Hire me, sil vous plait?
August 3, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience jobhunting as an Anglophone in Montreal? Where should I be looking for English jobs, should I just forget finding one and learn French ASAP, and is this going to be as big a problem as I fear? Et aussi une grand plaque de fèves.

I'm moving to Montreal in September with my girlfriend, who is starting a new job there. I think that finding employment for me, a non-French-speaker with a fairly common skillset, is going to be tough, and I'm looking for advice in figuring out the best job search plan now so I can be as effective as possible once I'm there. I'm also freaking out about this and would appreciate some perspective on how worried I really need to be. Will I ever work again?!

Since university (English lit) I've been working in reception and admin, mostly in a medical clinic but with a variety of temp assignments as well. I think my resume is pretty strong for this type of work, and my last job search went very well. I have good references and score well on temp agency style testing. But the last time I used French was in high school; I have a basic level of reading and listening comprehension, but right now I don't think I would be able to carry on a conversation or read a business letter. I'm a pretty quick study, and think I could get the French I've forgotten back and move on from there at a reasonable pace. I'm looking forward to that, actually. Is working on my French something I should do before I even start looking for a job? I'm not in the best place financially, and it would be much better for me to be employed first and paying for French courses second.

I am already planning to visit the YES office, apply to admin jobs at Concordia and McGill (though these still require some French), and centre my search in Westmount since English speakers are concentrated there. I don't drive so can't deliver pizzas or courier parcels, and jobs that you can't do with a bad back are also out. I have a TESL certificate, so applying for ESL teaching positions is a possibility, but most of my experience is as a private tutor, which makes me worry that if ESL is a competetive job market in Montreal, I would not be a good candidate. I speak conversational Japanese, but it's not enough to be useful in a work environment and therefore unlikely to be helpful.

If finding an admin job without French is just not going to be possible, what's the best job I can expect to have a chance at? I don't want to lowball myself by applying only to McDonalds when in fact the beautiful locally owned English-only bookstore would have loved to hire me, had I only rocked up with my resume (I wish). I'm willing to do any kind of job, but at the same time I don't want to go through unnecessary hardship because I didn't know where to look. For example, would behind-the-scenes jobs like shipping and receiving be an option? Any other non-bilingual jobs I may just not have thought of?

If French first is really important, I would also appreciate recommendations for good intensive French programs.
posted by snorkmaiden to Work & Money (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My apologies as I don't have any experience job searching in Montreal, but apparently the gaming industry is prime job searching territory for anglophones as it is currently booming. Perhaps someone more familiar with it can confirm?
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:20 AM on August 3, 2012

I don't want to lowball myself by applying only to McDonalds

Even then...

Yes, you should learn French. Especially for reception, where it's absolutely crucial.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2012

Finding an admin job without French is going to be tough. In my experience (which is, admittedly, fairly limited), every company in Quebec answers the phone in French first (many will immediately follow-up in English, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to speak French).

Knowing French would likely give you an advantage in the retail/service industry, as well, but it isn't necessarily a requirement. I've been to plenty of shops in Montreal where the employees were obviously anglophones and didn't even bother to attempt speaking in French (I'm not sure how this would be resolved if a French-speaking customer who didn't speak English (or refused to) came into the shop). Having said that, I found that the opposite -- the clerk spoke French but not English -- was more often the case. As a non-French-speaking anglophone myself, I generally managed to figure out what they were saying.

If you've learned French before, you should be able to pick it up fairly quickly living in Montreal (assuming you make an effort; it is possible to get by the city without any French). Try your luck at finding jobs that don't require French, but also make a point of learning French in the meantime, so that you'll eventually be more employable.
posted by asnider at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2012

I don't live in Montreal, but can relay some anecdata from friends and a sibling who do/did.

Finding a job as an anglophone in Montreal can be tough, your fears are well placed. It's not impossible though, you just need to know where to look, and need to understand some of the unspoken rules. The main ones are: (1) No one is interested in hiring a bilingual anglophone, they are only interested in bilingual francophones. (2) There's no point in looking for a job in a francophone owned business.

