Career Q&A: Job searching while on a work visa

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I'm going to be moving to a big city in Canada in the fall on a year-long visa. This visa allows me to do any type of work for 12 months with the option of extending my visa for a further 12 months. My intention is to move to Canada for at least the next two years and possibly stay longer, should things go well. I would like to remain in the charity sector. I have three years professional experience as a community fundraiser in the United Kingdom and a further one year of experience before this in a voluntary capacity. How best should I phrase my visa restrictions in my cover letter? I obviously don't want to put employers off but at the same time don't want to mislead them either.

As people who have worked overseas at formative stages of our careers, we applaud and congratulate you on this exciting move! It sounds like your preparations are well underway and you’re taking the right steps now to land well.

We appreciate your desire to avoid misleading potential employers. It speaks to the integrity with which you will approach your work and that should shine through in your applications. As you are likely aware, there are dozens of great applicants for open positions, so you will want to be proactive in making sure employers do not rule you out of the competition based on their assumptions about your situation.

Your issue can be dealt with quite simply with a sentence in your cover letter stating that you already have a visa and you are already planning to move to Canada. Consider something along the lines of “I am moving to Vancouver in early October with a visa that allows me to work unconditionally and I look forward to applying my skills and experience to your organization.” This will allay any fears or suspicions that you are reliant on the employer to arrange a visa and /or are not serious about relocating.

This also applies to people within Canada looking for jobs outside of the places in which they currently reside. Let the employer know you are willing and able to relocate for this opportunity – and at your own expense, if this is true – or that you are already planning to move to that city or town. “I will be moving to Halifax from Ottawa in early September for family reasons...” or “I am willing and able to relocate to Toronto at short notice...” could be enough to keep you in the running.

You do not necessarily need to explain that you will be arriving with a one-year visa which can be extended for another year and you do indeed intend to stay in Canada for the full two years. Those details are extraneous at this stage and can be explained when you land a job offer. At this point, employers need to be assured that 1) you have a visa and are legally able to work in Canada without any effort needed on their part, and 2) you are already in the process of moving to the city in which you will be expected to work and therefore there will not be an unnecessary (from their point of view) time lag in the start date.

With substantial work experience in a much-needed type of position, you should be able to get your feet in many Canadian doors. In your applications, you will want to highlight your transferable skills – such as proposal writing, coordinating appeals, organizing events, expertise with various software – and your ability to get up to speed quickly on new issues in different contexts. Do not mention your lack of Canadian experience. Employers will notice this without you drawing attention to this fact. Focus their attention on what you will bring to the position and your motivation to work on the issue(s) championed by the organization to which you are applying.

As you continue with your job search from abroad and once you settle on this side of the pond, you may want to keep your eyes and ears open for short-term contracts, maternity leave replacements, and part-time positions. Volunteering with an organization that piques your interest once you’re here will also help you build your professional network and gain insight and experience in your new city.

Good luck with the preparations for your move and don’t forget to pack a tuque!

Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through www.footinthedoorconsulting.com.

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