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Can your international education be a barrier?

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Can your international education be a barrier?

Have you been told you’re overqualified? Why a masters’ or PhD degree might actually prevent you from getting the job

“You are a terrific candidate for the job, but I’m afraid you’re overqualified.”

Sound familiar? The notion of over qualification among immigrant jobseekers is a well-documented issue in Canada. According to 2016 Census data, immigrants with a university education (bachelor’s degree or higher) were twice as likely as people born in Canada to have a job that required no more than a high school education. In other words, a survival job.

This statistic indicates that skilled immigrants who arrive in Canada with high-level degrees and credentials often have trouble finding work aligned with their skillset. As a result, they apply for lower-level jobs in their field as a way to get their foot in the door. But then they’re hit with the “you’re overqualified” rejection. Caught in this catch-22, newcomers often then turn to survival jobs.

Overqualified? What should you do?

So, what should newcomers in this situation do to get back in their field?

Paula Calderon, national director, client success at Windmill Microlending, says the first step is to get your credentials evaluated by a service like World Education Services or ICAS to help you understand how your international education compares to a Canadian one.

Neila Miled, who lives in BC, knows firsthand the struggles of being both under and overqualified. When she arrived in Canada as a certified teacher with 14 years of work experience from Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, she learned that her years of training and qualifications were not considered valid here — she would have to go back to school to get recertified.

So Miled rolled up her sleeves and did some research. She decided that pursuing the same qualifications in Canada was not right for her and her family commitments. Instead, she chose to pursue a master’s degree in education and leadership, which she thought would offer her more flexibility and better options in finding a job.

She recently finished her PhD in educational studies and is struggling to find a permanent job in academia that matches her skillset. She says even though she settled in Canada 15 years ago, the journey to find her dream job has been tricky. “Now that I have a PhD, I have been told that I am too qualified!”

True, employers may hesitate to hire someone with a master’s degree or PhD if it’s not a requirement of the job. They may question whether an overqualified candidate might become quickly dissatisfied with the level and pay grade of the position. Even though the overqualified candidate might bring advanced skills to the position, it’s a question of employee retention. Why invest time and energy in a new hire if they will be difficult to retain.

“I’m a resilient woman, and instead of focusing on what doors don’t open, I am working hard to get the job I aspire to in academia,” Miled says. Currently, she is a sessional lecturer, but ultimately hopes to land a permanent position. She says that instead of only focusing on job applications to get her dream job, she is busy networking and working with community organizations to get Canadian experience and diversify her skillset.

Job search strategies like networking and making connections can certainly help you overcome the barrier of over qualification. Employers often rely on recommendations and referrals when hiring, so that question of over qualification may seem less important if they feel confident in your abilities.

Read more about the power of networking here.

Adapting your application

It’s also important to adapt your cover letter and resumé for the job you’re applying for. For example, you may not want to highlight your management and leadership skills if you’re applying for an entry-level position. Adapt your resumé for the job in question, focusing on the skills they are looking for outlined in the job description.

You can also use your cover letter as an opportunity to address your experience and explain why you want to work for the organization and this specific position.

Read more tips for creating winning resumés and cover letters here.

Calderon recommends seeking advice from a career counsellor and booking informational interviews with others in your field as useful ways to get the most out of international credentials.

The Skilled Immigrant Career Success Guide, a roadmap to help internationally educated immigrants achieve their full career potential in Canada, is sponsored by Windmill Microlending. To learn how a Windmill affordable career loan can help move your career in Canada forward, visit


Having trouble find a job in your field in Canada? Let’s look back at our other articles on navigating educational options to help you on your road to career success.

Is a Canadian educational credential what you need to get ahead? Look at the benefits of going back to school. <link to education article 1>

Are you in a licensed profession. Learn how to navigate the licensing process.

Thinking of going back to school? Look at the types of educational opportunities available.

□ Think about whether you need financial help while building your career in Canada. Could an affordable career loan of up to $15,000 from Windmill Microlending help? Learn more here  or at Windmill Microlending here.

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