So, here's what you do: You apply for jobs at Anglophone owned companies and small businesses. Don't bother anywhere else, it's not going to happen. Learn enough french to get by and be polite, but don't worry about proficiency - anglophones live there all their lives and never really learn french, and they get on quite fine. You just need to focus on Anglophone employers.
posted by Kololo at 10:41 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been to plenty of shops in Montreal where the employees were obviously anglophones and didn't even bother to attempt speaking in French (I'm not sure how this would be resolved if a French-speaking customer who didn't speak English (or refused to) came into the shop).

I lived in Montreal for years. I never, once, saw a person who spoke in French in a shop not get answered in French. Often in heavily accented French, yes, but always in French. Any shop that hired someone unable to handle French-speaking customers would know that it was begging to get a nasty front-page article in Le Devoir and La Presse. There's an age-old urban legend about the "fat Eaton's saleslady" who refuses to speak French to francophone customers, but I think even the rabid "Ne Touchez Pas a la loi 101" types know that it's a legend now. That said, this:

(1) No one is interested in hiring a bilingual anglophone, they are only interested in bilingual francophones.

is not true. I think you may be misremembering something someone said about government jobs--where it is true that you often need to be bilingual but probably don't have much of a shot if you're anglo-dominant. If it were true, no anglophones at all could ever be employed in Montreal except in the (increasingly rare) purely anglophone offices. It is, however, very true that the range of jobs you can apply for as a monolingual anglophone is restricted. There are some offices that mostly deal with US clients, for example, that will hire monolingual anglophones. You might want to look at offices which produce English-language publications, for example. As long as it's a job where you don't have to interface with the public, monolingualism may not be a problem. Still, these jobs have been shrinking in numbers and competition for them is high; you're better off looking for French immersion courses and trying to get to a point where you can plausibly claim that you will be able to deal with French speaking clients. One thing to remember is that in any job the range of vocabulary will be fairly restricted. You may not be in a position to discuss Proust soon, but you can quite quickly get to the point where you can fluently answer the typical range of questions relating to your job.

Oh, and make sure whatever immersion course you take is with someone with a Quebecois accent--it is REALLY different from the kind of French you learn in highschool.
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers so far! Just to clarify, I absolutely intend to make an effort to learn French; the only question there is whether I need to do it immediately or whether I could do it in the evenings while working (which would be ideal). I already do know--just--enough French to work at McDonalds.

yoink, I'm surprised that there would immersian courses taught by Parisian French speakers in Montreal. I had assumed that anyone teaching immersion there would have a Quebecois accent... thanks for letting me know that I will need to look out for that.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:29 PM on August 3, 2012

When I moved to Montral 10+ years ago I spoke only my rusty high school French. Getting jobs wasn't always easy, but I was able to get work in the following areas:

Banquet service in Old Montreal (horrible conditions, quit almost immediately)
Waiting/bartending in an Irish pub (great money, great people, killer hours)
Dictating books on tape (slightly more than minimum wage, stuffed in a stinky recording cabin all day)
Teaching ESL at a private company (I think I made about $15/hr, but it was one of those places where you'd slowly have to work your way up the ladder to get more $ and more classes)

I should note i had a ton of restaurant/bar experience from elsewhere and also had teaching experience. I was going to an Anglo university so I had many Anglo friends who picked up in all kids of bizarre places - a paper factory, textbook illustration, call centers. The economy might have been slightly better then, but I don't think it has changed that much here. It might be tough and take a while but you should find something. Add the English CEGEPS to McGill and Con U, it can't hurt.

The government offers free French immersion courses. You can do them part time evenings and weekends or full time daytime.

Don't be shy about working on your French. I actually lied and said I was bilingual to get one other job (not listed above) and that's where I learned the most French because I had no choice but to speak up. I'm bilingual now.

Finally, if you've ever thought about going back to school, there are worse places. Masters degree and work on campus?
posted by Cuke at 5:54 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, I'm applying to a Masters program next year. Thanks for telling me about your experience, Cuke, it's good to know about others who have made it work!
posted by snorkmaiden at 4:00 PM on August 4, 2012

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