Overcoming the “Overqualified” / “Lack of Canadian Experience” Comments

This article is a summary of a presentation to the Executive Advancement Resource Network, Toronto, delivered on Monday, June 2

What is the problem?
An example of cultural differences
What do employers mean when they say that you are “overqualified”?
What is “lack of Canadian experience”
What can you do?

What is the problem?
There are 50,000 unemployed/underemployed New Canadian engineers in the GTA. Difficulties in getting and keeping a job are typical for the group.

A CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses) survey shows that:

  • 1/3 of the federation members are limited in their growth by the lack of skilled employees.
  • There are 260,000 unfilled positions

An example of cultural differences
In the Canadian culture, employees prefer to work for a manager who gives them freedom to take decisions and determine their way of doing a job. Managers prefer employees who can work with little direction and supervision.

In other countries (Example: Korea), employees prefer to be given a lot of clear directions, and managers are used to giving such directions.

When a Canadian manager has a Korean (for example) employee, the employee will expect – and ask for – detailed directions, the manager will be unwilling to provide them. Both employee and manager will suspect each other in incompetence.

What do employers mean when they say that you are “overqualified”?

  • Your skills are too “specialized” for this position
  • You will take this job because you are desperate (especially with internationally-trained professionals)
  • You will quit as soon as you find a better job
  • You may become a threat to your boss

What is “lack of Canadian experience”
Implies that something did not match the interviewer’s expectations. This objection means that the interviewer things you are not the right person to do the job, but does not want, or cannot explain why. This objection is used so often because it is indisputable.
The perception of “lack of Canadian experience” may be caused by:

  • Employer does not understand what you have done in the past, or your credentials. Example – a foreign-trained engineer may have experience in 3 industries, and this may be considered an asset back at home. In Canada the experience in another industry is considered irrelevant. Job seeker must identify an area of expertise (for instance knowledge of a research method) which the employer will recognize as meaningful
  • Lack of good communication skills can be perceived as lack of Canadian experience (including poor telephone skills, manners of communication)
  • Inadequate behavior ((not respecting personal space, eye contact, manner of greeting, etc.). Canadians perceive a person who is not making eye contact as not interested, or “shifty”, not trustworthy.
  • Inappropriate attire (underdressed, or overdressed)
  • Smell (body odor, smell of food, inappropriate use of perfume) is a problem for about 10% of New Canadians
  • Inappropriate “small talk” in the beginning of an interview. “Safe topics” in Canada – weather, traffic, hockey/baseball. Politics and family are a no-no
  • Applicant emphasizes breadth, rather than depth of experience. Do not present yourself as “Jack of all trades”: “I can do everything” is perceived by Canadians as “You can not do anything well”
  • Use of wrong technical terms: two terms which appear in dictionaries as synonyms may indicate a difference in a professional level. Example: a technologist “drafts plants”, and engineer “designs plants”
  • Underselling of personal accomplishments – “accomplishment” is a cultural concept which may not exist in some countries (France, Far East)
  • Poor presentation of information: in the engineering field in Canada, specially in the research centers, an applicant may be asked to do a formal presentation of their previous work experience, complete with PowerPoint, etc. Standards of a “good presentation” are very different in different cultures (example – Japanese expect much more hard data and numbers than North Americans present)
  • Too much emphasis on managerial experience (perceived in Canada as non-engineering), and using job titles which have no meaning in Canada.

What can you do?
To avoid the “overqualified” comment:

  • You may not be applying for the right jobs. Target specific employers where there is a high probability that they may be able to use your skills.
  • When you prepare your resume, and prepare for an interview, always ask yourself why you would be the right person to hire for this position

To avoid the “Lack of Canadian Experience” comment:

  • Conduct information interviews with people who will give you complete, honest feedback
  • Rehearse job interviews extensively
  • Practice small talk – a great way is to go to a shopping mall and talk with the shop assistance. They are used to engaging in “small talk” with the hope to attract a customer
  • Focus on depth rather than breadth – what are your areas of expertise?
  • Talk to people in your field to learn the key technical words corresponding to your level of expertise
  • Practice describing your accomplishments and presenting your skills