As an international student in Canada, education is your first priority. However, one of the main goals of studying in Canada is to establish the skills, knowledge, and network that forms the foundation for your career. No matter your field of study, there is no shortage of skilled job opportunities in Canada. But before you start building your career in your new home, you need to understand how the Canadian job market works.
The first thing you need when looking for jobs is a Canadian-style resume. As you sit down to craft your resume, you may have several questions. What can you include in your resume? Does your international experience count? How can you prove you’re qualified for the job without any Canadian work experience? In this article, we provide tips and advice on how to write the perfect resume as an international student in Canada.
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Why do you need a resume as an international student in Canada?
One question many international students in Canada have is, “Do I even need a resume?” If you plan to work in Canada during or after your studies, the answer is a resounding YES.
As an international student, you may be eligible to work part-time while studying to cover part of your living expenses in Canada. Alternatively, your study program may include a mandatory internship or co-op term. Whether you choose to work on-campus, off-campus, or as an intern or co-op student in a professional environment, you will need a Canadian-style resume to apply to these work opportunities.
Often, international students who move to Canada to study decide to stay here and work for a few years after they graduate. To work full-time in Canada after completing your studies, you need to apply for a Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) or an employer-specific work permit. When you start looking for full-time employment after graduation, your resume will be a valuable tool.
Your resume is often your first opportunity to make an impression on potential employers and also determines how your future manager will assess your value. An impressive Canadian-style resume can help you stand out among your peers by highlighting your unique strengths and skills that will help you excel in the workplace.
How to write a resume as an international student with no Canadian experience
As you prepare to enter the Canadian job market, your Canadian counterparts will likely have an advantage over you in the job search process. Some of them may have worked in part-time or summer jobs since high school and, having grown up here, may already have valuable industry connections. You may need to catch up with them in certain crucial areas in order to be on equal footing when you start looking for jobs.
So how can you, as an international student, make your resume stand out? The prep work for your resume starts well before you put pen to paper, even as early as the beginning of your study program. Here are some key aspects to focus on:
Volunteer work counts as Canadian experience
In Canada, volunteer experience is considered work experience and, where relevant, you should include it on your resume. Volunteering is part of the Canadian culture and can help you gain insight into the Canadian professional environment. It’s also a great way to put your theoretical knowledge to practice, develop new skills, and build your professional network. Not to mention it also gives back to your community.
Download our Networking Guide for insights on why networking is crucial for your career in Canada and tips to help you build professional connections in Canada.
Start building your portfolio
More than anything, what an employer wants to know is whether, if they hire you, you can get the job done. A powerful portfolio is proof of your capabilities, both technical and creative. You should only include your best work or the projects you’re most proud of. Your portfolio can be in the form of a blog, design portfolio, or other samples of your past work. If you have a digital portfolio, include a link to it on your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Focus on the transferable skills you can bring to a company
Think about all the skills you’ve acquired through your studies and how those skills can be beneficial to the position you’re applying for. Even if it doesn’t seem directly related, there may be aspects of your past work, part-time job, academic projects, clubs and extracurricular activities, and volunteer work that are valuable for your new role. For instance, if you worked part-time at a call center while studying, you may have picked up customer service and time management skills or learned new software on the job. If you were the treasurer of a student club, you probably picked up some accounting or fundraising skills. If you coached a sports team, you may be able to highlight the people management skills you developed.
What should a good international student resume include?
Since each company looks for a different combination of skills and experience, you should customize your resume for each and every company and position you apply for. This will improve your chances of being selected for an interview. Here are some standard elements that a good Canadian resume should include:
- Your name and contact information. Make sure your email address is one you check frequently and is professional (it shouldn’t include nicknames, slang, or, ideally, numbers)
- A link to your LinkedIn profile and/or portfolio. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and reflects your recent accomplishments. Most Canadian employers will go through your LinkedIn profile and other social media accounts before hiring you, so make sure they are professional and optimized for your job search.
- A professional summary or objective. This paragraph should summarize your skills and achievements along with why you would be a good fit for the position.
