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After working abroad, I can't find a job in Canada

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After taking the summer off to relax and regroup, I'm back to the job of looking for a job. In today's economy, searching for work is daunting, the competition relentless. Combine that with trying to jump-start a new career and it's like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.

So far my progress has been discouragingly slow, thanks to one unexpected hurdle – lack of core work experience in Canada.

My first career as a human-rights advocate in developing countries was exciting. I lived and travelled in global hot spots. I met interesting people and wrote wild stories to friends at home. I was passionate about my vocation and it fulfilled me.

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Eventually, life on the edge became taxing. After 12 years, my action-packed career was not as riveting as it once was. I'd grown older and my life goals had changed. Wanting to be near my family, I made an impulsive decision to finish up my contract and return to Toronto. It felt like the right thing to do.

That was more than two years ago.

Moving home was easy. I packed up all the stuff I had amassed over the years, travelled for a couple of months, then set up house in the condo I had bought with my sister the previous winter. Soon after, I met a dynamic and lovable guy with whom I've been in a relationship ever since.

Out of the three points of the adult golden triangle – home, relationship, career – I'd achieved two. Now I could focus exclusively on the last. Should be easy, I thought.

In the first year, my overseas connections were still strong. Part of my heart, and most of my Facebook friends, remained in the countries I had worked. I managed to pick up work-from-home consulting contracts that also required travel. Yippee! My lingering wanderlust was satisfied.

Over time, though, my overseas contacts started to fade and international consulting work became harder to find. I also wanted to deal with Canadian subjects since that was part of the reason I had come back.

Having worked with community groups and academic institutions overseas, I concluded a non-profit setting would best fit my skills and outlook. I researched organizations where I wanted to work. I sent out cold e-mails. I scoured job boards. I applied for positions that piqued my interest and listed my qualifications. I met people and potential employers in the non-profit sector.

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Finally, my first interview. The position was at the foundation for a private company. Not in my realm of experience, but it was a job I thought I could learn quickly. I connected with the interviewers on both a professional and personal level and thought my enthusiastic responses were on point. I was back in the game.

Then came the call. The job had gone to another candidate who had experience working at a foundation in Toronto. I was devastated. With 15 years of experience managing projects and clients, including the first few in Toronto, I thought I had clinched it.

Soon I realized that a majority of the vacancies to which I was applying had been given to candidates with local or industry experience. There was certainly an abundance of those. The Catch-22 of my youth had come back to taunt me – you can't land a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job.

I had left Toronto as a Canadian and unwittingly returned as an immigrant.

This insight made feel a kinship with high-level professionals who come to Canada seeking new opportunities only to end up driving taxis or delivering pizzas. Armed with three university degrees, I was perplexed over how to sell my international experience at home.

A plethora of advice was at hand. Network and use the phrase transferable skills, my employment counsellor proposed. Re-evaluate your relationship with success, my life coach suggested. Pursue your passion, my partner insisted. You'll find a job soon, my friends repeated.

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I'm following all these recommendations and have added one of my own: Remember how many well-known people were rejected again and again before achieving success.

Since my first job interview, I've had a few more. So far none have worked out.

In the meantime, I'm teeming with thoughts on how to get more out of being at home. I've joined a writing group and become a board member of a non-profit organization. I follow local as well as international politics. I've picked up some research and editing contracts with local employers. I run in the park and play beach volleyball. My latest idea is to return to university to take a course that both appeals to me and includes a work placement that would give me the experience I need.

As I continue to explore career options in Toronto, I have recognized that no matter what we think of our jobs, they do form a big part of our identity. Meeting new people usually results in perfunctory questions about what we do for a living. But it isn't our whole identity.

I may be between careers right now, but I'm also a writer, community activist, athlete, artist, editor, consultant, photographer, news junkie as well as job seeker. The list gets longer with every new thing I try.

Ele Pawelski lives in Toronto.

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