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Communication and other soft skills for skilled immigrants

By Canadian Immigrant Magazine

Learn the importance of communication and other soft skills sought by employers in Canada

It’s an all-too common scenario for skilled immigrants — they get accepted to Canada for their skills and experience, but then struggle to find work in their field. You’re told, “Sorry, you don’t have any Canadian experience.” This often translates to “you don’t have the soft skills we’re looking for.” Soft skills are the social skills and personality traits that help you interact with others and succeed in the workplace.

“Many skilled immigrants come here knowing the language and with expertise in their field. But they often lack the soft skills Canadian employers want,” says Rose Weiler, manager of specialized employment programs at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society in Surrey, B.C. Weiler has more than 20 years of helping immigrants, youth and mature workers find their place in the labour market.

In contrast to technical skills, soft skills are more about “how” you work, rather than “what” you do, and effective communication skills are at the heart of it all.

Let’s not confuse communication skills with English or French language literacy skills, though. It goes without saying that good verbal and written language skills are critical for your career success in Canada.

So, what do we mean by effective communication skills?

Communication skills are how you present your thoughts and ideas, whether chatting with the CEO in the elevator, listening openly to your boss, or making a business presentation in a boardroom. Are you communicating in a way that encourages their confidence in your abilities?

“It’s about effectively expressing what you’re feeling and thinking. People from some cultures or personality types don’t have the boldness to speak up,” says Weiler. “I have experienced this a lot, where a skilled immigrant doesn’t understand the intricacies of the corporate culture. They may not get what a colleague is saying, such as with a local expression or their style of sense of humour, and get hurt or offended instead of asking for clarification.”

Or it might be the way the skilled immigrant communicates that creates misunderstanding. “I worked with someone who had difficulty saying ‘no’ effectively. Her clients would get really mad, because she seemed too abrupt. Her manager had to be called in to diffuse the situation several times.”

Good communication forms the foundation of many other sought-after soft skills such as online skills (especially with remote work), problem solving, interpersonal skills, relationship-building, teamwork, collaboration and conflict resolution.