Immigrant Jobseekers: Welcome to the Client-Driven Society

Welcome to the Client-Driven Society
by Claudio Munoz

If you were a motivated immigrant, you were probably able to become fluent in English fast.
You are able to understand what people say without much trouble, you can watch TV news without using captions and you can see a movie at the theatre and actually enjoy it completely, laughing at every joke. You still might have an accent, of course, but you can make yourself understood easily, using big words when speaking and strong structures when writing.

Maybe you already have a job, and every day you go to your office and do whatever you are supposed to do. You are efficient, prepared, educated; you have done your work so many times that “challenge” is not part of the equation anymore.

Nonetheless you still cannot get that promotion, or the job you want. You are stuck. And it sucks.

The Chang School’s Professional Communication for Employment program at Ryerson University is based on the “discovery” that Canada is a client-based society. Even though it sounds obvious, this particular attribute affects your chances of success: if you had worked in a more hierarchical society before immigrating, the gap between workplaces could be actually an abyss (a much bigger gap).

“The way a relationship happens in the workplace is different in Canada, where there is more emphasis on equality,” Nava Israel, the Program Manager, explains. “And although there is hierarchy in the workplace, here everyone is your client. Your boss is your client; your employee is your client. You can’t tell an employee what to do, you have to sell it, motivate him/her. You have to earn the title of leader, you don’t inherit it, you get it through how well you create relationships with your peers, supervisors, employees... everyone.”

Do You Know How To Sell Yourself?

Adam Yang is an IT architect at TD Bank, who came to Canada in 1996 right after finishing his PhD in Sweden. “First I worked in a very small company and then I moved to IBM were I stayed for a year,” Yang explains. Two years later, after feeling overworked and stressed, he moved to TD Bank.

It was his boss at the bank who told him about The Chang School’s program, not because there was anything wrong with Young; he was an efficient worker who talked with clients over the telephone all day, and even managed a group of colleagues. Yang just didn’t feel ready to assume more responsibilities. Even though he had tried different courses before, he decided to enrol. The program is very experiential. Using simulations, role playing and team work to emulate real workplaces, participants practice everything that happens in the place of work during a class. The good news is that this is a safe environment and nobody gets frustrated with you if you are not doing it right.

Yang particularly liked this component. “People did not say that something was right or wrong, they just said ‘why did you do it that way?” Simulations allowed the teacher to show what you are supposed to do here in Canada [how to behave],” he explains.

To get the most out of the classes, Ryerson developed an online component to provide all the concepts through the Internet. So when you arrive at school you already know the basics, and then you just practice. “People like it because it is interesting and flexible. The online component allows us to cut the time the instructor needs to teach the concepts. All the time is used for trying things out, getting coaching, improving. It is a more active learning.”

Those Invisible Little Things

For Yang, the courses were not about great discoveries. “I would say that newcomers discover really big things, but people that have been here for a while, not. Generally speaking I’m settled, but I still found a lot of small things very useful – for example at classes my teacher said, ‘typical
Chinese never say no, even if they have a different opinion. But, in the Canadian work place, if you think differently you just say no’, things like that.”

“I think that one of the beauties of this program is that really serves both people who have just landed and people who have lived here half of their lives,” Israel explains. “[One major] challenge of cultural transition [is that] people very rarely provide you with the feedback that you need in order to see that there is a problem, especially in the Canadian culture that it is very polite.”

In every workplace you succeed according to the set of skills you bring and your soft skills – the kind of things you learn throughout your life: “How well you communicate with people, how well you are able to build trust with other people in the workplace, with clients, supervisors, employees, colleagues... how well are you able to negotiate your wage or whatever you need to negotiate, how well can you convince people that what you think, your opinion, is the right one (persuasion) and how well can you speak in front of crowds (public speaking)”, Israel says.

All those soft skills can help you sell yourself – promote your ideas, your knowledge. Once you have mastered these skills, your hard skills (those things you learn at school) would be highly recognized again. In a sense, this is a society driven by experts also, but experts need to learn how to sell themselves first. If you are the greatest engineer of your time, you need to find a way to let the world know.

cnm