Andrey Bolgov assumed he would be a desirable candidate for a job with a big Canadian company when he immigrated to Canada in 2009.
But despite having an MBA in marketing from a German university, fluency in several languages and seven years of experience in marketing and finance for companies in Germany, Italy and Belgium, he got no response to the résumés he sent to potential employers.
By the spring of 2010, he was reaching a dead end. "I didn't know who else to apply to and I didn't have any networking contacts to refer me to potential jobs," the Russian native recalled.
At that time, York University in Toronto was launching a bridging program for internationally educated professionals that was putting an emphasis on the hiring needs of smaller employers.
Mr. Bolgov took courses over the next six months that helped him understand ways in which Canadian companies operate differently than foreign companies for which he had worked.
And, more importantly, a lead he got through contacts in the program led to his job as international marketing specialist for Maplesoft Inc., a technology services company based in Waterloo, Ont., which has 135 employees.
"I would not have known that they were a company to approach for a job," he said, "but it turned out they were looking for someone just like me [to sell Maplesoft's services overseas]."
Programs to help newcomers enter the job market aren't new, but the program at York is specifically focused on encouraging small businesses to hire new Canadians.
"In the past, small- and medium-sized businesses haven't tended to focus on recruiting foreign educated talent, in large part because most don't have human resources departments to vet foreign credentials and experience," explained Nora Priestly, program manager of York University's bridging program for internationally educated professionals.
York is offering to provide those services. "Bridging programs can validate foreign credentials and provide assessment and training in English and the Canadian way of doing business," Ms. Priestly said.
With financing from the Ontario government, English-language, professional writing and business courses are included at no costs to the students after an initial $90 registration fee. Courses typically cover two semesters, but students can add specialized skills and certification programs that have tuition fees of up to $7,000 (the university has a bursary program to cover as much as $3,500 of those costs).
The 300 foreign-trained professionals who have taken York's program in the past two years came from 40 countries with dozens of first languages, though most participants are multilingual. More than half have advanced university degrees and several years of professional experience abroad.
Newcomers "tend to start their job search with big employers that their friends have heard about. That means they miss out on openings at smaller organizations that could use their talents," Ms. Priestly noted.
Because immigrant-skills programs traditionally tend to get their initial support from large corporations, they were less known by small and medium-sized companies.
So another immigrant employment program in the Greater Toronto Area is doing a grassroots outreach to groom foreign-trained candidates to meet the needs of smaller companies.
"We have 20 outreach representatives who visit smaller organizations to learn their hiring needs, and are marketing foreign-trained professionals in our program to them as candidates," said Allison Pond, executive director of Accessible Community Counselling and Employment Services. The not-for-profit organization is supported by government, corporate and United Way funding.
The ACCES program financed by government and corporate grants provides specific training for newcomers and helps obtain certifications required to qualify for jobs. It also arranges training with coaches who can provide mentoring as the newly hired enter the work force, Ms. Pond said.
A third initiative aims and both small and large business managers' misconceptions that make it difficult for new Canadians to adapt to the workplace.
"We're trying to steer people away from stereotypes," said Rose DeVeyra, learning initiatives manager for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, which has developed a series of videos and workbooks it calls "TRIEC Campus."
Because owners of small businesses usually don't have much free time, the program is comprised of a series of free, short modules on topics such as how interviewing techniques, résumé screening and communication can create misunderstandings and how to get around them.
"It's not a 'do this, and don't do that,'" Ms. DeVerya said. The worksheets and videos also explain why approaches and work styles may be different in other cultures.
The course can also be used by trainers and human resource managers to demonstrate the challenges faced by immigrants, she said. There are also self-study guides for newcomers about how Canadian workplaces operate.
Mr. Bolgov learned about some of those differences in his courses at York University.
One revelation, he said, was that his résumé might have confused hiring managers: "In Europe listing the companies that you worked for – that is most important. In Canada, they are most interested in knowing the results of your previous work," he found. he needed to be more direct in meetings. "In Europe, the first meeting you have with someone is less about facts and more about their family and things you have in common. Only after I had a good idea of the person would I start in to sell them on my idea," he explained.
"In Canada, it's better to make your point right away – and then you can build up a relationship from there."