By Peace Abraham-Ajayi
I immigrated to Canada from Nigeria in May 2017 due to circumstances beyond my control, so I didn’t have time to prepare for my move. I spent my first four months trying to settle down in a new home, get my children in school, and make enquiries as to how my skills and experiences could fit into the Canadian workplace. My background is in accounting and I had over a decade experience working in the banking sector. After several attempts at asking people who were also professionals and had arrived about the same time as me, I realized that I was asking the wrong people. Most of them had abandoned their profession all together to pursue a career in something else, often at a level beneath their skills, experience, and education.
This was not an option for me. So I went back to the drawing board and asked myself three questions:
- What do I want? I wanted to be successful in Canada. This is most of us (especially immigrants). We may not know exactly what we want, but we just want to make it somehow.
- How will I achieve it? By using the talents and experiences that I had already possessed.
- What do I have? For me, I had a B.Sc. in Accounting. I was a member of Association of Certified Chartered Accounts UK (ACCA) with 11 years’ internal control experience within the banking sector, and had excellent interpersonal skill which is my unique selling proposition. I sat down to think and articulate all my skills and achievements. I took time to become self-aware of my talents and potential that can be translated in the Canadian workplace.
From the internet, I found government-funded employment agencies that provide guidance to new immigrants. I found ACCES Employment and Seneca Employment Services. Their programs helped me better understand my skills, how best to network and put up an attractive resume. At Seneca, I was introduced to a job developer who critiqued my resume. She opened my eyes to all the opportunities and information available to newcomers. I come from a culture where reaching out to strangers for help is totally frowned upon, so I attended the same LinkedIn seminar six times until I fully understood what networking entailed. I signed up with TRIEC Mentoring Partnership and was assigned a mentor from Royal Bank of Canada.
My life changed on March 2018 when I attended a TRIEC speed mentoring event at George Brown College. That is where I met Jenny Okonkwo, the founder of Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN). She invited me to BFAN’s accounting career event with TD Bank in Mississauga and I decided to go. On the day before the event, I had been refused a job after passing the test and going through all the levels of interviews just because I did not have “Canadian experience”. Mind you, at that time, I was volunteering at YMCA and also at an audit firm. They did not count as relevant Canadian experience to this employer. I had the choice to either continue in my state of depression, asking God questions like “Why me?”, agonize at the snowy weather and the distance to the Mississauga venue, or see that day as a new day that could change my life forever. I cleaned the tears off my eyes and braced myself up with courage and confidence. I set out for the event amidst the snowy and depressed state of heart. That day truly changed my life because I was singled out from others in the room by Kelvin Tran, who is now Head of Accounting at TD Bank. I spoke my truth, shared my story, and he decided to give me a chance. He later connected me to a hiring manager and after an arduous process of many interviews, I was given an opportunity. I am now hired in a position that’s is a level above what I was back in my home country – a rarity for any immigrant anywhere!
Here are a few lessons I learned through my personal journey that I want to share with you:
- Your success begins in your mind. You need to rise above every limitation in your mind and you do this by being positive. You cannot be positive if you do not take time to look back and be grateful for things you have. Without gratitude for things you already have, you cannot be hopeful for things you don’t have. It is our perception that determines how we will act or react to circumstances around us.
- Enjoy the process. There is no promise without a process. What you do during your waiting time determines how fast you will get out of the waiting queue. Are you volunteering, learning a new skill, or acquiring relevant certification while waiting for that job? Success is a conscious effort and preparation precedes performance. How prepared are you for the opportunity that you seek?
- Network, Network, Network! As a new immigrant, your worry is how you meet people and build a network from scratch. I registered on LinkedIn, Eventbrite, Ten Thousand Coffees, meet-ups, etc. so that I could meet new people and understand the culture. I started attending job fairs and networking programs. They gave me a platform to practice interviewing skills. See every opportunity to introduce yourself as an opportunity to sell your skills.
- Believe in yourself. Confidence is the differentiating factor. Be your unique self and spice it up with confidence. But do the work. If you have not done your homework, your confidence will be threatened.
I want to end with a message to employers: Please give professionally trained immigrants a chance! We newcomers cannot gain “Canadian experience” if employers do not create enabling opportunities for us. There is excess talent pool among PINs associations at TRIEC. Become an employer partner and organize job fairs in conjunction with TRIEC and you will be amazed at the talent you will find.
Abraham-Ajayi, CPA, CGA, ACCA is a member of Chartered Professional Accountants Ontario and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants UK. She is currently an Audit Manager with TD Bank. She is a proud member of the Black Female Accountants Network.