Skilled immigrants often focus on improving technical skills after coming to Canada, and they are shocked when they are told they have “no Canadian experience.” I’ve realized that this albatross around immigrants’ necks is actually a vague way of saying: “You lack the soft skills I am looking for in an employee.”
I believe there are nine soft skills that no immigrant should be without:
1. Communication skills Communication skills — both spoken and written — are critical for immigrants. I can’t stress enough how important it is for career success to be able to not only speak in English, but also write clearly and persuasively.
2. Local language skills I still smile when I think back to my first job in Canada when I was asked to put my “John Hancock” on a courier document. As I looked at the courier, he said to me, “I mean your signature.” In a corporate environment, your language skills have to evolve to understand local phrases and business jargon. 3. Presentation skills In a recent survey, senior managers rated the ability to make presentations as a top qualification. Now this could mean a formal presentation to clients or a more casual way of presenting yourself in meetings and with colleagues.
4. Small talk Do you sense a theme here? Most of the soft skills I’ve mentioned so far all relate back to communicating. Water cooler chitchat is a part of corporate life. But be careful not to cross the line of what’s taboo.
5. Leadership and initiative Staying invisible is why many immigrants are overlooked when it comes time for promotions. Take some initiative, share your ideas, ask questions and encourage others to collaborate as well!
6. Conflict resolution and negotiation It is important to learn how to disagree with a colleague or even your boss without getting emotional about it! And if things go too far, learn to apologize.
7. Accepting constructive criticism Constructive criticism is part of any learning curve. To accept criticism, understand that we are not perfect and learning is a continuous process, at work and in life.
8. Flexibility Show your employer that you’re willing to learn and adapt. The labour market and economy are changing all the time, and we must change, too.
9. Business etiquette Workplace customs and practices may be different in Canada than your homeland. Something as simple as calling your boss by his or her first name may seem odd to you, but it’s normal practice here.
There are many more soft skills, of course, but these nine are the ones that tend to get lost in translation. So let’s start reviewing these in more depth over the next few months and see where it takes us!
Nick Noorani is the founder and former publisher of Canadian Immigrant and co-author of Arrival Survival Canada.