The creative industry in Canada encompasses fine arts, commercial arts, advertising, photography, motion pictures, animation, web design, creative writing and more. Breaking into these highly competitive fields can be challenging for newcomers, especially for those whose first language is not English or French.

Not surprisingly, newcomers also tend to lack a deep knowledge of the local Canadian culture, which is often a basic requirement for certain creative roles. As an advertising copywriter, for example, an understanding of popular culture and Canadian humour – what Rob Lawrence from Mandrake Recruitment calls “the vagaries of Canadiana” – is essential.

Creative arts and design jobs can be exciting, demanding and rewarding. The starving artist cliche need not apply. Creative people are passionate about what they do, work environments tend to be less structured than most fields, and working hours can be flexible or, at times, unpredictable.

 

The people that I’m dealing with have a passion for creativity: they are creative first and foremost. They love creativity, and they’re creative thinkers, and they have a lot of ideas about how to sell products and create content across all media for their clients. You need to have that passion to make it.

Rob Lawrence, Vice President, Mandrake Human Capital

 

A key aspect that distinguishes the creativity industry from others is the hiring process. Recruiters, hiring managers or creative directors tend to hire for very specific roles. In most cases, job seekers must present a portfolio of their past work (design, writers, art directors, art instructors, photographers), a commercial reel (advertising creative, cinematographers, film directors), or an audition (performance-based roles like actors or musicians).

 

In advertising, for example, I want to see that a candidate has the ability to come up with original and novel ideas. The only way to do this is to show that you’ve done it. A Creative Director may spend three to five minutes looking at your portfolio. So, you have to grab their attention, demonstrate your skill set and leave them with something to remember you by.

Robin Heisey, Professor, Advertising and Marketing at Humber College
and former Chief Creative Officer, FCB Canada.

 

You’ll find helpful information on resumes, job search and networking to ensure you get a head start on reaching your career goals in the free Arrive guide: Finding your career in Canada. 

Key tools to start your job search for a creative role in Canada

What jobs are in the creative industry?

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) is Canada’s national system for describing occupations. The NOC code is a four-digit number that plays an important part in your immigration application. The NOC groups jobs based on the type of job duties and the work a person does. You can learn more and find your NOC code on the Government of Canada website.

Here are some of the NOCs that broadly cover the roles in the Canadian creativity industry:

