Settling in a new country can be very daunting. It involves changing your job, accommodation, lifestyle, social and family life. The time taken to adjust with all of these may vary from one individual to another.
When my husband and I decided to make a move from India to Canada, finding a job was our topmost priority. We both had left our well-paying jobs in India having close to a decade of work experience in our respective fields. We made sure to prepare ourselves as much as we could for this challenge and started our research long before moving to Canada. We enrolled ourselves for sensitization workshops, job search webinars specific to Canadian job market and various other sources to get acclimated with the Canadian workplace culture.
Coming from a metropolitan city like Mumbai and having worked in big companies with global employees and clients, we were both fluent in English and comfortably scored well in the language test IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Yet, language is just one part of communication, and we had a lot more to learn when it came to business communication. For starters, we had to get over thinking that our qualifications were enough to get us a job that we deserved. It was not enough to only have the required experience, but we had to now demonstrate that by being more outgoing and strategic in our communication.
I faced unique challenges as I approached my job search during the start of the pandemic, the field of Human Resources being highly competitive with lot of candidates available in the pool and a shrinking number of job opportunities. It was imperative to have connects in the organization to land a job. Organizations were more skeptical now than ever before to hire individuals coming from other countries and handling a role that required lot of human interaction.
During one discussion with a hiring manager regarding a job opportunity, I was very candid in sharing my experience considering that it was a casual introductory call. This reflected poorly on my candidature, and I did not receive a call for interview. Reflecting on that incident, I have now learnt that it is alright to request for a call back respectfully if you are not prepared with your best version to present in front of the hiring manager. Be mindful of the difference between workplace environment and then prepare a strategy to answer questions rather than jumping the gun. After many such instances of learning, I landed a job in my field which involves interacting with individuals from various cultural backgrounds. Each interaction is a new learning and gives lot of insight about different cultures.
Some of the cultural aspects that impact communication are listed below. This list is not exhaustive, it is merely based on my experiences and learning when I moved to Canada.
Networking with hiring managers - To get a job in Canada it is important to network and build connections with hiring managers and recruiters directly and be able to pitch yourself for the job. LinkedIn is a common platform for candidates to connect with people in the organization and it is common practice for candidates to write an introductory message directly to the hiring managers for a job opening in their team. It is also very common for potential candidates to meet up with hiring managers for coffee connects to introduce themselves as successful candidates for any future job openings in their team.
Small talk - Unlike some cultures where we directly start a call or meeting by diving into the agenda, in Canadian culture you would start with a brief discussion about the weather, your weekend or any other common topic that acts like an ice breaker and warms you up for further discussion. Not adhering to this may make you come across as arrogant or disrespectful of the other person.
Respect for individuals - Rightly so, there is a lot of focus on respect for every individual and the contribution they make. Irrespective of the background of people or their level in the organization, every individual is treated with lot of respect and dignity.
Personal space - While developing connects at workplace and having small talks is encouraged, one must avoid getting into other person’s personal space as it may be perceived as invasion of privacy. Enquiring about details regarding your colleague’s health or personal relations, religious beliefs and the like are all forbidden topics.
Each culture has certain unsaid norms and practices which are best learnt through experience. Our understanding of different cultures is often limited to the portrayal on media and our social conditioning. The more we push ourselves outside comfort zone and interact with others, the better we would be at knowing what to expect in such conversations.
Achint Kaur is a Human Resources professional with over 9 years of experience working in multinational companies in India and Canada. Her experience ranges from HR generalist, learning and development, career management, inclusion and diversity roles in organizations like Tata Consultancy Services and Amazon. She is currently in Brampton, Canada working in a lead role for the HR Regional Center team of Amazon.