Five tips for newcomers seeking an IT career in Canada

By 4 June 2014 No Comments

The following is a guest post by Meng Li, a member of ICTC’s National Immigration Initiatives Steering Committee since 2007.

Photo_M_Li As an internationally educated professional landed in Canada almost 15 years ago, I am often asked to share my experiences and give advice for newcomers to have a successful career in their preferred occupation, especially in the Canadian ICT sector.

I did my undergraduate and graduate education in Geography in China, and then a Ph.D. degree from Ghent University of Belgium. Beginning with my graduate studies in geography, I was involved in learning and applying geospatial information technologies (including GIS, GPS and remote sensing). When I landed in Vancouver in January 1999, like every newcomer, everything was new to me; and even worse, I was sick alone for almost 10 days in the Vancouver rainy season. Even though I tried my best to get a professional job during a four-month job-hunting period, I didn’t get any formal job interview in the Vancouver area. So I bought a one-way ticket and left for Toronto for better opportunities. Two days before I left for Toronto, I got an interview opportunity from the City of Vancouver. Two weeks later, I returned from Toronto to accept a temporary GIS Programmer Analyst position at the City, at which I have now been working for over 14 years: the first 6 years as Programmer Analyst, and a second 6 years as Systems Analyst, and the recent 2 years as a manager of the city’s GIS Applications Team.

I have been a volunteer involved in several immigrant integration initiatives such as ICTC’s Immigration Initiatives, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Mentorship programs, the BC Internally Trained Professionals Network (BCITP Net) advocacy activities, and the City of Vancouver’s Mentorship programs. I can’t claim myself as a successful immigrant, but I hope, with my personal career path progression and volunteer experience helping other immigrants, the advice and tips described below would be useful to newcomers.

5 Job Seeking Tips for Newcomers:

–          Be prepared for effective immigration change and transition management

You made a big decision to come to Canada for a better life, and you should be proud of being bravely accepting big changes. It is quite normal after the initial excitement that you might feel confused, rejected or anxious in the new environment, or in other words experiencing culture shock, especially in your job search efforts. The key advice here is to understand the changes, impacts, and your strategies; and adapt yourself to go through transition by letting go of the past and moving through the confusing time to a new beginning. This doesn’t mean you have to start all over again. I observed many newcomers struggling in the immigration transition journey, and hesitated between establishing a new life in Canada and going back to the old one of their home country. Don’t let the past success and glories become a burden to your new beginning; instead, manage your expectations, and develop the values and new skills required in living a new country to ensure a successful new beginning and transition, which may take a longer time than you thought.

–          Build and implement a career action plan

Before starting a job search, ask yourself these questions: what’s your career goal for the coming months and 1-3 years? What are your interest and strengths? What are the competency requirements for ICT jobs of your interest in Canada? What are the gaps between your current competencies and relevant Canadian job requirements? How are you going to address the identified gaps? Do you know the Canadian ICT labour market information by occupation and by region so that you can make a wise decision on a career goal and a city to live in? You may want to start with a survival job as a short term career goal to make your living, but you need to build and implement a career action plan for the coming 1-3 years with a gap analysis in terms of at what time you want to take what actions for achieving what goals, and how? Taking courses or a new degree program may help you fill the gaps of lacking competencies, but the outcomes depend on individual situations. For instance, most newcomers in ICT often have sufficient technical competencies, and what they need to improve are the communication and workplace culture skills. The key point here is to identify where you lack job-related competencies, take proper steps to develop the lacking competencies, and ensure your employment readiness and competiveness for your preferred occupation that matches your interest and strengths. This should be done via a career action plan that needs to be built and managed well from the beginning and thereafter.

–          Sharpen your job search skills

Once you feel confident and ready for employment of your preferred occupation, you need to understand the required job search skills, including skills for resume and cover letter writing as well as for interviewing. It is highly recommended that every newcomer take a training course (mostly free) on sharpening job search skills. The key is to format your resume and present yourself in a way Canadian employers understand. The job hunting course which I took in 1999 allowed me to write a more effective resume that could attract hiring managers’ attention and generate interview opportunities, and to conduct a successful interview that can impress the hiring manager and result in a job. Also remember that job searching is a full time job that requires skills, time, and a concrete work plan properly managed throughout the job search period.

–          Brand yourself by capitalizing on your strengths

You come to Canada with unique talents and strengths that you should capitalize on. You need to identify your talents, strengths and weaknesses, and develop your personal brand by capitalizing on your strengths and managing around your weaknesses. Your talents and strengths are reflected in your past significant accomplishments and in providing values to your former employers. Summarize them and brand yourself in a way Canadian employers understand, with something like a personal business card telling your strengths and values as well as what you are looking for. As part of your career planning, branding yourself should focus on your performance outcomes instead of just qualifications (e.g. MBA, 5 years of experience) that may not be a valid predictor of the on-the-job performance. To put it another way, think about the answers to this question and its follow-up questions: what single project would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career so far?  Your answers will tell what challenges you overcame, what problems you solved, and what values you brought. This will help build your unique brand and identity employers are looking for.

–          Be a continuous learner

Continuous learning is required not only for keeping current on evolving technologies, but also for improving your job competencies in business acumen and workplace communication. This is especially true in the ICT sector where technologies advance so quickly and technology-based business solutions become even more challenging. Depending on your needs and situation, effective continuous learning can be done by taking a formal course or degree program (on-site or online) or/and by self-learning. Keep in mind that the job competencies obtained from your work experience and accomplishments are often more valuable than that from your extra training or degree. If possible, find someone who can give you advice on specific directions. Most Canadian employers provide training opportunities for employees, and you should leverage the opportunities if employed.

Seeking a career in your profession and having a progressive career path in a new country is not easy and is a long journey for newcomers. Canada is your chosen dream country to live a better life for you and your family. So many newcomers made their dream come true and you can make it too! Stick to your beliefs and values, and focus on what you can control: your attitude, your career planning, your competencies and your identity. ICTC’s Immigration Initiatives program generated a set of very useful tools and resources that allow you to more specifically understand and follow the tips I discussed here.


Meng LiChinese Canadian Information Technology Association (CCITA)
Meng Li has been representing the Chinese Canadian Information Technology Association as a member of ICTC’s National Immigration Initiatives Steering Committee since 2007. He is the Manager of the GIS Applications Team with the City of Vancouver Information Technology Department. Graduated from a Belgian university (Ph.D.) and Chinese universities (B.S. and M.Sc.), Meng is an internally educated professional landed in Canada in 1999, and has experienced those settlement and employment difficulties and challenges as every newcomer does. He has hence become an advocate and volunteer actively participating in and contributing to immigrant integration initiatives such as S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Mentorship programs, the BC Internally Trained Professionals Network (BCITP Net) advocacy activities, ICTC’s IEP Integration Initiative, and recently the City of Vancouver’s Mentorship project.