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How to evaluate the qualifications of new immigrants

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Evaluating the qualifications of new immigrants to Canada can be challenging. How can you tell if a degree or work experience in another country has prepared someone to work in your company?

As the composition of Canada’s workforce evolves, businesses that want to remain competitive will have to overcome this challenge. By 2032, immigrants will account for up to 80% of Canada’s population growth, according to an October 2017 BDC study.

“Companies have to adapt their hiring if they want to find the best job candidates and stay competitive,” says Paula Calderon of ACCES Employment, a non-profit employment agency that helps immigrant workers and employers in Ontario. “They shouldn’t wait until they feel the pain of talent shortages. Companies that don’t understand the importance of diversity in hiring are going to struggle and be at risk for discrimination claims.”

Calderon suggests taking these measures to evaluate the qualifications of new immigrants.

1. Analyze your job requirements

Before evaluating a candidate, you should review your job requirements to understand your needs and target the right talent pool. Write down a list of technical or “hard” skills and “soft” skills, such as verbal or written communications, teamwork and leadership qualities.

Ask yourself if the formal requirements you list are actually needed for the job. For example, many businesses require a university degree for work that can be performed by people without a degree, a Harvard Business School study in October 2017 found.

The study said degree holders earn a salary premium over non-graduates, without necessarily delivering better job performance.

2. Avoid biases and misunderstandings

Take a look at your hiring process to make sure you’re not excluding good candidates due to biases or misunderstandings. It’s important that personnel involved in hiring are open to cultural diversity and show flexibility.

“You have to be aware of differences and try to see past them if they’re not that crucial, while focusing on what is relevant for the job,” Calderon says. “For example, some employers misinterpret the language ability of an immigrant because the person has an accent. They think the person doesn’t speak English very well, but the person’s first language may very well be English spoken with an accent.”

3. Be aware of cultural differences

Different cultural practices can also lead to misunderstandings. “For example, a candidate with experience working in a hierarchical environment may not be comfortable communicating with upper management because in their culture it was seen as disrespectful, but a Canadian employer may perceive that as a lack of drive or initiative,” Calderon says.

4. Understand the résumé

Employment agencies often advise new immigrants to prepare a functional résumé—one that describes work skills and experience—instead of a chronological employment history. This is because Canadian employers may not be familiar with companies in other countries.

This type of résumé may emphasize hard skills while omitting mention of soft skills. “If certain soft skills aren’t on the résumé, the employer may assume they aren’t there, which isn’t necessarily the case,” Calderon says. “It’s important to probe for the soft skills you need. Don’t assume the candidate lacks them. But also don’t assume they are there.”

5. Ask for a credential assessment

You can ask potential hires for an assessment of their academic or training history by a credential evaluation service. This is a non-profit that performs evaluations for new immigrants and employers.

The evaluation offers a comparison of foreign credentials to local equivalents. People who immigrate to Canada often get a credential evaluation as part of the immigration process.

When interviewing candidates, you can also ask them to do a test or demonstration of hard or soft skills. Also evaluate the possibility of training or coaching for a candidate who lacks some skills but otherwise seems promising.

6. Partner with an employment agency

You can improve your hiring practices by partnering with organizations that specialize in helping immigrant workers, such as ACCES Employment, WES Canada or the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Such agencies can help you correct any hiring barriers, expand your pool of job candidates and educate existing employees about the importance of workforce diversity. “It’s not easy to change embedded hiring processes,” Calderon says. “Seeking support is important.”

Some agencies also offer mentorship services that match companies with new immigrants and volunteering opportunities, such as participation in advisory committees or guest speaker programs.

The agency can also help you address post-hiring issues. “Minor misunderstandings during onboarding can lead to misinterpretation of an employee’s performance,” Calderon says. “The employer doesn’t know how to handle the issues without singling the person out, but the problem can often be resolved with a small intervention or some coaching.”

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