NOC Code NOC Code Name Example Titles
0511 Library, archive, museum and art gallery managers Archives director, Art gallery manager, Assistant director of archives, Chief librarian, Library director, Museum administrator, Museum executive director
0512 Managers – publishing, motion pictures, broadcasting and performing arts Ballet, Opera, Dance or Theatre Company Director, Publishing Manager, Director, Editor-in-Chief, Broadcasting/Station/Programming Manager
5121 Authors and writers Writer, Advertising Copywriter, Interactive Media Writer, Technical Writer, Medical Writer, Author
5122 Editors Advertising Editor, Associate Editor, Contributing Editor, Copy Editor, Editor, Editorial Consultant, News Editor, News Service Editor, Technical Editor
5123 Journalists Broadcast journalist, Columnist, Correspondent, Cyberjournalist, Investigative reporter, Commentator
5131 Producers, directors, choreographers and related occupations Artistic director, Choreographer, Director – motion picture, Director of photography, Filmmaker, Multimedia audio producer, Producer-director
5134 Dancers Ballet dancer, Ballet teacher, Ballroom dancing teacher, Dance instructor, Dancer, Folkloric dancer, Interpretative dancer, Tap dancer, Performance movement teacher
5135 Actors and comedians Acting teacher – private or studio, Actor/actress, Comedian, Drama teacher – private or studio, Narrator
5136 Painters, sculptors and other visual artists Art teacher (except primary, secondary and post-secondary education), Artist, Artistic painter, Portrait painter, Sculptor, Silkscreen artist, Watercolourist
5212 Technical occupations related to museums and art galleries Art gallery preparator, Conservation technician – museums and art galleries, Heritage interpreter, Museology technician, Museum extension officer, Museum objects cataloguer, Museum registrar, Museum technician, Paintings restoration technician, Picture framer – museum and art gallery
5221 Photographer Aerial photographer, Commercial photographer, Forensic photographer, Industrial photographer, Photographer, Portrait photographer, Scientific photographer, Inclusions, Multimedia picture illustrator, Photojournalist, Police photographer
5222 Film and video camera operators Assistant camera operator, Camera operator, Film camera operator, Motion picture camera operator, Studio camera operator, Television camera operator, Video camera operator
5223 Graphic arts technicians Animated cartoon technician, Animation painter, Computer graphics technician, Graphics technician, Multimedia graphic design technician
5224 Broadcast technicians Broadcast technician, Broadcast transmitter operator, Broadcasting switcher, Master control room (MCR) equipment operator – broadcasting, Master control room (MCR) technician – broadcasting
5226 Other technical and co-ordinating occupations in motion pictures, broadcasting and the performing arts Costumier, Gaffer, Key grip, Lighting technician, Make-up artist – motion pictures, broadcasting and performing arts, Program coordinator – broadcasting, Property master – broadcasting, Settings shop foreman/woman, Special effects technician, Stage manager, Stunt coordinator, Theatre technician
5227 Support occupations in motion pictures, broadcasting, photography and the performing arts Boom grip, Camera crane operator, Dresser – motion pictures, broadcasting and performing arts, Lighting assistant, Production assistant, Props person, Script assistant, Set builder, Special effects assistant, Spotlight operator, Stagehand
5241 Graphic designers and illustrators 3D animation artist, Advertising art director, Advertising designer, Animator – animated films, Commercial artist, Graphic artist, Graphic designer, Graphic designer – multimedia, Illustrator, Layout designer, Medical illustrator, Multimedia illustrator, Scientific illustrator
5242 Interior designers and interior decorators Interior decorator, Interior design technician, Interior designer, Kitchen designer, Office space planner, Retail space planner, Home staging consultant
5243 Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers Clothing designer, Costume designer, Couturier – haute couture, Display designer, Fabric designer, Fashion designer, Jewellery designer, Lighting designer, Museum exhibit designer, Shoe designer, Trophy designer, Window display designer
5244 Artisans and craftspersons Artistic floral arranger, Carver, Craft instructor (except education), Craftsperson, Glass blower, Lace weaver – arts and crafts, Leatherworker, Metal arts worker, Potter, Screen printing artisan, Silversmith, Stained glass artist, Stringed instrument maker, Weaver – arts and crafts
5245 Patternmakers Dress patternmaker, Embroidery patternmaker, Fur garment patternmaker, Garment patternmaker, Leather products patternmaker, Shoe patternmaker, Textile products patternmaker

Figuring out your NOC code makes the process of analyzing the job market easier.

Tip: For the purpose of analysis, you don’t have to be restricted to one single code; you can look at multiple codes that require your skills and decide which one might be better suited to you.

 

“There is a real need right now for creative people who understand the web world, and all that entails – and skill sets like web design, motion graphics, after effects, video editing, UX, UI design etc., are in high demand and will help you land a job.”

Rob Lawrence, Vice President, Mandrake Human Capital

 

What is the demand for creative roles in Canada?

Before you dive deeper, it’s important to understand the big picture. Statistics Canada (StatCan) publishes monthly and annual employment trends for various industries. This is a good starting point to get an idea of the employment trends in the creative field; any increase or growth is a good sign. 

The monthly and annual employment trends data on Statistics Canada is grouped by industries. As per the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), most advertising and design roles are categorized under code 54 – Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services, while performance-based roles fall under code 71 – Arts, entertainment and recreation. Therefore, when you look at employment trends in Statistics Canada, you will have to look up the specific category that applies to you.    

Statistics Canada also allows you to filter the numbers by province. This is a good way to identify provinces that have the maximum demand for your skills and know the probability of finding a job in your field. For instance, in 2019, among all provinces, Ontario had maximum employment for NAICS code 54, followed by Quebec and British Columbia.  

