Your Communication Skills Will Determine Your Success in Canada

As an immigrant, you must have heard this so many times: Communication Skills are fundamental to be successful in Canada – what does this really mean?

Perhaps you used English for work in your home country, passed the IELTS or CLB with flying colours, and have consistently been told your English language abilities are advanced level. But after being in Canada for a while, you still hear “polish your communication skills” and start doubting yourself.

The feedback actually refers to interacting effectively in the Canadian context. It’s not about hiding your accent or using perfect grammar. If English is your second or third language, it’s completely normal to have an accent and making occasional grammar mistakes. But when talking to potential employers and people who could refer you to jobs, perhaps your points are not fully understood in the first try because you’re not attuned to the cultural context.

So… how do you know if your communication skills are good enough? You could start with a self-assessment on these points:

  • Your elevator pitch: Are you stating your strengths, career history, and what you’re looking for in a crystal clear, straightforward manner?
  • Concise and easy-to follow structure: Are you “going around the bushes” instead of getting to the point right away? Are your main ideas structured logically and conveyed succinctly?
  • Filler words: Is your speech fluent, without too many filler words such as “uhm”, “ehr” or “you know”?
  • Tone of voice: Is your voice too low and some words are not fully understood by the other person? Or are you being too loud to the point of intimidating others?
  • Active listening: Are you really listening to what the other person is saying? Are you able to acknowledge and summarize what you heard, and respond appropriately?
  • Clarifying: Are you asking clarifying questions politely when you don’t understand something? Do you say, “pardon me?” or “would you mind repeating that?” instead of “what?”
  • Body language: How’s your posture when you talk to others? Are you making eye contact? Do you smile? (Even in virtual meetings, these aspects are critical to convey credibility.)
  • Written communication: Are you responding to emails from recruiters respectfully and including your contact details on the signature?

Often times, the smallest factor may turn a person off. In our competitive market, if the HR person doing the screening interview does not understand you, they will likely move on to the next candidate. Therefore, invest time in understanding what it means to have “excellent communication skills” in Canada. Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask for feedback and be open to change: Ask a Mentor or another immigrant who has been working in Canada for a few years, to check how you’re communicating. Get their feedback and be willing to apply it.
  • Do mock interviews: Most bridging programs and mentoring programs include some form of interview practice. Make the most of those opportunities to practice answering common interview questions.
  • Enroll in sector-specific language training: Perhaps you need to polish your technical vocabulary according to your profession. Research which programs might be helpful for this purpose.
  • Record yourself: Use your phone to record yourself saying an idea or an interview answer in two to three minutes. Play it back and make notes on your improvement areas.
  • Join a Toastmasters Club: Join a club, deliver speeches, and get feedback to improve your public speaking skills. Toastmasters is also a great way to meet new people.
  • Volunteer: Perform volunteer roles where you have to interact with others frequently (e.g. coordination tasks, dealing with the public), to learn about Canadian work practices.

Finally, don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Communication is improved by practicing it. Mistakes are learning opportunities that will ultimately help you succeed.

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Liliana Nakamura is an HR Project Manager and Talent Management Consultant with experience living and working in Argentina, Japan and Canada. She holds an MBA from McGill University, a Certificate in Human Resources Management from Seneca College, and professional designations in HR, Project Management, and Change Management. In her nine years in Toronto, she has built a large network through volunteering in leadership roles and a mindset of giving value first. 

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