[Special Feature – Part II] Working in Canada: the Good

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Ottawa, December 2012

Ottawa, Decem­ber 2012

This four-part spe­cial fea­ture casts a spot­light on the Cana­dian work­ing world and its ups and downs. Com­ments and ques­tions are always welcome!

You can read [Spe­cial Fea­ture – Part I] Work­ing in Canada: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly here.

Even though I chose to return to free­lanc­ing, I did enjoy being an employee in Canada. I got to know the work cul­ture, and work­places have a num­ber of pos­i­tive sides I enjoyed.

A Fast Recruit­ment Process

Unlike in France (and in most of the Old World) where the recruit­ment process can be an impos­si­bly long and tedious affair, get­ting hired in Canada is sur­pris­ingly straight­for­ward. It is not a myth: you can be inter­viewed one day and start the next. That’s what hap­pened to me in 2005 when I dropped off resumes and cover let­ters in lan­guage schools around Ottawa. By the time I got home that day, one of the lan­guage schools had already called me back for an inter­view that took place the fol­low­ing day. And I started work­ing right away even though I had very lit­tle teach­ing experience.

Cana­dian employ­ers tend to be prac­ti­cal: they want any vacancy filled as fast as pos­si­ble and if you look like a good fit, you can be hired on the spot just because you were at the right place at the right time.

Note that this is mostly true for the pri­vate sector—the recruit­ment process for gov­ern­ment posi­tions is much more com­pli­cated and cod­i­fied. In Ottawa, it can takes years to land a per­ma­nent posi­tion at the fed­eral government!

Human Resources Respect your Privacy

In Canada, employ­ers expect your resume to high­light your edu­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional back­grounds, as well as rel­e­vant skills. Unlike in Europe, they do not expect you to vol­un­teer per­sonal details such as your age, mar­i­tal sta­tus, num­ber of chil­dren, reli­gious pref­er­ence, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion and social secu­rity num­ber. In fact, it’s ille­gal for employ­ers to ask infor­ma­tion that has no bear­ing on the posi­tion applied for.

If a ques­tion is not a bona fide occu­pa­tional require­ment (e.g., related to the duties, skills or func­tions of a spe­cific posi­tion), it should not be asked. Can­di­dates can file a claim for dis­crim­i­na­tion if they believe they were sub­ject to inap­pro­pri­ate questioning.

The Employ­ment Equity Act ensures that employ­ers pro­vide equal oppor­tu­ni­ties to the four des­ig­nated groups: women; Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples; per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties; and mem­bers of vis­i­ble minorities.

Oh, and in Canada—unlike in France—you do not have to sub­mit a hand-written cover let­ter. Hand­writ­ing analy­sis is con­sid­ered BS in the new world… phew!

Expe­ri­ence is as Impor­tant as Education

Cana­dian employ­ers value work and life expe­ri­ence, and unless you are a recent grad with an empty resume, your aca­d­e­mic accom­plish­ments don’t mat­ter that much over­all. A lot of posi­tions spec­ify “com­ple­tion of high school”, “uni­ver­sity degree in XXXX” along with these magic words “or in a closely related field”. Indeed, rel­e­vant and related-field expe­ri­ence may sub­sti­tute for the required education.

For instance, I worked as a French teacher even though I don’t have a teach­ing degree, and I am a trans­la­tor with­out an English-to-French trans­la­tion degree—however, I do have a uni­ver­sity degree in lan­guage stud­ies and years of rel­e­vant pro­fes­sional experience.

French employ­ers are extremely strict when it comes to edu­ca­tional back­ground, and often ask your degree to be a per­fect match to the posi­tion require­ments. My mother, who has been work­ing as a tutor for years and has ref­er­ences, is still being asked for copies of her high school and uni­ver­sity diplomas!

A Relaxed Work­place Atmosphere

Granted, I have very lim­ited work expe­ri­ence in France, but I do find that work­places are much more casual and relaxed on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

For instance, while hier­ar­chies are often still the favored form of orga­niz­ing, most “big bosses” do inter­act with employ­ees and they gen­er­ally do not take them­selves too seri­ously. I do find they are less “pater­nal­ist” than in France for instance.

