I’m an internationally trained accountant who is new to Canada and looking to build my career here in my field. I moved to Toronto a year ago and have been looking for work since my arrival but have not had any luck. I understand that the competition is steep and it’s hard to get my foot in the door in this competitive labour market. I do not have the Certified Accountant designation as required to work on the same level as I did in my home country.
In the meantime, I am pursuing my CGA at this time which was recommended to me by my employment counsellor at JVS. I am desperately looking for work. I’ll do anything. I’ve applying for accounting clerk positions and other entry level jobs which are closely related to my field but have not had one phone call.I would love to work in an accounting firm.
My counsellor suggested that I research and approach accounting firms and non profit organizations with accounting departments as potential places to volunteer. I have never heard of such a thing – working for free!!!! This never would happen in my home country. Please let me know what you think of this.
Signed: How Can I Work 4 Free? (HCIW4F)
I completely understand your concerns about volunteering and I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable about working for free! However, given our competitive labour market, especially in Toronto, as you accurately pointed out, volunteering, co-op placements or internships can very useful strategies for securing employment in your field and tapping into the hidden job market. Many of the post secondary institutions, including universities, community colleges, bridging programs, and some OSELT (Occupational Specific Enhanced Language Training) courses offer unpaid coop placement programs for their participants. Volunteering in the work world is a recognized and valued initiative by employers from all industries.
In fact, that is how I got started. I volunteered for six months as a job developer because I was making a career change from sales to job development. I did not have any relevant experience on my resume. I treated my volunteering as a paid position. I learned tons of skills, built my network and volunteered as if I was working, which resulted in lots of learning and skills development relevant to the field and a couple of references. This helped me prepare my resume, the job interview presentation and I was eventually hired. I have countless stories like mine of job seekers who volunteered and then got hired at the place they volunteered.
For your professional development, volunteering is a great way to:
- gain local experience in your field
- avoid gaps in your resume and give you something to share with interviewers about what you are doing “right now”
- show that you take initiative
- keep up your computer and accounting skills and knowledge,
- foster important networking connections, and
- possibly even gain obtaining future references needed for the hiring people.
Personally, you will also find that volunteering is a great way to keep busy, meet lots of new people, build a community while helping out a worthy organization and cause. Being a part of a team, learning about the Canadian workplace, while practicing your language and communication skills are just some of the other benefits of volunteering.
Also, I cannot think of a better opportunity to learn first-hand about the internal processes, procedures, computer systems and workplace culture of the place you are volunteering. Who knows? It could lead to employment! Plus you have concrete experience on your resume to demonstrate your talents. Saisan, Smith and Kemp (2012) best describe volunteering on their website: “The benefits of volunteering are enormous, both to you, your family, and the community. The right match can help you meet friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career.”
You can also include your “volunteer work” if it is relevant to your field as “professional work” on your resume. You just write “Volunteer” in brackets next to the job title part. Also, employers like to see “Community Work” on applicants resumes demonstrating that the individual cares about others and likes to help out.
So, if you are open to this activity, which you can do until you find paid employment (or, you might find that you wish to continue helping out, even after you are working!), here are some suggested websites to find opportunities as well as organizations whose causes are dear to your heart, where you might consider volunteering.
By the way, it is not an easy process to find volunteer positions, apply and be accepted. Some organizations which help vulnerable populations require criminal reference checks and, more often than not, there is an extensive comprehensive application process and interview. Not everyone gets accepted, and there are waiting lists at some places. There are a lot of unemployed people (students, new grads, newcomers, to name a few) looking to volunteer in the community to build up their resumes and experience, so this too is competitive. But, do not be discouraged! Apply for volunteer positions and follow-up with a phone call to the volunteer manager of the agency or whoever posted the opportunity.
I would highly recommend identifying a non-profit organization or company which has a volunteer department and checking out if they have any volunteer opportunities in the accounting department or at least a related department. Legally, you cannot work for an employer for free unless you are part of a volunteer or coop placement program. Some OSELT courses offer coops to employers; as do some bridging programs. I would also recommend researching an organization, which may be in a position to hire, i.e. where you see job postings on their website and job boards. Then you might have a chance at employment.
Here are some suggested websites with volunteer opportunities (keep in mind that you can also research non-profit organizations and for-profit companies which you are interested in and look on their websites to see if they have a volunteer department or diversity department):
Suggested websites for volunteering:
- Volunteer Toronto
- 211 Toronto (for a comprehensive list of non profits in Toronto)
All the best with your job search, HCIW4F! Please stay in touch and tell me how it’s going.
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