Monday, March 02, 2009
Reader's question: Does my foreign experience count for anything?

Q. I am a foreign citizen with an open work permit for Canada and am trying to find a job as a journalist here. I posses a journalism degree from a foreign school and have more than 12 years of job experience, with articles of mine being published in both English and my native language.

I have applied to many positions, but even though I consider my resume as comprehensive enough, I haven't been invited to any interviews nor had any other kind of response. As it is not usual for employers to give reason for declining a candidate, I don't know why I haven't been considered. But following debates about Canadian employment policies and immigration, I came quite often across the complaint that Canadian employers do not recognize foreign qualifications and experience (enough). This lead to my assumption that there are problems with my foreign degree/ experience and that I would have to obtain a Canadian degree in order to improve my chances to be considered for employment.

Do you think it is indeed my foreign degree and my foreign experience that let my applications fall through? Would pursuing a Canadian college degree in journalism significantly improve my chances or would I just waste a lot of time and money just to find myself in the same situation again 2 or 3 years down the road?

A. You're not the first person to ask me this. Unfortunately, you're partially correct: foreign credentials and experience don't hold up as well against Canadian experience.

It's not politically correct to say this, and most people won't admit to it, but employers, whether consciously or subconsciously, likely make the assumption that non-natives just don't get it, in a number of ways.

First of all, there's the language issue. In an industry built on mastery of the written word, can they count on someone for whom English is a second language to turn in polished copy? Will sentences, paragraphs, be stilted and need more editing than usual? If the person is applying to be an editor, will they be able to correct copy correctly? No mater how fluent you are, there's always at least a small doubt.

To counter this assumption, your resumé, cover letter and any correspondence must be impeccable. I'd recommend having a born-and-raised Canadian read over your application. In addition to the standard proofreading, he should look for uncommon turns of phrases – sentences that although correct, are not the usual way something would be said. Whether it's the choice of one word over another, or the structure of a sentence, the smallest thing can eliminate you. (Hey, even a minor typo or misplaced comma can land a resumé in the No pile – a problem for every applicant, Canadian and non.)

An extension of the language issue is whether or not a foreigner understands and is able to navigate Canadian culture. Do you get the cultural references? Will you know where to go and who to call to get information or secure an interview? For example, if you're assigned to write a story about the current hearings to determine whether broadcasting over the internet should be subject to federal regulations, will you know what the CRTC is and its history? Will the editor have to hold your hand, explain things? Will the story take longer, or will you miss something? Fair or not, an employer might wonder.

Finally, there will be the question of whether your credentials are equivalent to Canadian credentials. Associate editor at a mag in another country? Did you do the same thing as an associate editor does here? That newspaper clipping: done for a reputable outfit, or some Mickey-Mouse operation? An employer might not know what weight to give your experience because he's just not familiar with where that experience comes from. And when he's going through hundreds of resumés, the extra work of trying to figure that out can be enough to send your application to the reject pile.

So this doesn't happen, make it easy for the employer. Think about including things like URLs to the websites of publications you've worked for in your resumé or cover letter, or circ numbers to indicate the size of the magazine. Include descriptors where you can, like "largest daily" or "published by such-and-such-country's second-largest publisher". You want to give the employer a good sense of the type of places you've worked for.

Now, I wouldn't recommend starting from scratch and going back to school to get a Canadian degree. Unlike some professions, it's not necessary to update your qualifications in order to practice journalism. However, a course or two of a continuing education publishing program could help familiarize you with the Canadian industry and some of it's major players. You'll also meet other people in the field (instructors and classmates) who may be able to advise you on other resources or aid you in your search.

You'll also want to work on getting some Canadian clippings to add to your portfolio. Pitch stories to any magazines and newspapers that interest you, and don't discount ethnic community publications. You have the distinct qualifications to write for such a magazine or newspaper. Think about how your unique experience could be a benefit for a company and highlight that in your application.

Like any job seeker, you'll have to clearly communicate how you can benefit the publication to which you're applying to. If you do that well, you should have no problem getting the interview.

*Question has been edited for length and identifying details.

- Corinna vanGerwen
About Me
Corinna vanGerwen


Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.

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Thank you, Alicia!...
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