Image showing how to filter StatCan employment trends by geography

If you would like to gain a better understanding of the overall job market trends, you can look at the following two sites: 

  1. Statistics Canada publishes monthly reports which can be found by searching for the Labour Force Survey. A general Google search with the keywords (Labour Force Survey + latest month and year) will take you directly to the relevant webpage. You can have a look at the reports of April 2020 and March 2020 to get an idea. Note that these are overall trends and not specific to the creative sector. However, they will have subsections for noteworthy NAICS categories for that month.
  2. Explore the creative job market in various provinces by reading a comprehensive report published by Canada’s Job Bank. Once you’re on the webpage, choose a province and then scroll down to sectoral profiles. Because the creativity industry covers so many varied roles, you may search Arts, Entertainment and Recreation,  Information and Culture, or Professional, Technical, and Scientific Services for deeper insight into your specific role.

Tip: For a quick overview, type in your NOC code or job title on the Occupation Trends page and search. For example, here’s a summary of the role of a User Experience (Graphic) designer (NOC 5241) in Canada. The main summary page will provide various details such as educational and skill requirements for the role, average wages, and the number of jobs available. Clicking on the Prospects tab will show you a provincial breakdown of job prospects.

Image showing StatCan job prospects and trends for a UX designer in Canada

This exercise will help you set realistic expectations for being able to find a job in your field in a specific province or region. 

How to narrow your research and identify a city where specific creative skills are in-demand

Once you decide on a province where you would like to work, as a next step, you can start looking at specific cities that might offer more opportunities to find a job in your desired role. For this, Canada’s Job Bank website is an excellent resource. 

On the Prospects page, when you click on a specific province, it will provide a further split by region. For instance, you can view the opportunities for a User experience designer in Toronto on the same site.  

After narrowing down the region, you can go back to the main Occupation Trends page, type in your NOC and region or city to get a similar detailed report.

Image showing how to see StatCan trends for UX designers near Toronto or other cities

How to identify education and skills that may be required for your role

Different provinces and territories may have different requirements for professional licenses and certifications. Identifying if you would need to obtain a license or certification can help you get a headstart in preparing for your employment in Canada.

Note: All occupations in Canada are classified into regulated and non-regulated occupations. You can find out if your profession is regulated by typing in your NOC code and province/territory on the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) website. Regulated occupations typically require you to have a license and/or a certification to be able to work in the field.

The same page on the Job Bank website will provide a list of skills and requirements (such as licenses and certifications) to be able to work in the field. There are various professional associations representing the different segments of the creative industry. For example, organizations like  Graphic Designers of Canada and Registered Graphic Designers support and advances the graphic design profession, and offer certification, which may be useful in conveying industry-recognized credentials.

Image showing how to see a list of job skills and requirements for the role of a User experience designer

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, this is what you typically need for a Graphic design role (NOC 5241):

  • A university degree in visual arts with specialization in graphic design, commercial art, graphic communications or completion of a college diploma program in graphic arts is required.
  • Experience or training in multimedia design at a post-secondary, college or technical institution may be required.
  • In addition to the arts, training in biology, engineering, architecture or a scientific field is usually required for medical, technical and scientific illustrators.
  • Creative ability and artistic talent, as demonstrated by a portfolio of work, are required for graphic designers and illustrators.

Navigating salary expectations for creative roles in Canada

Setting salary expectations is another key area of importance for newcomers. There are many sites to conduct salary research: The Job Bank website, Glassdoor, and reports published by recruitment firms such as Hays and Randstad are some of them. Your salary may vary greatly depending on the city you’re based in and your work experience.

Each of these sources will let you filter your profession by experience level and region and city so that you can get a very real sense of salary expectations. It is a good idea to compare numbers from different sites to get a good ballpark figure. Keep in mind that in the creative industry, work can come in the form of full-time, contract (temporary or long-term) and freelance, so income may be calculated as an annual salary, weekly or monthly retainer, or hourly rate.

