How to gain the competitive edge you need to succeed

Some sectors in Canada, like marketing, visual design and other creative fields, can be highly competitive. This makes it very important to set yourself — and your skills — apart.

There are abundant opportunities in the Canadian labour market right now. But not all industries are created equal. Some sectors are very competitive with lots of talented candidates vying for desirable job openings. Finding a job in areas like the arts, visual design, media, marketing or advertising can be challenging for skilled newcomers. Some factors like a challenging post-pandemic economic outlook for the arts and media sectors in Canada are outside of a job seeker’s control. But the actions you take as part of your job search journey can make all the difference toward reaching your career goals. We talked to a couple career advisors to get some pointers on how to set yourself apart from the competition — even in the most competitive fields.

Preparation is key
Christopher Lau, a client success coach with Windmill Microlending, a national charitable organization helping skilled immigrants and refugees achieve career success, advises newcomers to start job market research right away — preferably even before arriving in Canada — to be prepared for what lies ahead. He says this includes finding out what kind of jobs are in demand, what areas of the country are the best fit for your skillset, and what qualifications employers are looking for.

A helpful resource to find out which skills are in demand in every part of Canada is Windmill’s Trending Jobs Report. It highlights the jobs, province-by-province, that are growing and have strong prospects for the future.

“Be honest with yourself and consider if what you have to offer matches up with what employers in Canada are looking for,” Lau says. For example, if you worked in advertising in your country of origin, take a good look if your creative style and skills match industry trends in Canada. Upskilling with some industry-specific training can help you adapt your skills to the Canadian market.

Sharpen your skills
“Upskilling is definitely an advantage,” says Vandna Joshi, senior manager, employment programs at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society in Surrey, B.C. “Updating your skills shows employers that you’re open to new ideas, adaptable to change, have a growth mindset and are committed to lifelong learning,” she says.

After all, whatever field you’re in, things don’t stay static. “We’ve seen that so clearly over the last two years. It’s important to learn new skills, tools and approaches so we can innovate and meet the changes in the labour market,” she adds.

Be strategic in your search
Beyond preparing and upskilling, skilled immigrant jobseekers need to be strategic when applying for work in competitive fields. Too often, newcomers look at job hunting as a numbers game. They send out dozens, if not hundreds, of resumés, hoping to get a reply. Disappointment follows when the replies are few and far between. To get an employer’s attention, newcomers have to improve their strategy. It sounds simple but experts say it is astonishing how many people apply for jobs with generic resumés that don’t reflect the job they are applying for.

“We always advise skilled immigrants to strategically tailor their resumés to the job they’re applying for by reading the job posting carefully,” says Joshi. “Also, it’s important for them to highlight their transferable skills if they do not have direct experience.” 

Looking beyond the job posting, adapt your resumé to industry expectations. For example, a graphic designer can present a resumé that’s more visual and creative than the standard business resumé. “You should be able to showcase your style and brand, but, of course, the information should still be easy to read and accessible,” Joshi says.

Don’t be shy! Reach out to introduce yourself
When you’re doing everything you can to find employment but still not getting results, it can be frustrating and isolating. A little networking can go a long way to making the connections you need to figure out the nuances of the Canadian job market. It can even help get your foot in the door of an organization you’d like to work for!

Lau says it is perfectly acceptable to strike up a conversation with people who are part of your LinkedIn network and ask some professionally focused questions. “Of course, be respectful of people and their time, and don’t ask for a job,” he says. “The goal is to learn about an organization and build a relationship, not to be a nuisance. If people have an opportunity, they will let you know.”

In fact, many jobs in creative fields are filled by word of mouth and referrals, even before there’s an official job posting. “Make solid connections with people in your field using social media platforms and attending sector-specific conferences. That will open up opportunities you may not have known about otherwise,” Joshi says.

Create your own opportunities
Creative employment roles might be harder to find, but, with a little initiative — and, you guessed it, creativity — you can actually help create your own opportunities. Journalists, for example, can write their own blog as a way to share their writing portfolio and build up a following. Work in a visual medium? Showcase your designs or videos on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube or TikTok. This exposure can lead to freelance opportunities, collaborations and even job offers.

“If people don’t give you an opportunity, create one for yourself. You just have to think outside the box,” Lau says. “The old mindset is that you need someone to hire you, but in recent times there is a new dynamic, a decentralization, where people can bypass the gatekeepers and create work for themselves.”

Whether you’re just starting your career, looking to move up, or retrain for a new field, growing opportunities await you. Now is the time to accelerate your career in Canada. Windmill’s Career Success and Planning Centre offers tools, tips and online digital resources to help skilled immigrants and refugees reach their professional goals, sooner. Visit windmillmicrolending.org to take the next step in your career, today. 

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