When I decided to relocate and move to Canada, a great friend of mine remarked with a chuckle “you are going to do odd jobs for forever.”
I had spent over 8 years in the lecture halls of a public university in Kenya teaching Linguistics modules, setting exams, marking over 1000 scripts every semester. How would I grow my career from ‘odd’ jobs?
When I arrived in Canada, people told me I needed to start from scratch.
Well, I know very well what “scratch” means to an immigrant. Many years back when I was studying in United Kingdom, I did just that. Started from scratch. Starting from scratch is getting a survival job or what other people call ‘odd’ jobs specifically because nobody wants to trust your foreign credentials.
Those people weren’t wrong, so many new immigrants give up on their dreams as soon as they land here because they have had to start from scratch. However for me, things took a different turn.
As soon as I attended a workshop on Resume and Cover Letter best practices, and fixed my documents, I started getting interview invites. I was then hired at an immigrant serving agency in Calgary as a Career Advisor and English Teacher. My experience there was great. I knew from the get-go that part of my job would be to change the perception those immigrant women had on “starting from scratch” and assist them to use the skills they had built from their countries to establish careers of their choice in Canada.
Today I would like to share my story on how my career grew, with my foreign credentials as an immigrant, and offer some advice if you are currently in a similar dilemma.
1. Figure out the national CV conventions
I came to Canada with a Ph.D. in Linguistics and over 8 years in the lecture halls teaching modules like Semantics, Pragmatics, Language Acquisition, Grammar, Discourse Analysis e.t.c. and Communication Skills. I love teaching, and the classroom (whether physical or virtual) has always been my second home.
When I relocated, I attempted to apply for tenure track positions but was not successful. When I looked around, I discovered that even those with Ph.D.s from Canada were not getting academia jobs in Canada. Also, my resume and CV were not presentable in the eyes of the Canadian recruiters. To put it simply, every country, city and / or company has set their own resume standards. I was applying using a CV style that was not familiar with what was expected here. There is no correct or wrong CVs and resumes, don’t get me wrong, it is just always about meeting the desired expectations.
2. Find resources for immigrants
I did not give up quite yet. I looked for help with my job search strategies. Never shy away from finding help. We can not know everything, even doctors go to other doctors for treatment, no? In Kiswahili we say ‘mganga hajigangi mwenyewe’ to literally mean doctors don’t treat themselves.
My first stop was Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association. I attended a workshop on how to write a resume and cover letter. The 4-hour workshop changed my life! I applied for my first job, got an interview, aced it and in no time, I was working as a Career Advisor and English Teacher and building my career in a new country.
3. Find your transferable skills
So how did I jump from teaching Language Acquisition to being a Career Counselor? Transferable skills! Let me give you a very practical example. I have never had the job title ‘Manager’ before, but it doesn’t mean I cannot manage. I have a lot of experience managing students because I am a teacher.
It is very important to have a meeting with yourself and discuss the skills your experiences have helped you build and how you can put these valuable skills to use. While lecturing at the university in Kenya, I did a lot of career counseling to students, but I did not have the title of ‘Career Counselor’. To be a great Career Specialist, it is important that you have a certification (takes about 4 months- Cont ed), great at researching latest trends and loads of great personality and ability to help your clients get great jobs and grow.
Related Post –Yup, Your Degree Gave You Transferable Skills. Here Are 8 Simple Ways to Map and Maximize Them
4. Be proactive and follow up!
Something else that has helped me grow in my career is networking and proactive job search.
Gone are the days when people applied for jobs and sat pretty hoping that the recruiters would reach out to them. I follow up on my applications.
There is a difference between following up and being pushy. By following up I mean I send a short professional and polite message to the recruiter informing them that I did apply for a position and I am looking forward to hearing back from them. This has always worked for me because the recruiters get back to me with “yes Charlotte, I did see your application. I will get back to you as soon as we have made decisions, by end of next week.”
Building your career as an internationally trained professional is not a walk in the park and it takes strategy. I am currently working on contract as a Career Development Specialist for Ph.D. students at the University of Calgary and I also consult independently. Reach out if you need help!
Charlotte Anyango Ong’ang’a, Ph.D.
Charlotte Anyango Ong’ang’a is a Linguist, Career Development Consultant and Workplace Communication Expert with a Ph.D. in Linguistics. She applies her linguistic knowledge in giving guidance on Resume Writing, Networking, Job Search Strategies and tips on Workplace Communication. Charlotte tells stories to little children in church, has been an English Teacher at a high school, has taught Linguistics at the university for over 8 years, and currently facilitates Career Development workshops and mentors Ph.D. students at the University.