As a newcomer to Canada, applying for your first job can be stressful. The recruitment process may be different from what you’ve experienced back home and it can take some time to understand what will make your application stand out in Canada’s competitive job market.
As you look for your first job in Canada, your resume will likely be key in determining whether or not you get the role. In Canada, most companies run the resumes they receive through a resume-scanning software to filter ones that best match the requirements laid out in the job description. If you’re shortlisted, your resume and cover letter will be sent to a recruiter or hiring manager, and they’ll decide whether you’re an ideal candidate for the position.
Since your resume will determine the first impression you make on the hiring manager, there’s a lot riding on what you include––or not. Should you really submit that extra page? (Maybe.) Is it okay to exaggerate your credentials? (No!) What about using a fun font? (Better not to.) Here are 10 common resume mistakes newcomers tend to make and guidance on how to avoid them.
1. Using the same resume for different job applications
Landing your first job in Canada can take a few months and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted by the process. When you’re applying to hundreds of job positions, the idea of using the same generic resume for multiple positions can be tempting. However, customizing your resume significantly improves your chances of being selected.
Every job is unique––and your application should be too. While your applicant profile won’t vary significantly from one application to the next, the way in which you present it should be customized for each company and job opening. A good way to do this is to look for keywords in each job posting and sprinkle them throughout your resume where they make sense. This will help your resume get past both the resume-scanning software and human recruiters tasked with reading dozens, if not hundreds of applications.
Be sure to include experience and behavioural traits mentioned in the job posting. (For example, if the ideal candidate is proficient with a certain type of software, you should definitely mention any experience you have with it.) At the same time, remove experiences and skills that aren’t a match, so whoever reads your resume isn’t distracted by non-essential items.
2. Not reading the job description before creating your resume
Reading the job description will give you vital information about the role and the potential candidate an organization is looking for, including key skills and experiences. Not only will this information help you determine if you’re a good candidate, it’ll also help you craft the perfect resume.
Many Canadian employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to screen resumes and shortlist ones that match the job description. This means it’s essential your application takes the job ad into consideration. As mentioned above, you’ll want to look for keywords and descriptions you can include in your cover letter and resume. It’s also a good idea to include some synonyms and similar words to these keywords. The idea is to include just enough keywords for your resume to pass the ATS, while ensuring that it reads well for a human recruiter. Only include keywords where it makes sense to do so and don’t include too many in a row. Your cover letter and resume should always be grammatically correct, easy to read, and flow naturally.
3. Listing job responsibilities instead of achievements
Unlike some countries where resumes are supposed to outline your past roles and responsibilities, in Canada resumes focus on achievements. Listing past job responsibilities doesn’t tell future employers how you performed in a role.
The goal is to make you stand out from every other applicant with similar job experience, so make sure you emphasize what you brought to a company or team as an individual. The best way to do this is by listing achievements, citing numbers or data that may grab an employer’s attention, or describing challenges you overcame. This isn’t the time to be modest! You want to share what makes you special.
4. Grammatical errors and typos in your resume
Proofread, proofread, and proofread again before hitting “send.” Missing grammatical errors and typos is the worst resume mistake you can make and can cost you a job, even if you’re a good candidate for the role. Grammatical errors will make your resume stand out in all the wrong ways, undermining your credibility and bringing into question your attention to detail. If possible, have a friend, family member, or mentor proofread your cover letter and resume as well. This is even more important if English isn’t your first language. You can use spell check as a guide, but don’t rely on it to catch all your errors.
5. Creating a resume that’s too long or too short
One of the biggest questions Canadian job seekers have is how long their resume should be. The exact answer depends on the specific job at hand and an applicant’s work experience, but generally resumes should be one to two pages long. A cover letter should be no longer than one page, but not shorter than three to four paragraphs.
The more years of work experience you have under your belt, the closer to two pages your resume can be. If you’re fresh out of school or less than a decade into your career, it’s better to stick to one page. As you progress in your career, it’s also normal to cut out early-career work experience and keep educational experience to a single line. A recruiter for a senior-level position doesn’t need to read about your early-20’s internships or time spent in debate club.
