Evaluating New Canadians Requires New Tactics

Canadian HR Reporter

By Phil Schalm and Navpreet Singh

Toronto — In less than three years — 2011— new Canadians are expected to account for the entire net labour force growth, according to Statistics Canada.

As Canada’s population, labour market and workforce demographics change, organizations are facing a skills shortage that ultimately affects competitiveness, productivity and profitability. Most HR professionals are well aware of this. But how can employers tap into the immigrant talent pool?

Many organizations struggle when it comes to sourcing and recruiting talented and well-qualified immigrant professionals. Traditional ways of sourcing, screening resumés and interviewing are often not effective when recruiting someone who is internationally educated or has international work experience.

Reading resumés through a global lens

Reviewing resumés of new Canadians can present a challenge for employers because international formats often differ from the preferred North American style.

The most obvious difference is length. While the North American style is to keep resumés to two pages, other countries don’t follow this format. Many recruiters are in the habit of simply eliminating resumés longer than two or three pages, which immediately cuts out many international candidates.

International candidates often have longer resumés because they tend to include personal details that a North American recruiter would find irrelevant and perhaps even inappropriate. In India, it’s not uncommon for a resumé to indicate the candidate’s marital status, horoscope sign and other vital statistics. For a recruiter, being more open to longer-format resumés and taking the time to filter extraneous information can be valuable to finding a candidate with the right skills for the position.

The other issue to be aware of when evaluating resumés of internationally educated professionals is that they may not list job titles and outline experiences in the same way. A North American-raised candidate for a sales job will undoubtedly state that she achieved or exceeded sales targets in a previous position. An internationally educated professional from an Asian country would not indicate this, as it’s not customary to highlight individual achievements.

Employers may also be unfamiliar with post-secondary institutions and certifications from abroad, so they don’t know how to compare foreign educational qualifications with Canadian standards. To get past this obstacle, some recruiters either ask candidates to include a credentials evaluation report from organizations such as World Education Services (WES), or they partner with WES to help screen global talent. Applicants submit their degrees and transcripts and WES ensures the authenticity of the degrees and equivalence to Canadian standards. WES allows employers to quickly and reliably determine whether a candidate’s credentials are authentic and how they compare to Canadian educational standards.

Interviewing without bias

Just as there is a distinct style to North American resumés, there is a style to interviewing that recruiters and candidates raised in North America are accustomed to. Many North Americans implicitly know what questions may be asked and can formulate a response that draws on relevant examples from past work experience. However, candidates from other countries may not be familiar with this process and as a result find themselves at a disadvantage in interview situations.

The best rule of thumb for interviewing internationally educated candidates is to search for a corporate fit, not a cultural fit. Organizations can develop some blind spots and inadvertently screen out immigrant professionals from the candidate pool because they may be unfamiliar with the shared values and attitudes of the organization.

Common behavioural interview questions such as, “What are your strengths and weaknesses” can be a potential challenge for individuals who come from cultures where boasting about one’s successes and achievements is not considered appropriate. In some cultures, the emphasis or value is placed on the achievements of the team.

Such candidates often deny compliments and downplay accomplishments, which may give the interviewer a poor impression of their skills or ability to understand the question in comparison with North Americans, who are generally more comfortable talking about individual achievements.

Situational or hypothetical interview questions can also present challenges for international professionals, as they may not provide responses that recruiters typically expect.

A question like, “Give us an example of a situation when you disagreed with your supervisor and the steps that you took to handle it” may be difficult to answer for candidates from cultures where it’s not customary to challenge authority and, therefore, they haven’t been able to develop the skill to resolve conflicts at work. They may come across as being too passive and unable to resolve conflicts. In most cases, this isn’t a valid judgement.

In this case, a recruiter might ask, “Have you worked on a team” When the respondent says yes, then the recruiter might follow up with, “Describe a situation where you didn’t get along with your team members” and then, “How did you deal with that situation?”

Similarly, open-ended interview requests such as “Tell me about yourself,” may be quite easy for Canadian-born candidates to answer because they’re familiar with the process and understand that a good response must include examples from their personal and professional lives that would portray the right skill set for the job. For an international professional, these vague types of questions don’t often prompt them to talk about work-related or education-related experiences. Instead, it may lead to a response that’s more loaded with personal information that might not be job-related.

Minimize jargon, business idioms

Employers should minimize jargon and business idioms when interviewing internationally trained candidates and ask very specific questions related to a candidate’s job experience. Instead of asking multi-part questions such as, “What was your most challenging project in your last job and how did you handle it” break out each question so that they are easier for the candidate to follow.

If a recruiter is trying to determine a candidate’s ability to take initiative, ask questions such as, “What were your sales results last year” as well as specific followup questions that let the candidate show how she achieved such a target.

Focusing on specific skills required to do the task at hand will help to get past the cultural differences and biases that often arise when trying to determine if an interviewee will “fit” within the corporate culture.

To do this, recruiters can try alternative techniques to interviewing such as workplace simulations and job-related tests. By having both North American and internationally educated candidates go through a single day in a simulation-based environment, employers can more accurately evaluate and assess the specific skills required for the job, while levelling the playing field.

Phil Schalm is program director, Gateway for International Professionals and Navpreet Singh is program manager of the Talent Development for Organizational Effectiveness (TDOE) at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education in Toronto. TDOE workshops are funded by the government of Ontario and developed in partnership with the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). For more information, visit www.ryerson.ca/ce/tdoe/workshops.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, June 2, 2008, by permission of Carswell, Toronto, Ontario, 1-800-387-5164. Web site: www.hrreporter.com