Perceptions of Canada
By: Alan Davis
The Reality of Successful Overseas Recruiting
Perceive: To become aware of something through the senses.
As Canadians, our perception of our country is both accurate and up to date. However, in the business context, when we are selling career opportunities in Canada, we have to be sure that we can take into account other people’s perceptions. And, where necessary, correct or clarify inaccurate perceptions.
A few months ago, I managed an overseas recruiting campaign on behalf of one of our multinational clients. Our task was to source the United Kingdom population of industry expertise to recruit a large number of technical and scientific specialists. This was an active recruiting campaign, meaning that we sent over to the UK first a team of Researchers, then a team of Recruiters and finally, a team of Interviewers. Each team had to be prepared for what to expect, and thankfully, having done this type of mandate on a number of occasions over the last 15 years, we were able to provide our teams with plenty of information and tools to get a top-quality job done.
Our Research and Recruiting Teams set up base in Oxford, which was chosen because the cost of operating from a London base was prohibitive. A virtual office was created as phone lines, computers, printers, scanners, and all of the usual office paraphernalia were set up on arrival. This allowed the research and recruiting effort to be ramped up very quickly.
The feedback from our Researchers and Recruiters was that many people contacted had quite accurate perceptions of Canada. These perceptions were based on either first-hand knowledge through travel, or by working with people who had either traveled to, or lived in Canada. For example, most were aware that Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province and that there have been two referendums on the subject of separation from Canada. Interestingly enough though, the perception of it being a French environment was seen by most as an opportunity for their children to become bilingual. This is probably because any British person accepting a job in a European country would expect to send their children to school in that country’s own language.
Generally speaking, it was perceived that the standard of living was higher in North America than in the UK. This would provide an improved quality of life as there was more disposable income with which to enjoy oneself. Overall the feeling was that it isn’t how much money you have, it’s what you’re able to do with the money when you have it.
Everyone knew that we had cold winters, and that we have a lot of snow. What they didn’t know was that the ski hills are very close, and that family skiing on weekends is quite common and very affordable. This is quite different from a destination skiing vacation from the UK to Europe or elsewhere. Normally a ski vacation is at least a week (so has to be during school vacations and could be quite crowded) and is very expensive.
With respect to salary levels, many of the candidates were aware that there was not a great deal of difference, and that difference continues to shrink, between salaries in the UK and salaries in North America. However, many of them did not know that the cost of living in Canada is much more affordable.
A considerable amount of time was spent showing examples of houses for sale in the city, the suburbs and the country in the vicinity of the client’s workplace. This helped them to make a comparison between the cost of housing in the UK versus Canada. Not only are houses less expensive in Canada, typically they are bigger, better equipped and on larger lots of land than in the UK – where land is at a premium. In fact, we were joking with some of the candidates that for the price of a relatively modest home in the UK, they could almost buy a mansion in Canada.
Time was also spent explaining that climate-wise, although the winters are cold, conversely the summers are hot. There are four distinct seasons in Canada, creating a plethora of seasonal leisure activities.
Many were unaware that Canada has a government-sponsored health-care system similar in concept to the National Health Service in the UK. Many in fact thought that our health care system was more similar to that in the US. Also, they were unaware generally of the taxing power of our provinces and that the rates of taxation can vary significantly from province to province. The regional differences across Canada were quite surprising to many of the candidates, including differences in lifestyle, geography, culture, and cost of living. Many families were unaware of the immigration rules regarding workers coming to Canada, and we had to address issues like common-law marriages which would not have legal weight within the immigration rules, and the spousal employment issue also had to be addressed realistically and accurately.
Selling the positive aspects of working and living in Canada became a major focus of the recruiting drive. This was, of course, in addition to selling the possibility of working in a North American work culture, with a generally more enlightened management attitude.
We acknowledged up-front that this was a potential move of great significance to the family and that the decision to make such a move should not be taken lightly or without adequate information. As a general rule, the candidate did not have to be convinced that moving to Canada was a good opportunity career-wise. However, to ensure the success of the recruiting campaign, we had to make sure that the family was behind the candidate’s decision. It was important that the families had enough information and spent the time to decide whether or not this would indeed be a good idea for the entire family.
In our screening interviews, we handed over to the candidates and their families a whole block of information about Quebec and Canada, including house prices, tax calculations, information on climate, government, schooling, health care, as well as information on our client’s organization and products. We gave them maps, we gave them brochures, we gave them pointers to the appropriate web sites where they could avail themselves of a range of information about every facet of living and working in Canada. We gave them brochures on shopping and newspaper flyers confirming that the cost of food was indeed affordable. We pointed out that for some major purchases like cars, you can buy in Canadian dollars the equivalent car that they would be paying in pounds sterling in the UK. This means that the car bought in Canada is virtually half the price of the UK car. Similarly with the cost of gasoline, which is twice as much in the UK as it is in Canada.
Two members of our team were deliberately chosen as they had made the transition from the UK to Canada. This made our message very credible, as we could recount many first-hand experiences.
The outcome of this mandate has been very successful. We’re up to 25 offers and counting. In total, more than 400 technical and scientific specialists were recruited, of which over 100 were interviewed by us. And this took an elapsed time of only five weeks – from the arrival of our first team in Oxford to the first offer in London!
Any business wanting to recruit successfully from overseas has to address all of these issues. The last thing a family needs when they arrive in Canada is a surprise. This is not just a recruiting issue; this is a retention issue. The families should make a decision based on fact, and a complete picture of the reality of their new homeland.
Success in an overseas recruiting mandate is based on not only the ability to sell the opportunity, but on the ability to present a full picture so that the intended candidates can make a decision for themselves; that they are not stepping into a great unknown, that they are indeed stepping into a better life for themselves.
As many of our candidates have now learned, there’s more to Canada than the Rockies, the Prairies, the Mounted Police and the CN Tower.