solution to “survive” until you find a job in your profession or skill area. Don’t forget that only a few immigrants are lucky enough to work in their professions right away. Most of them are not. Some of them need to go back to school before they can do it, or wait for their degree to be locally recognized. It takes time.

Meanwhile, enjoy your survival job, and learn from every experience. Enroll in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course in your area. Improving your language is essential in finding a better job. Make an action plan and keep working hard to achieve your long-term goal, to find a position in your profession.

CNM