6. Not using action verbs
You want to use powerful and impactful language in your resume, which means using action verbs. Action verbs are verbs that imply that the subject (you) is doing something. These are a great way to showcase your initiative, rather than passively saying you were “responsible for” something. Good examples of action words to use in a cover letter or resume include “led,” “managed,” “succeeded,” “surpassed,” “created,” and “delivered.” Try to use a mix of action words and avoid repeating the same ones in consecutive points.
7. Including information not typically included in Canadian resumes
In Canada, you’re not supposed to include information like your marital status, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientiation in your cover letter or resume. Unless you’re applying for a modelling or acting job, you’re also not supposed to include a photo or headshot. Not only will this extra information take up valuable page space, it could cause a potential employer to avoid your resume for fear of accusations of unintentional or intentional discrimination. It’s actually illegal in Canada for an employer to ask for information like your sexual orientation, age, or ethnicity in a job application process or interview. To avoid putting a recruiter or employer in an awkward situation, it’s best to stay away from these topics.
It’s also considered improper to include salary expectations or irrelevant personal hobbies in your application. In Canada, you can skip writing “references available upon request,” as that’s understood and doesn’t need to be stated.
8. Submitting a cluttered or improperly-formatted resume
First and foremost, a resume should always be organized and easy to read. An employer should be able to easily pick out your work experience, any volunteer experience, and educational background. Be sure to leave enough white space around text. This typically means 1 or 1.5 line spacing and wider margins.
Job applications also aren’t the time to get creative with fonts. Stick to classics like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri with a size of at least 10, but not larger than 14. Avoid mixing fonts or using too many different font sizes. Also avoid going overboard with bolding, underlining, or italicizing. If you need more guidance on formatting your resume in the Canadian style, you’ll find the tips and templates you need in our article on Canadian resumes and cover letters.
9. Listing inaccurate contact information
It doesn’t matter how great your resume is if a potential employer can’t contact you. If you’ve recently moved or changed your phone number or e-mail address, make sure the information included in your cover letter and resume is up to date. Either way, proofread this information multiple times to avoid typos. It’s also important to make sure your email address is professional (avoid using contact email addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). Ideally, it should be formatted firstname.lastname or using your initials and not include any nicknames or slang language.
10. Lying on your resume
You may be tempted to exaggerate your experience or accomplishments, but this is a big ethical no-no and a dealbreaker for any potential employer. Many Canadian recruiters and employers will verify your credentials and background through other sources, whether that’s by calling references, conducting background checks, or looking you up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. If you lie, you’re very likely to get caught. If you’re worried about an employment gap, it’s better to plan to explain it than cover it up with a lie.
As a newcomer, landing a first job can be challenging. However, it’s important to avoid the urge to embellish or lie to make your resume more impressive. Remember, most employment contracts include a clause that allows an employer to terminate your position if they find you lied on your job application. That’s not the type of stress you need hanging over your head!
Having a good resume is crucial for your job search. Your resume is essentially your first interaction with a prospective employer and it should convey why you’re an ideal candidate for the job. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can make a positive impression and stand out among a pool of candidates to land a job in Canada.
Arrive is powered by RBC Ventures Inc, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada. In collaboration with RBC, Arrive is dedicated to helping newcomers achieve their life, career, and financial goals in Canada. An important part of establishing your financial life in Canada is finding the right partner to invest in your financial success. RBC is the largest bank in Canada* and here to be your partner in all of your financial needs. RBC supports Arrive, and with a 150-year commitment to newcomer success in Canada, RBC goes the extra mile in support and funding to ensure that the Arrive newcomer platform is FREE to all.
Shikha Bhuchar Co-Founder, Arrive | Director, RBC Ventures
Shikha Bhuchar is a proactive, purpose-driven leader who is passionate about solving complex customer and community-based challenges.