How to find a creative job in Canada

1.  Build a strong resume

Format your resume according to Canadian standards. It is also a great practice to customize your resume to fit the specific roles you are applying for. Understand your strengths and skills and highlight them accordingly.

2. Create your online portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of samples of work that demonstrates the kind of work you are capable of. You want it to show that you, above all other candidates, have the specific skills or breadth of experience for the role. There are a number of portfolio websites like WordPress, Format, Wix, and Squarespace that can help you build your online portfolio. 

3. The basics: Online search

In addition to Canada’s Job Bank website and other online job search portals such as LinkedIn Jobs, Indeed, Monster, Workopolis, CareerBuilder, SimplyHired, and many others, you can sign up for industry events and register with specialized recruitment or staffing agencies who can help market your resume to potential employers. Industry events in your city or neighbourhood can be found on sites like Eventbrite

4. Networking

Networking is crucial in finding employment in Canada. Arrive Connections and LinkedIn are good starting points for you to build your network. Coffee chats can also help you learn about the local market and get accustomed to Canadian culture.

5. Contract and freelance
Contract work can be an excellent way to gain experience on your way to a full-time career in advertising, design and other creative roles. In fact, more and more roles in the creative industry are temporary contracts, but these can often lead to full-time positions. Here are a few talent agencies that specialize in placing creative people in contract positions: Aquent, Creative Circle, Creative Niche, Creative People, and Vitamin T.

6. Recruiters
Talk to recruiters. Even if a position is not exactly what you are looking for, recruiters can help you refine your search, tighten up your resume, and connect you with people looking to hire someone like you.

 

“Connect with people like me – some recruiters offer free counsel. We’ll spend an hour or so – even on a coffee chat – to give newcomers the lay of the land, critique portfolios, provide some suggestions on what to do, and possibly even some numbers to call of people we know who will at least see them and offer their expertise as well.”

Rob Lawrence, Vice President, Mandrake Human Capital

 

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You can use the following Arrive resources to help be better prepared for your job search:

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“There’s also a lot of merit in taking courses when you arrive. If you are pursuing a career in advertising or design, Humber College Advertising Copywriting or Advertising and Graphic Design and OCAD University offer excellent programs. Even if it’s an abbreviated course, you’ll be exposed to Canadian brands, and you’ll be able to talk to other students and teachers about the Canadian marketplace.  This can be very helpful in giving you a better handle on Canadian culture versus just trying to dive right in.”

Rob Lawrence, Vice President, Mandrake Human Capital

 

What does the hiring process look like for creative roles in Canada?

As mentioned, the hiring process for creative roles is quite distinctive because of the requirement to present a portfolio of your work. It will vary further depending on whether you are answering a job posting (don’t be disappointed if you get no response – few people do), or working through a recruiter. For these purposes, let’s say you are applying for a job at an advertising or design agency.

  • Screening interview: This will normally take place with an HR person. You may be asked to show your portfolio, but your resume and experience are likely the focus. If all goes well, you’ll move on to the next stage.
  • Portfolio interview: In this meeting, you will present a portfolio of your work to the Creative Director or Design Director. This will be far more in-depth: The focus will be on big ideas, creative thinking and the skills you demonstrate. Even if you are just out of school, they will be looking for that magic or that gem that indicates you can grow into the role.
  • Final round(s): You may meet with other senior stakeholders before an offer letter is issued. There could be four or five rounds in total. Beyond your creative skills, you will also be assessed on personality, character and cultural fit. Remember to be yourself.

Tip: Prepped is an excellent resource for you to practice your interview skills and prep for the interview process in Canada.

The entire interview process can take between two to six weeks.

 

The creative industry offers many opportunities for people who thrive on creative challenges and enjoy thinking out of the box to solve a wide array of communication and design problems. It’s the kind of career for people who relish the process of creating, whether that be a brand image, video installation, or social media campaign. It can also be personally and financially rewarding. Do your research, network and create your opportunity.

 

 

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