Why can’t I get Canadian companies to take my U.S. experience seriously?

Globe and Mail Update

The question
I was relocated to Canada from the U.S. by the consultant firm I worked for. The project fell through and I was out of a job but I decided to stay in Canada (Toronto) to look for a new job at a Canadian bank. Even after I had obtained permanent residency status I was told I would have to take “several steps down the corporate ladder” because I had little Canadian experience. I had 10 years of banking experience in the U.S. and an MBA. I’ve sat in the HR offices of some of the Big Five banks and I am led to wonder how can someone get past that view that experience outside of Canada isn’t relevant here? How can you convince a corporation to look at you seriously even though your lengthy experience isn’t from Canada? Can you get past that or do you have to accept that you have to start near the bottom again?
The answer
I hear your frustration and I am sure you have a lot of worthy skills and experience from your lengthy experience in the U.S. However, while an MBA and 10 years of experience is impressive, what will matter most is what you achieved, learned, and contributed within that experience and how that is relevant to the Canadian market.
Keep in mind, there is nothing generic about banking. One size doesn’t fit all. The finance sector is a vast industry. For instance, a career in banking might encompass roles within retail banking, lending, investment management, tax and estate planning, wealth management, private banking, global banking, merchant banking, card services – and so much more. Deep experience in one area may or may not be transferrable to another area. As well, in any of these areas the Canadian market can differ greatly from the U.S from a regulatory, business, operations and marketing perspective.
To be taken seriously, your “pitch” (résumé, interviews) has to immediately convey that you have enough of the relevant experience and leadership attributes to be considered for a senior role. If the 10-year U.S. experience isn’t enough to break through to employers, what would a more compelling narrative look like? I encourage you rethink your approach (your résumé and profile; and to whom and how are pitching your candidacy). Your pitch may need to be more focused and tailored to the opportunities you are seeking.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you reflect and further refine your job search with more focus.
• Sectors: What sectors within the banking and finance industry do I bring the most experience and how closely aligned is my experience with the Canadian market? What would I need to do and learn to close that gap if I want to work in any particular finance sector in the Canadian market?
• Roles: What kinds of roles best suit my strengths, aspirations, experience? Am I qualified to pursue a banking career that involves responsibility in marketing, operations, sales, project management or other areas?
• Strengths: When I consider my accomplishments and my “best moments” in my career, what are the strengths and attributes that really showed up? How can I tailor my search to find roles and environments that best match my strengths, and to what extent am I communicating these strengths and traits in my résumé and interview conversations?
• Values and approach: What values inform my preferred approach at work? Am I known to be a collaborator? Relationship builder? Innovator? People developer? Or do I prefer to fly solo? In what environments do I most thrive – entrepreneurial or corporate?
• Expand the search: Where else can I explore career opportunities beyond the banks? While the banks are an excellent avenue to explore – what other organizations may offer appropriate career opportunities? Explore alternatives such as credit unions, financial planning firms, investment companies, and mutual fund companies. Depending on your skills and interest, you may even think out of the box and consider service agencies to the financial sector, such as marketing or consulting firms.
• Network: Who can I talk to within the industry to learn more? How can I ramp up my networking so that I can engage in conversations with the right people to learn more about the industry and potential opportunities?
• Flexibility: How badly do I need to ensure my first job in Canada is a senior level role? What value might there be in accepting a less senior role in an organization that fits with my aspirations and provides a foot in the door?
Put it all together and invest the effort: After engaging in the above reflections, you should be in a better position to refresh your résumé and present your value proposition more meaningfully.
There’s no way around it – job seeking calls for a lot of effort. Regardless of one’s experience, every job seeker must fine-tune their personal marketing; develop a meaningful networking plan; research and tailor their search to appropriate opportunities; think inside and outside the box; and hone interview skills.
Don’t give up. But do take yourself and the job search effort more seriously so that you can be taken more seriously as well.
Eileen Chadnick is a career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

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