Are you a problem?


The annual Internationally Educated Professionals (IEP) conference was just over a week ago at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  There were a record 1,600 attendees.  I was honoured to be included on a panel with some very smart, successful people, speaking about the Marketing, Sales and Communications industry in Canada.

I’ll share some of the interesting questions and answers we heard over a couple of posts, starting with…what else? Canadian experience!

Here’s a photo of the panel, feeling a bit silly after a full afternoon of answering provocative questions from the audience.

PM Panel - thumbs up

From left to right: CJ Tremblay, IDP Education; Cristina Goncalves, University of Toronto; Bobby Sahni, Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing + Advertising; Wendy Woods, Watershed Training Solutions; Kim Koster, Koster Strategy; Moustafa Abdelrahman, The Mindful Practice; Cheryl Phillips, Metroland Media

Ah, that famous Canadian experience obstacle.  The panelists agreed, it’s mostly about understanding and working well within Canadian workplace culture, and the culture of the industry and company you want to work for.

I told the story of a man with a lot of experience from his home country. He was applying for a job at the company I worked for, an advertising agency, for which he was over-qualified.  He had a good attitude and was willing to take such a job to get started in Canada.  But one of the reasons I didn’t hire him was because of the problem I was pretty sure it would cause on my team.  It would be awkward that he would be older and more experienced than his bosses.  I would not have been as worried about that, had he not presented himself in such a formal way, including a very conservative business suit. It emphasized the things about him that didn’t fit. He hadn’t come in with an understanding of the culture. 

Even in business roles, people in ad agencies need to relate to the people in the creative department.   On an average day, those guys may well be wearing shorts and T shirts. Business people in ad agencies have to be fun and at ease socializing with colleagues and clients.

I am not saying I would have hired him if only he’d been dressed differently!  His appearance contributed to his overall vibe, which didn’t feel right for our company culture, especially in the job I was hiring for.

My story caused a reaction from the audience!

“Of course we want to wear our best suit, to make a good impression!”

The panel’s response was that there’s definitely nothing inherently wrong with a suit. There’s no single right way to dress and behave in an interview.  It’s about having a feel for the culture of the industry and company you want to work for.

“Once in the job we’d learn and adapt to the company’s culture!”

One of my wise fellow panelists had a great, honest – if tough to hear – response.

The harsh reality is that the interviewer doesn’t want to add to the many problems they already have at work.  Even while he or she is interviewing a candidate, the emails with new problems are piling up!  If it feels like a candidate is going to create another problem, even in the short term, the interviewer won’t want to take that on.  Especially if there are other qualified candidates who are less likely to cause problems. They want to do what feels best for the company, and will allow them to do their own job well.

A candidate needs to show that they will not create a problem, because they will work well within the culture.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but volunteering, taking a non-career job, setting up information interviews, and daily observation are ways to get that all-important feel for the Canadian workplace.

More from the panel and participants in an upcoming post!

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Kim Koster

Brand Strategist, Koster Strategy