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How To Get A Survival Job

Are you struggling to find work in a new country or to gain experience in your field? A survival job can help mitigate that barrier in interim while you search for your ideal role. If you live in either the US or Canada, keep reading…

If your immigrant parents limited your career options to either being a doctor, lawyer or a disgrace, the idea of a survival job may seem embarrassing. Have no fear and don’t head for the exit. One thing to remember is that your parents are hustlers and they understand that in order to get to where you want to in life, sometimes you have to take some detours. Besides, there is really no shame in taking on a survival job in the interim because it builds character and shows you’re willing to work hard.

When I graduated from Business School in 2017, I also entered the job market during a hostile political climate in the States. Although I had a couple of job opportunities in the pipeline, it still took me longer than usual to secure my ideal role. This was either because the company decided that they did not want to sponsor an international student OR they did not want to invest in them due to the barriers to securing an H1B visa (see How To Get Permanent Residency In Canada) . As a result, survival jobs were my saving grace during these periods – enabling me navigate the uncertainties.

Sometimes life just happens – you graduate with your degree and it takes a long time to find a job. My assumption is that you won’t resort to being homeless or begging on the streets, right? If you’re educated, at least to the high school level, there is always something for you to do. Also, if you’re on a visa, a survival job (through staffing/temp agencies) can help you stay in status until you can secure your ideal job.

“Do not let contract or temporary roles be a deterrent, because in some of these cases, some roles may eventually turn into permanent one if you’re a good fit for the company or if the company is looking to hire someone with your skills set.”

3 reasons why a survival job may be beneficial

  1. You develop skills and experience that could go on your resume and give you exposure to the workplace. This includes building soft skills i.e. conflict resolution, workplace communication etc.

  2. It could open doors to the next opportunity. When you’re new in a city and have to build your network from scratch, this is the best avenue to do that. When you regularly meet new people and continue sharing your skills and experience, you just might get connected to your next employer within the company or at another.

  3. You are able to pay your bills. It can take months or years before you land your ideal job, however that doesn’t mean that your bills stop piling up. Getting a survival job will help you pay your bills and save while interviewing for the ideal role you want.

And now to the most important question…

Survival jobs options for newcomers

Your choice depends on what your career goals are and what you’re capable of handling. There are numerous options to choose from, whether it’s to work in a corporate setting or non-corporate jobs e.g. McDonalds, a retail store or a bar. In the latter case, this usually involves walking into the store or applying directly online. Walking in especially when a poster is displayed on the storefront can help with solidifying your application and getting an immediate response. Ask to speak to the manager and fill out an application on site if is available. In addition, inquire about the hiring process and how long it would take to hear back. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – keep applying to multiple places and don’t give up, even if you get a lot of NOs.

I have lived and worked in both Boston and Toronto, so I’ll speak to both cities with regards to finding a corporate job. To easily land a role in a corporate setting, sign up with a staffing/temp agency. These roles include a combination of permanent or contracts/temporary roles (the majority) that need to be filled – either because a staff is on maternity leave, the company is trying to save on hiring costs or for a multitude of other reasons.

Do not let contract or temporary roles be a deterrent, because in some of these cases, some roles may eventually turn into permanent ones if you’re a good fit for the company or if the company is looking to hire someone with your skills set. Staffing agencies fill for roles that range from administrative (e.g. receptionist) to technical (e.g. web developer). DO NOT agree to work with a staffing agency that tells you to pay money in order to be represented by them! That’s a fraudulent organization, so don’t waste your time! A staffing agency helps you find a job at a company and they get paid by the company based on the salary they negotiate with the client.

“Most staffing agencies will tell you to create a profile online and keep applying to roles that are a good fit. If you’re up against a lot of qualified applicants, who do you think will be called upon and presented to the client? The candidate the agent is familiar with and can vouch for. So make sure that you become that candidate.”

In the United States (Boston), I surprisingly found it easier to get represented and placed at a job by a staffing/temp agency, whereas it was harder in Canada. However, different people have different experiences. Overall, the key is making sure you get seen, submit your resume and be interviewed by an agent in order to be taken seriously. So make sure that you insist on this and call regularly to check in on new roles being submitted by clients to the agency. Most staffing agencies will tell you to create a profile online and keep applying to roles that are a good fit. If you’re up against a lot of qualified applicants, who do you think will be called upon and presented to the client? The candidate the agent is familiar with and can vouch for. So make sure that you become that candidate. You can do that by staying in regular communication with them after being interviewed, to see if they have any postings.

Also, be proactive by calling the agent after you see a posting online that you qualify for. By making their job easier, you also give yourself a higher chance at being presented to the client. It is not uncommon to go on several interviews and not land a role. Do not let that get you down. It’s a numbers game, so the more interviews you go to, the better your chances are at landing something and also having your pick at a company/placement that would be the best fit for you.

The following is a list of top staffing agencies and/or that I’ve worked with, alongside their respective cities:

Top Staffing Agencies For Work

1. Robert Half (Boston + Toronto) This is one of the popular agencies in both cities, and around the world, and opportunities can range from marketing to administrative and finance roles. Surprisingly, I found it easier to get opportunities with Robert Half (RH) in Boston than in Toronto. Getting interviewed and submitting your paperwork is the best way to get called for opportunities, so ensure you speak to a human instead of just applying online.

2. Randstad (Boston + Toronto) This is another well known agency. Similar to my experience at Robert Half, the key to getting placed in Toronto is to get the contact information of one of the agents and secure a preliminary interview to brief them on your experience and skills. If you don’t secure an interview, you’re less likely to be called upon when a job opens unless there’s no qualified candidate on their roster.

3. Beacon Hills Staffing Group (Boston) This is a well known agency in Boston, but I never got called for roles despite interviewing. Still reach out to them and see if luck is on your side!

4. Bulfinch Temporary Services (Boston) Reach out to Bulfinch if you’re looking for work in the healthcare space, specifically the hospitals in the Partners Healthcare Network i.e. Massachusetts General Hospital, (MGH), Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH), Northshore Medical Center etc. For most roles, you’d be required to do a series of tests and assessments to show your proficiency in the use of office tools e.g. Excel, Word, Outlook etc.

5. Hays (Toronto) Most of the roles at this agency are for individuals with experience or interest in the construction, real estate or energy industry. You’re likely to be added to their roster and called for roles if you have these qualifications, versus if you came from an industry like healthcare

6. Adecco (Toronto)

7. IQ Partners (Toronto)

To find more staffing agencies, tailor your searches to your specific industry e.g. “finance staffing agencies Toronto” and contact each of them. It’s a numbers game so keep reaching out!

In addition, the Canadian government also provides a wealth of information on job fairs and opportunities. When I first moved to Toronto, I was disappointed to find that the job fairs were mostly inundated with low skilled jobs i.e. construction workers, salespeople etc. vs the quality of roles I previously encountered at job fairs in the States. If you are looking for a survival job vs your ideal role, this is a good place to start. Use the resources provided to build your resume and get trained on interviewing skills. Some additional organizations to check out include The Career Foundation, your local YMCA, Acces Employment, Proviso Consulting etc.

However, if you’re looking for a guide on finding high quality jobs, stay tuned for my next blog post: Guide to finding your ideal job in North America.

Good luck!

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