Don’t sell yourself short too fast – it’s not impossible to find exactly the career you were hoping for

Canadian Immigrant Magazine
November 2008

Gloria Elayadathusseril

Sri Lankan-born Stefan Atton immigrated to Canada in March 2002. In just five months, he had landed a job in his own field as a marketing director. This might sound as though Atton had luck on his side.

But that wasn’t the case, says the brand builder for Steam Whistle Brewing, a Toronto microbrewery that is nicely located on a little hill off Lakeshore Boulevard, overlooking Rogers Centre, the CN Tower and the harbourfront. “I sent out 700 applications in a span of four months,” Atton recalls. But his applications were rejected for want of Canadian experience.

He even tried a different tact; instead of detailing all of his extensive marketing experience, he downplayed the level of his qualifications on his resumé so that he could get his foot in the door in an entry-level position. However, it is something he now discourages an immigrant from doing because it might make you miss an opportunity for a more suitable job.

He did find a job two weeks after landing in Canada as a telemarketer, an entry-level job at least in somewhat of the same sphere as his background – a degree in business administration and several years in managing brands for companies like Proctor & Gamble and Reckitt & Coleman.

But he didn’t feel comfortable with the survival job, which is typical for many new immigrants, according to Atton. “I didn’t lose sight of my goal. I worked 14 hours a day for $8 an hour to run my family of four, and then spent another three hours searching for jobs,” he says. “It was also to tell my prospective employer I am not lazy, but willing to work and gain Canadian work experience.”

When a colleague suggested he apply for a job at Steam Whistle, Atton, who had worked in a managerial position at Ceylon Breweries in Sri Lanka, took her advice but tried a different application strategy. He sent out his resumé to the brewery for a job as a deliveryman or a sales representative.

To his surprise, Atton was called in for an interview by Sybil Taylor, director of marketing at the brewery. She was looking for a replacement for herself so that she could spend more time at home with her young children. “I couldn’t believe myself!” Atton says with wide smile.

Taylor remembers how his resumé with international experience was attractive to her. “He had worked with a brewery that I had heard about and companies that are multinational, and the beer industry is global,” she says.

However, Taylor, who has returned to head marketing communications, says she was a little uneasy when Atton would say “we did this” and “we did that,” in a collective manner. “I was wondering if he was a member of a large team.” She later found out that in his culture, modesty means not talking about your self too much. Born and raised in a South Asian cultural environment, Atton belongs to the Burgher community whose members are descendants of 16th-20th century Dutch or Portuguese settlers in the Island of Sri Lanka.

Atton seconds that view. He says your first job after coming to Canada should be to sharpen your communication skills. “I would even suggest they take a course in communication. Many sell themselves short because of their modesty and lack of communication,” he says.

Taylor adds that you have to learn about the Canadian way of doing business in your field, before meeting a prospective employer in order to gain his or her confidence right away.

And there are employers who are immigrant-friendly. Steam Whistle employs a number of immigrants, including a Czech brew master, a Sri Lankan CFO, a Portuguese bottling supervisor, a Russian chief engineer and a Cuban quality controller. “In a small business environment, immigrants are a good fit,” Taylor says, explaining that they are highly qualified, but at the same time willing to work for lower salaries, which helps start-up companies.

Atton proves that fulfilling your Plan A career is possible in Canada. It just takes a lot of determination, hard work, adaptability – and a little luck.

Reference: Canadian Immigrant Magazine