Eng­lish lan­guage also helps mak­ing the work­place fairly infor­mal. There is no “tu” or “vous” dilemma, and every­one is gen­er­ally on a first-name basis.

Social activ­i­ties such as potlucks, hol­i­day par­ties, employee appre­ci­a­tion days, etc. make com­ing to work a bit eas­ier, and “casual Fri­days” are a great way to end the work week.

The 9-to-5 Office Schedule

Most office employ­ees work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a short thirty-minute lunch break. Sure, if you are busy you will prob­a­bly end up eat­ing at your desk and some over­time can be expected, but you can usu­ally enjoy your evening at home.

In France, lunch breaks are much longer—sometimes up to two-hour long. As a result, office employ­ees end their work day much later, often around 7 p.m. Add com­mut­ing time (espe­cially in big cities like Paris) and you end up com­ing home around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., which is rather late!

I find the 9-to-5 sched­ule allows for bet­ter life and work bal­ance, some­thing Cana­dian employ­ers try to value and promote.

Work­ing from Home

These days, a lot of employ­ers are open to the pos­si­bil­ity to let employ­ees work from home once in a while. In both of my last posi­tions in the cor­po­rate world, it was per­fectly accept­able to stay home to com­plete a project or tackle your daily workload—provided you did answer your emails and could be reached eas­ily if needed.

A lot of peo­ple choose to work from home when they have a med­ical appoint­ment sched­uled dur­ing the day, or if they have a kid-related emer­gency. This way, you don’t have to take a full day off, you just let your employer know that you will be unavail­able for a cou­ple of hours dur­ing the reg­u­lar work day but that you will catch up later.

Of course, not all jobs can be done from home. This is mostly true for office employees.

So these are a few “perks” of work­ing in Canada. The down­sides are com­ing up! Part III – Work­ing in Canada: the Bad will be pub­lished on Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 28.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

11 Comments

  1. I guess as you said, it def­i­nitely depends on the com­pany whether the times are flex­i­ble or not. I find that in uni­ver­si­ties and in research insti­tutes, there is con­sid­er­able flexibility.

    When I was a grad stu­dent in Buf­falo, as well as a researcher right now in Berlin, I can work from home if I want to. I only need to come to the office if there are meet­ings I need to attend. And since I am a morn­ing per­son, I can come to the office early, like 8:00, and leave by 16:00!

  2. Hi Zhu!

    I am all in favour of work­ing at home. I have done it many times work­ing for a large cor­po­ra­tion (15000 employ­ees) in Alberta. It is nice to sit with you dogs in your house­coat doing spread­sheets but after a week you won­der what is hap­pen­ing at the office. I think that it is a good idea, in that it saves office space and com­mut­ing time but you still have to have that per­sonal con­nec­tion with fel­low employ­ees. I think that you should spend at least one day a week in the office.

    • Hi Alan,

      It makes sense when you work with a team, I can under­stand you need that link to the com­pany. Being a free­lancer is a bit dif­fer­ent. I do con­nect with clients and other free­lancer but I don’t work from home for a sin­gle com­pany, so I don’t miss the office chat or the lat­est gossip ;-)

      • Hi Zhu!

        I am all in favour of work­ing at home. I have done it many times work­ing for a large cor­po­ra­tion (15000 employ­ees) in Alberta. It is nice to sit with you dogs in your house­coat doing spread­sheets but after a week you won­der what is hap­pen­ing at the office. I think that it is a good idea, in that it saves office space and com­mut­ing time but you still have to have that per­sonal con­nec­tion with fel­low employ­ees. I think that you should spend at least one day a week in the office.

  3. I’m pretty sure you have been told this mul­ti­ple times before, but as an immi­grant I find your top­ics very infor­ma­tive! thank you for that

    p.s. your baby is absolutely adorable!

    • Thank you Har­low! I appre­ci­ate your feed­back and I’m glad you found the arti­cles use­ful. Makes me happy :-) Thank you for the baby praise too!

  4. I agree about all the ‘good’ points that you men­tioned. Once I had an inter­view at noon and by the time I reached home at 4pm after the inter­view, a job offer mes­sage was already on my voice-mail.

    For women, a long mat leave is also prob­a­bly the ‘good’.

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