In the Canadian Immigrant series, “What employers want,” the publication speaks to the people who are instrumental in hiring talent for their companies — human resource managers, recruiters and senior managers who share their insight on what’s affecting the employment of newcomers. (This article was originally published in Canadian Immigrant, September 5, 2012)
By Baisakhi Roy
Much is said about having relevant Canadian experience when applying for a job in Canada. Newcomers also face additional challenges, namely being educated outside Canada, unfamiliarity with Canadian work culture and difficulty in communicating effectively with their colleagues and clients.
Our first interview is with Jason Winkler, chief talent officer, for Deloitte Canada, which provides audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services through more than 56 offices, and has been recognized for its work in incorporating diversity into its workplace. Winkler speaks candidly of the importance of recruiting immigrant talent, how taking initiative lands you a job and the great Canadian compromise!
CI: What skills should foreign-trained professionals focus on when they come to Canada?
JW: Be a specialist. In Deloitte we have multiple service businesses. So we are always looking for people with well-defined technical skills. People that come in with specific skills like SAP products should make sure that their skills are very well defined.
We are also a professional services firm so we serve clients in many different industries. Therefore, we are always looking for people who are very knowledgeable in a particular industry. We have people from overseas who really understand mining or telecom, so we would actually want their industry expertise. From the perspective of the cultural setup at Deloitte, what is important for us are the candidate’s interpersonal skills — the ability to work with a range of people both with clients on the outside and within the firm. One of our core values is collaboration: with each other and our clients. Regardless of whether they are coming from overseas or not, we look for this skill. A proven record to be collaborative is an important skill.
CI: What are your thoughts on Canadian experience?
JW: All the above skills I mentioned are more important than having Canadian experience with the exception in some areas where we need to understand specific Canadian regulatory or legal requirements; we need candidates to understand that quickly. We value global experience quite a bit. I can think of a number of people that I have hired who have had no Canadian experience, but have wide international experience. It’s not essential, but is it nice to have … people who understand Canada? Sure. But we want to bring global experiences to this marketplace.
CI: What advice can you give newcomers on learning the ropes quickly?
JW: Prepare before you come to Canada. In an area like audit or tax, there are Canadian rules and regulations to be known. It’s an advantage if you can attain that knowledge before you come to Canada. The other way obviously is to get that knowledge quickly when you are on the ground [in Canada] and connect to communities that can help you gain this knowledge. If you are an accountant from another jurisdiction, there are lots of groups and associations where you can start to network and begin to understand the system.
You can also engage in self-training. I’ve met people who have told me that they have actually read the Canadian standards on a particular area. You should know what the overlaps and the differences are. If any recertification is needed, you should know what that process is.
CI: What about the all-important workplace culture? What should immigrants know?
JW: There is the matter of how Canadians are nice and polite; the great Canadian compromise. Some cultures are very direct and for people coming from such backgrounds, it might be difficult to adapt initially. Then again, from the North American perspective, there are cultures that are more indirect and subtle. We are in the middle zone culturally. It is a difficult adjustment, but we try to maintain a balance.
In Canada, we are very diverse, which if utilized properly could be a great asset to the Canadian economy. Our company is more diverse now than it has been in the past 20 years. We see people coming from other countries quickly find their communities here, more easily now. We take that further and are prompt to assign “buddies” who are not your performance manager. He explains to you about how things work here, sort of helps you find your path. For new immigrants, this is important.
CI: What specific challenges does Deloitte face when recruiting immigrant talent?
JW: Being able to do the due diligence to actually find out if they are a strong candidate is tough. Because we rely on not just what’s on the resumé, but also doing reference checks, getting hold of people can be tricky. When a candidate is from a different place and culture, how do you actually do the assessment fully? We like a new candidate to meet at least six or eight of us so that they get a chance to find out what our firm is like. We like to get a good sense of the candidate because there are multiple people involved in the hiring process. Also, we usually need people quickly so logistics and the immigration process is another issue that we are constantly working on.
CI: What do you think are the biggest barriers that newcomers face when applying for jobs?
JW: This is not specific to Deloitte, but from what I have heard and seen, the first barrier is language. It’s crucial how you communicate and interact in that first interaction. We observe that basic communication skills are fine, but there is a problem getting to the next level — conversing convincingly. There is still a level of bias out there amongst employers who want to hire people who are “like them.” So if they don’t understand your background and where you come from and you don’t look or sound like them, they would be hesitant in hiring you. I think we can still improve on this front.
There are organizations that take the easier route: they hire people whose name is familiar to them, whose education they are familiar with, etc. The way to counter this is that we must make more effort to familiarize ourselves with foreign education and educational institutions. One of my senior colleagues is from India, so he knows all the universities there and if we get a candidate who is educated there, we go over to him to cross check. And he tells us, ”Yes, that’s a top university or not many people get in there!” We are very lucky to be well networked within our organization and so we can always check up on candidates who are educated outside Canada.
CI: Do you believe diversity in the workplace is important?
JW: Our core culture is delivery to our clients. Our clients are diverse, so if we are not diverse, we won’t match up to their needs. We don’t want our clients to face our team and go, “You don’t look like us!” We actually believe that our workplace is fun, more interesting, more valuable because we are all so different from each other. We come up with better ideas from a diverse workforce. It’s actually sound business.
CI: What are your top tips for being considered for a job at Deloitte?
JW: Assuming that they have the tactical skills and are able to demonstrate them, the first thing would be that they should show that they are willing to invest in themselves in terms of language skills — what are they doing to improve their communication skills?
Also, all of us want to work on a certain type of project and a certain type of location, in a certain way. So the willingness to work at something that is not exactly what you are looking for on your first day is a great asset. A candidate should be able to say, “This is my ideal profile, but I am willing to participate and contribute to other tasks.” It gives us the ability to say that we can give them an opportunity. Then there’s collaboration. We are ready to help people and we expect people to ask for help. The lone wolves don’t do well. People need to be strong enough to realize when they need help. When they make it known that they need help, then their colleagues are incredibly supportive.
If you don’t ask for help, almost by definition, you will not be successful. Focus on these two things: how do you make your client successful and how do you make your colleague successful? Everything else is noise. If you let these two things guide your behaviour, you will be successful.