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10 Tips to Hack Your Canadian Resume

Caution: Work
Caution: Work

Over the past eight years, I must have seen dozens of resumes. Even though I’m not working in HR, sometimes unwillingly and somewhat by happenstance, I was one of the players in various hiring processes.

It all started when I worked as a French-as-a-second-language teacher. After getting some success with my students, I had “seniority” and when the school needed a fresh batch of teachers, I was asked to screen resumes. Then, when I moved on to a translator and coordinator role in another job, at one point, we needed to hire an entire team. Once again, I was the first set of eyes on incoming resumes. Same scenario a few months later, in yet another position. This time, I even sat for the interviews.

Now, as a freelancer, I request resumes. Once in a while, when my regular workload is lighter, I put an ad on Kijiji and offer translation and editing services to job hunters. I set an affordable price, much lower than what I usually charge the large organizations I work with. I see it as a fun way to connect with the community, a change from the corporate side of my job.

So yeah, I’m familiar with the resume-writing exercise. I’ve seen it all, from professional list of accomplishments on glossy paper to handwritten resumes (!). Of course, I don’t know for sure if your resume will land you the job. I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, anyway.

However, I can definitely help you to avoid a few mistakes I often see on resumes. These are especially true for new Canadians, yet unfamiliar with the local hiring culture. Keep those in mind when you are drafting or reviewing your resume!

Never include a picture. In some countries, including most of western Europe, China and Japan, a passport-size professional headshot picture is the norm on resumes. However, there is a strong aversion to including photos in resumes in North America. It is even considered as a major faux-pas and pictures are never expected. Beside, if a recruiter is really desperate for that personal connection, he can always check out your online profile on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Do not include personal information: Your marital status, religion, ethnicity and date of birth do not belong on a Canadian resume. Labour and anti-discrimination laws prevent employers from requesting a good deal of personal information. Again, you would be committing a major faux-pas indicating you are fairly clueless about local norms.

Use Canadian spelling: As a word nerd, I’m completely biased here and I guess many employers won’t notice if you use American spelling such as “behavior” or ” counselled”. Yet, if you can, make an effort to use Canadian spelling! On a side note, if you are writing a French resume, avoid these very noticeable anglicisms so commonly used in France, such as “manager” (“gestionnaire” in French Canada), “weekend” (“fin de semaine”), brainstorming (use “remue-méninges”) or “debriefing” (“debreffage”).

… and Canadian vocabulary: I remember proofing the resume of a “lorry driver”, i.e. a “truck driver” on this side of the pond. When drafting your Canadian resume, investigate the local job market and make a note of relevant most-used keywords. The job posting is a good place to start! Use them on your resume and Canadianize your professional jargon. For a general feel of North American workplace culture, I highly recommend Ask a Manager. The author, Alison, is an American HR professional, but most of her insights (except those regarding labour laws) also apply to Canada.

Do not state the obvious: The recruiter will know she isn’t holding a road map, you don’t need type “Resume” at the top of your, ahem, resume. And skip the usual “References available upon request” closing line. Most professionals should have references and are expected to provide them upon request.

Do “translate” your culture: Canada is a very multicultural country and we get to be familiar with many cultures here, but recruiters don’t necessarily know what a “Bac pro” is (a French vocational qualification) or that in France, “collège” doesn’t mean “college” but “middle school”. Do give the Canadian equivalent for foreign degrees or qualifications! You should also write out acronyms—we are not playing “guess the word” here.

Keep it short and sweet: A resume is not an official document, you get to choose what you include on it. There is a huge gap between lying on your resume and skipping irrelevant positions and information. Your summer spent as a lifeguard in Sydney is unlikely to be useful to your Saskatoon-based employer.

Gender pro-tip: Sometime, it’s hard to determine the gender from a name. For example, in French, Valéry is a masculine name but Valérie is a feminine name, “Gaël” is masculine, “Gaëlle” is feminine. With Chinese names, unless you are familiar with the culture, it’s hard to tell as well. Bottom line is, gender shouldn’t matter on a resume and yes, it could induce a bias. But if you want recruiters to know your gender, you can always add (M.) or (Mrs.) beside your name. For example, “Dominique Legrand (Mrs.)”.

State that you are legal: This one is debatable because it could fall into the “too much information” category, but I do think freshly landed immigrants who don’t have any work experience in Canada should mention that they hold a valid work visa. You want to make sure the employer understands that you are not looking to be sponsored and that they will be not immigration red tape. So I’d suggest adding the following mention on your resume: “Landed immigrant with a valid permanent work visa” or something to that effect. It could fit in your “profile” section and of course, you can remove it once you have that first work experience in Canada.

Do not be afraid to show off your accomplishments: In North America, it’s okay to state your key success and provide numbers to back them up: “increased sales by xx%”, “handled xxx queries per day”, etc. Don’t be too humble and don’t hide behind your credentials, as impressive as they can be. A can-do attitude and a healthy amount of professional confidence goes a long way here.

Happy job hunting!

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