Working in Canada After an MBA

The country offers favorable visa laws for foreign MBA graduates. But are they treated differently than domestic hires?

With a relaxed visa regime, multicultural landscape and strong jobs market, Canada is an enticing option for many prospective MBA students. 

Since many MBAs choose a business school based at least partly on where they want to work on graduation, work visas are an important consideration. Students in Canada who complete a two-year master’s program can automatically receive a three-year work permit. And many MBAs obtain their permanent residence during or after the program, giving them the opportunity to stay longer term in Canada.

“That appeals to many prospective MBA students,” says Rodrigo Porto, director of recruitment and admissions at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business (UBC) in Vancouver. 

“To be eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP), you must have a valid study permit, have continuously studied full-time in Canada and must have completed a program of study that lasted at least eight months” — all of which is criteria met by many MBA programs in the country. 

With Brexit and the Donald Trump administration’s negative immigration rhetoric, Canada has become an even more enticing option for international MBA candidates over the past two years. 

Montreal“Not only do many of our students cite this as part of their rationale for choosing to study at the Desautels Faculty of Management, but at the 2018 MBA CSEA Global Conference, many American career service representatives shared their recent struggles in placing and managing the expectations of international students,” says Adam Halpert, associate director of MBA career services at Desautels, of McGill University in Montreal. 

“Canada’s multicultural landscape also makes it a very unique destination for international candidates to get an education and secure employment afterwards without fear of discrimination,” he says.

But he adds that there remain differences between the hiring of domestic Canadian and international MBA candidates. 

“International students may face additional challenges in learning the Canadian economic landscape, adapting to Canadian cultural norms, overcoming language barriers and building a network, often from scratch,” Halpert says. “Typically, international candidates are expected to work very hard to overcome these challenges.” 

A large percentage of Desautels’ international students are searching for a job in their second or even third language (English). In Montreal, part of French-speaking region Quebec, some jobs also require that graduates speak the local language, too. Despite that, 50 percent of Desautels graduates secure post-MBA jobs in Montreal. 

“This occurs in some cases because the roles don’t require French, and in other cases because the students have been so effective at establishing their value that the French requirement is waived and workarounds are implemented,” Halpert says. 

TorontoThe importance of networking

At Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, 92 percent of jobs accepted by the Class of 2017 where in Canada and there were no differences between the rate at which Canadian and international students secured offers. 

Nevertheless, Zania Mauricette, director of Rotman’s Careers Centre, advises that international students build their network as soon as they arrive in Canada, if not before. “Strong connections are important for gathering data on the Canadian job market, sourcing feedback on one’s career strategy and building advocates,” she says.

See the Top 10 MBA Programs in Canada

It’s also important to learn as much as you can about the Canadian context of the roles and industries you are interested in applying for. “Conducting informational interviews, attending school and industry events are key,” Mauricette says.

“Students need to be aware of what is required for success in their field of interest, how their experiences and skills fit, and where the opportunities can be found.”

Students should also be aware that hiring in the second largest country on earth tends to be regional. Mauricette says that some companies hire only from business schools in their region — for example, many firms on the west coast may opt to find candidates at a school like UBC. So career mobility may be limited in some instances. 

“British Columbia is quite a unique market,” says Porto, at the Sauder School, where 70 percent of MBA students stay in British Columbia. “Vancouver is home to many entrepreneurs and small-to-medium-sized startups. The city is often referred to as ‘Silicon Valley North’ and this certainly rings true for us, as we are seeing the biggest growth right now in technology-related roles.” 

VancouverCanadian SMEs need MBAs, too

Another unique element to the Canadian jobs market is that SMEs — small- and medium-sized enterprises — are huge hirers of business school talent. SMEs comprise 99.8 percent of all businesses in the country, according to the Business Development Bank of Canada, and they employ 69.7 per cent of private sector workers. SMEs in Canada create around 100,000 jobs each year and are responsible for more than three-quarters of all jobs created in the private sector. 

“Where we see the most growth in recruitment is the SME, high-growth companies, particularly in the technology industry,” says John-Derek Clarke, executive director of master’s programs at the Ivey Business School in Ontario. 

“Startups see the value of having someone with an MBA, because you have to be a master of a lot of things in a small firm, which the MBA teaches you to be. 

“Students are attracted to SMEs, too: they get to do very different things. The variety you have and the exposure, are often unique to SMEs.” 

Many MBAs go into Canadian financial services, consulting firms

Beyond the tech industry and SMEs, traditional employers of MBAs — financial services firms and consulting companies — are also big recruiters of MBAs in Canada. 

For instance, of the most recent MBA class at York University’s Schulich School of Business, the two largest groups of graduates went into finance or consulting — 21 and 20 percent of the total group, respectively.

The situation for recent MBA graduates from Queen’s University Smith School of Business, is similar, with 30 percent having gone into financial services and 25 percent into consulting. Recruiters at the school included some of the world’s largest employers of MBAs, including Deloitte, AT Kearney, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, among others.

Overall at the Ivey Business School, one-third of students tend to go into financial services firms, one-third to consulting and one-third to everything else, including technology. 

Employer demand changes from year to year depending on economic trends. But from a skills perspective, there is a growing need for candidates with strong digital literacy, says Halpert at Desautels. 

Many careers and job applications are becoming digitally-immersed, he says, citing the example of video interview technology that many Canadian firms use. “We train students to build their online branding (LinkedIn, social media), as well as search for career opportunities using current digital platforms.”

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