Job interviews are hard for everyone. Most Canadians tense up just thinking about the mix of preparation, pressure, hope, and uncertainty they entail.
Now, imagine if a job interview could unlock the chance to move yourself and your family from an extremely difficult place to a new home and future in Canada; if this job meant a life-changing relocation. Imagine too that this remote interview will be in your non-native language. Imagine you’re stressed about the regular electricity outages interrupting your call. Imagine your family is listening in because you all live together in a few rooms. Oh, and you’ve never had a formal interview before.
Each week, TalentLift candidates – all talented individuals living as refugees around the world – head into remote interviews with employers across Canada with constraints on their time, preparedness and wellbeing that are difficult to imagine.
Perhaps the best tool we can provide to help them prepare is a connection to a volunteer in Canada who runs through a practice interview. Our volunteers are human resources professionals, or managers and other team members with internal interview experience, who regularly commit their time to helping candidates in refugee circumstances put their best foot forward in a Canadian interview. They spend 30-60 minutes with a candidate in a simulated interview, and then provide verbal and written feedback including tips to improve before the real thing.
We asked a handful of our volunteers to share reflections on their experiences in these practice interviews with carpenters, nurses, bakers, developers, and other professionals – many of whom have gone on to receive job offers. They shared some incredible insight on the talent, potential, and aspirations of displaced candidates.
Here are some of their insights:
Interviewers can help build up confidence and comfort
During practice interviews, Praneeta Patil, a human resources professional in Toronto, reminds candidates about their courage and endurance in getting to this point as a way to build their confidence. “It is wonderful to see them gain their confidence throughout the call which is then reflected in little things like their posture and the way they converse,” she said. “Many of the candidates who are otherwise great at their work just require that boost of confidence.”
During the real thing, interviewers can also help put candidates at ease with smiling, small talk and an explanation of the interview (including what the interviewer wants to learn) at the outset. These techniques can help lower stress and encourage comfort with the interviewer.
Interviewers can avoid testing cultural context by being more aware of differences
Shawn Patterson is an engineering manager in Waterloo and has been struck by differences in team structure. Some candidates have worked in companies around the world that are “very traditional in structure, very hierarchical, so they aren’t used to having an opinion on how teams communicate across the company.” In these workplaces, people “take the work and execute on it” while companies more typical of the Canadian tech scene “are very flat in nature where anyone can really bring up any concern and interact with any team.”
Being mindful of this contextual difference can help hiring managers probe aptitude rather than experience within a specific cultural setting. See a guide on redesigning the tech hiring process to include displaced talent for more on how to test skills like problem-solving instead of cultural context.
Jane Duffy, a human resources professional in Toronto, identified some additional qualities to keep an eye on in this talent pool: “Give pause and reflect on the candidate you are interviewing. They are likely estranged from their home country and living in very challenging circumstances. This makes them strong, resilient and nimble – all wonderful qualities to have in an employee.”
Interviewers can make simple adjustments to account for differences when interviewing displaced candidates
Michelle Arnold, a policy manager in Toronto, suggested a no-surprises approach: “I’d encourage hiring managers to provide as much information about what they’re looking for to the candidates as possible. These candidates are often living in stressful situations and may or may not be familiar with Canadian industry terms and trends – the focus should be on trying to get a sense of their skills and their capacity and willingness to learn.” Unexpected questions that put someone on the spot usually aren’t the best way to understand skills and potential.
Praneeta emphasized the importance of overcoming communication barriers. In Praneeta’s experience, “English is not their first language. Many of the candidates listen to a question in English, translate it in their minds to their language, think of an answer in their own language and then translate it to English. Please be patient while they answer.” Shawn too advised care with communication: “Make sure your questions are clear and easy to understand so you get the best response possible from the candidate. If you don’t get the answer you are looking for, it can sometimes be language related so try and ask the question again, in different words. This will help give the candidate the best chance to succeed.”
Candidates can follow these recurring tips
Understand the question. Shawn said, “listen to the question carefully, and ask for clarification when needed before answering. Feel free to take the time you need to come up with a good response.”
Explain why you want to work with this team. Michelle advised, “be specific about why you are interested in working for a particular employer and make clear connections between past work experience and the requirements of the job.” This will help demonstrate that you came prepared and that you appreciate ways that this team and company are unique.
Be confident. Praneeta said candidates “could be hesitant while talking about their work and often undersell themselves and their achievements.” She emphasized that it’s OK to talk proudly about your work.
Have good eye contact and smile. “Interviews can be nerve-wracking and this is especially true when interviewing for a role in a different country and language,” Jane said. But these small things help people connect and appreciate the human side of each other.
Learning and personal growth is a two-way street
As much as they teach and support others, volunteers explained that they take away big personal lessons and value too.
“Every individual I interview has their own story and is fighting to overcome their own unique struggles and I have nothing but respect for them,” Praneeta said. “I was extremely moved by their strength, fierce zest for life and the willingness to strive and overcome.”
“Hearing how excited candidates are to build a life and career for themselves in Canada has been surprisingly meaningful,” Michelle said. “In one of my interviews, the candidate was talking about all the research she’d done on the city that she was applying to work in, from the geographical characteristics, to the population size, to the major industries and it made me so excited and hopeful about the possibility of having someone that passionate about Canada contribute their skills here.”
Michelle added, “it’s also just really wonderful to talk to passionate, interesting people who are embarking on major shifts in their lives.”
Are you interested in volunteering? TalentLift welcomes new volunteers for practice interview sessions with candidates, with an ideal time commitment of one or two practice sessions each month. Please register your interest here: https://www.talentlift.ca/volunteer-signup/