- Any relevant skills or professional experience. Professional experience can include internships, part-time jobs, projects you’ve done in school, co-ops, or even volunteer experience. You can also include work experience from your home country if it’s relevant to the job.
- Your education and academic accomplishments. Even if your study program doesn’t directly relate to the role, your academic merit can prove that you’re a hard worker and fast learner.
- Language skills and other relevant interests. If you speak a language other than English, that can potentially be a huge asset. You may also have honed other interests over the course of your studies that are relevant to the workplace or your desired industry. For instance, if you were on the debate team in university, potential employers may see that as evidence of public speaking and analytical thinking skills.
Eight resume writing tips for international students in Canada
Now that you know what should generally be included in your resume, let’s dive deeper into what a good resume should look like and how you can craft an impressive Canadian resume that will resonate with employers.
1. Choose the right resume format
There are three main resume formats in Canada: reverse chronological, functional, and combination or hybrid. For students, a functional resume is the most effective format. One of the most common apprehensions international students have while writing their resumes is how to draw attention away from their lack of Canadian work experience. The functional resume format helps solve this problem by focusing on your skills and achievements rather than your experience (or the lack of it).
On the other hand, the reverse chronological resume lists your work experience from most recent to least recent and is best suited for experienced professionals. If you have prior work experience, you can also use a combination resume, which highlights both your work history and transferable skills.
Download our free Canadian Resume templates and customize them to your profile:
2. Highlight your skills and non-professional experience
Research the role you’re interested in to understand the skills the employer seeks. Your resume should reflect relevant skills you bring to the table and your accomplishments from past professional and non-professional roles. Non-professional experience can include any relevant projects you completed inside or outside of school, or volunteer experience applicable to the position. Use the C-A-R (Challenge-Action-Result) approach to showcase the impact you made and, where possible, quantify your accomplishments.
3. Use keywords from the job description
Including keywords from the job description in your resume increases your chances of getting past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This is an automated system that scores and ranks your resume based on how closely it matches the job description. Many Canadian companies, large and small, use ATS to filter applications so that only resumes that are a good fit for the role reach the recruiter or hiring manager.
4. Include relevant technical and soft skills
Are you a good communicator? Have you led small teams to complete a task or project? Soft skills like communication and leadership are sought after in the Canadian job market and should be included on your resume. Again, read the job description to understand which skills are relevant to the role.
5. Include your foreign qualifications (and ECA equivalents)
Academic or professional qualifications from your home country may still be useful in the Canadian job market. Often, different countries have different nomenclature for educational credentials. If possible, get your foreign credentials assessed and list their Educational Credentials Assessment (ECA) equivalency on your resume. This will give employers a better picture of your qualifications as they apply to the role in question. It will also improve your resume’s match score when it passes through ATS.
6. Keep your resume short
As an international student, your resume should not be longer than one page, especially if you’re applying to entry-level jobs. A short resume encourages you to highlight only the most important aspects of what makes you a viable candidate. If you have several years of work experience, Canadian or foreign, and are applying for a mid- to senior-level role, a two-page resume is acceptable.
7. Use standard fonts and avoid design elements
In an attempt to make their resume stand out, many applicants make the mistake of incorporating fancy graphics and bold colours in their resume. However, tables, design elements, and other non-text content can lower the chances of your resume clearing ATS. Employers want the actual information on your resume, and niche fonts or design elements can be distracting. Keep it simple, at least for this phase of your job search. Avoid using pictures and stick with standard fonts. Be sure to leave ample white space to make your resume more readable.
8. Include a cover letter
Even if the job posting doesn’t specifically ask for one, always include a cover letter. Cover letters are your opportunity to get a bit more personal about why a specific job is important to you and why you are a good fit for it.
As an international student in Canada, you should familiarize yourself with a Canadian-style resume before you start looking for internships, part-time work, or even your first job after graduation. Your lack of relevant Canadian experience doesn’t necessarily lower your chances of landing your dream job in Canada. As long as you’re able to focus on your strengths, highlight relevant achievements and skills, and make a strong case for why the organization should hire you, you should be able to start your career successfully in Canada.