Moving to Canada can be challenging for any international student.
Non-native English speakers may struggle to adjust to an environment where their second language is the primary mode of communication.
There’s also a new culture and education system to adjust to, while opportunities for work — be it an internship to applying for a full-time role — can be competitive.
These are some challenges that Pat Chaisang from Thailand can attest to. The 27-year-old moved from Bangkok — Thailand’s capital — to Canada in 2013.
Chaisang attended Fraser International College in British Columbia before transferring to Simon Fraser University where she graduated with a degree in business administration.
Today, she is the co-founder and CEO of Isempower, a job search platform for international students.
Landing a successful career in Canada as an international student “is a lot more than writing a job application,” said Chaisang.
“Over 56% of international students face job search challenges and 70% of international job seekers do not get a job in their field of study. International students have cultural and language barriers as well as immigration needs that add more layers of challenges to their job search,” explained the 27-year-old.
For someone who has been there and done that, she’s using her knowledge and experiences to help other international students secure employment after moving to Canada for their studies.
Carving a career after moving to Canada
Chaisang described her decision to move to Canada as “one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life”.
She grew up in Thailand, went through the Thai education system and spoke her mother tongue all her life before uprooting herself to Canada where she would pursue her higher education in English — her second language.
To improve her chances of success, she kept herself busy outside of school.
This includes doing various extracurricular activities throughout her degree, such as going on a six-month exchange programme to Sweden, volunteering, participating in a co-op programme (she did four internships in total), and enrolling in a special cohort of social entrepreneurship programmes.
“I also worked multiple part-time jobs, including being a sales associate at Club Monaco as well as being a Brand Ambassador for Loreal,” she said.
“Volunteering opportunities turn into part-time jobs, part-time jobs act as pathways to secure internships, to finally a full-time job. I leveraged each position I had to get even better opportunities in the future.”
Using her blueprint for success to help other international students in Canada
As an international student, Chaisang knew she would have to work harder than domestic students for internships and work opportunities.
“I knew that I couldn’t get my first internship in Canada, it would have been too competitive without any experience, so I did my first internship in Thailand during one summer,” she said.
“There, I gained experience working with top brands, understanding how to work in a corporate setting, and showed proven teamwork skills. Once I got back to Canada, I leveraged that internship to get a similar internship at a local mall in Victoria, British Columbia.”
This led to more internships and eventually her first full-time job with Best Buy Canada, followed by TELUS, one of Canada’s largest telecommunication companies.
According to Chaisang, many of her friends who are also international students have struggled to find meaningful jobs in Canada. Realising that her problem wasn’t unique, she decided to do something about it.
Despite starting her first full-time job, Chaisang decided to create a non-profit initiative to empower international students in their careers concurrently, as there was a limited support system for them in Canada.
That non-profit organisation turned into a full for-profit mission-driven company called Isempower, which she runs with her colleagues Jaskaran Bedi and Ramneet Brar.
“We connect students from all across the country with employers who want to hire them and value them for diversity and inclusion,” she said.
They have over 14,000 international students on the platform, collaborate with 15 universities and colleges and work with more than 20 employers to help them hire diverse candidates from inside the country.
“My mission is to level the playing field for all international students to help them get the job that they deserve,” she said.
While her marketing and entrepreneurship education was useful in growing and scaling Isempower, grit and resilience also played a role.
“I would say that education is not everything. How I built Isempower to date is all based on trial and failure and by taking action quickly. Though education provides a strong foundation, taking action is the key ingredient,” she said.
Why international students can’t find employment in Canada
According to Chaisang, the key, unique challenges that international students face in finding a job after moving to Canada fall in three key areas: a lack of network and tailored resources that are unique to international students’ needs, as well as a lack of support after graduating.
Lack of network
International students, unlike immigrants, often move to Canada without an existing network and lack guidance and access to mentors. As they’re younger than the average immigrant and have less work experience, they are less familiar with the workforce and the concept of networking.
“In the North American culture where the most outgoing people get a spotlight in the room and referrals play a critical part in hiring, international students fail to stand out,” she said.
A lack of tailored resources for international students
Chaisang believes that job search resources are not tailored to international students’ unique needs and cultural nuances.
Some students may be afraid or shy to ask questions or hesitate to talk about their accomplishments, which makes it difficult for them to stand out in the North American corporate culture.
Career services in colleges and universities often use a “cookie-cutter” approach which cannot serve international students adequately.
A lack of a support system post-graduation
“We have done a poll recently and found out that, on average, our international student community takes roughly just over six months to land a job after graduation while the average domestic student would take around three months,” said Chaisang.
“International students have unique immigration requirements to meet, such as getting a Permanent Residency (PR), so they often rush to get any job that will allow them to get a PR. Often, federally-funded programmes and services are not available to international students. Once the students are out of the university’s responsibility, they are on their own and rely on themselves — or their friends — to land a job.”
Chaisang’s advice for international students on finding a job in Canada include:
- Surround yourself with people who can help get you where you want to be
- Ask for help early — don’t be afraid!
- Persistence beats resistance. Keep going at it and know that nothing is perfect
A data-driven approach to empowering international students find jobs in Canada
Over the past year, Isempower has pivoted from a training platform for international students to a technology enabler that collaborates with post-secondary education institutions in Canada.
“We have been working really hard to get employers on the platform to hire international students,” Chaisang shares.
“We realised that in order to make this whole mission possible, we have to be in front of as many international students.”
Now, the founder is building a brand-new technology platform that will be licensed to post-secondary institutions. Through this, Chaisang hopes to help them scale their support for international students — who each have their own unique experience.
“Someone comes here when they’re like 30 years old. Someone’s coming here with an 18-year-old; their needs are very different. Their understanding of the world is very different,” she explains.
“It’s about showing that they care about the employability of the students, which is the number one concern of everybody when they choose to study abroad.”
The platform also helps track students’ employment and engagement rates since Issempower will be closely integrated with the employers, including the employment rate during and after graduation. All this information will be made known and reported back to the institution.
To make the information-collecting process much more interactive, Issempower gamifies updating a student’s profile.
“If they want to continue receiving the next set of resources and jobs that match their student lifecycle, our platform helps personalise that experience with technology,” she shares.
“Students have to provide information about their employment and engagement status in Canada, satisfaction rates, and more so we can use the collected data to better inform our decision and gain insights as we can provide more impact and return of investment.”