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March 16, 2023
4 mins read

Building your career confidence in Canada

Bandhul Vikas Khanna is a 3rd year international student in Political Science and Economics who’s constantly improving his skills to build his career confidence.

What are some challenges that you have experienced as an international student?

It's difficult to build your life and career from scratch while maintaining a sense of stability in the first few months of arrival in a new country. I know I’m lucky as my family immigrated with me to Canada for my studies, but I only started enjoying my time at university once I pushed myself to make friends and talk to more people, which boosted my confidence. 

The job search process has also been pretty challenging. As a Political Science major passionate about serving the public, I really wanted to get a position with the federal government. However, they typically hire applicants with permanent residency or citizenship— both of which I do not have.

So, I reached out to the UBC Career Centre to brainstorm ways to gain relevant experience. They were so helpful and advised me to apply for municipal and provincial jobs rather than federal jobs, because those have no restrictions on eligibility. Regardless, I know I’ll get my Canadian permanent residence status one day!

How have you worked to overcome personal challenges that have impacted your career development?

In Canada, communication styles are very different from communication styles in my home country, where people are more direct. So right from first year, I knew I had to hone my interpersonal skills to secure employment when I graduate.

In my second year, I volunteered as an Orientation Leader and honed my interpersonal skills by welcoming first-year students to campus. I also volunteered as the Office Administrator for the Arts Undergraduate Society, where I worked on my customer service and administrative skills. Now in my third year, I am an Academic Mentor for the UBC Political Science Student Association (UBC PSSA) and the Vice President of External Affairs for the UBC Model United Nations Student Association (UBC MUNSA). Both these roles have allowed me to gain leadership skills and exposure to public speaking and advocacy experiences, which I know I’ll need in a future government role.

Bandhul Vikas Khanna

What advice do you have for students who may be in your shoes?

It can be challenging to come up with a strategy for getting into the Canadian workforce. However, always being excited to learn new things has been key to overcoming challenges in my career. I’ve cold contacted professionals through LinkedIn, and more often than not, haven’t gotten a response back. But eventually, I did! If you’re particularly scared about reaching out to people you don’t know for advice, start with the people you do know—like professors and upper-year students. Also, elaborating on who you are, your career aspirations, and what kind of guidance you need can help whomever you reach out to help you—and even make them more likely to respond.

For instance, I’ve reached out to several of my professors to share my aspirations and ask for career advice, and they’ve all given me great tips on developing my skillset. Thanks to my professors’ advice, I’ve pursued online certifications through LinkedIn Learning and Coursera to build my resume, and joined the UBC PSSA as a way to meet international students in Political Science who share my interests and understand my personal struggles.

Finally, reach out to your international student peers—or even alumni who were once international students—to learn from their experiences. I’ve also heard of students joining programs like Arts Co-op and applying for Work Learn jobs. These opportunities allow you to exercise your communication skills while gaining crucial work experience, and they often don’t require permanent residence status in Canada.

How can an international student leverage their non-Canadian experience to impress employers?

Connecting with hiring managers to learn about jobs you’re interested in, and how best to tailor your applications, is crucial. In the past, I’ve made it my mission to track down local hiring managers on LinkedIn to discuss my career interests, my international work experience, and what I can contribute to their organizations. Even if there wasn’t a job opening at the time, the hiring managers would often give me good advice on what they look for in an ideal candidate.

Canadian employers want to know you’re passionate about your field, so I always try to make my cover letter stand out with captivating tidbits about my relevant experiences in both Canada and my home country. Employers also look for teamwork skills, so I elaborate on how I stepped up as a leader at the UBC PSSA in my resume. Finally, they look for professionalism in your actions, image, and manner of communicating with people in the workplace, so I asked a UBC career advisor for guidance on developing my professional persona, especially during interviews. Confidence, elaborating on related or transferrable skills, and clear communication also go a long way!

What are your career plans after you graduate?

I am already on the path to permanent residency, which should open up more doors for me to join the federal government. At the moment, I have not decided whether I will take a short break after my bachelor's degree to look for entry-level jobs as a policy analyst in government administration, or continue my schooling in a master's program.

If I choose the latter, I plan to do more research and talk to my professors about how competitive various programs are and what career opportunities would open up. Regardless of what happens, through persistence, I will achieve great things while gaining new knowledge and be able to support my family and our life in Canada.

Take small steps and stay driven to build your career confidence in Canada! Get more career tips for international students by visiting the UBC Career Centre, and check out job postings and volunteer opportunities on UBC Careers Online.