From an interview with Damanjyot Talwar, Senior Product Manager, RBC Ventures.
Damanjyot Talwar started his career in India as a software engineer. While working as a technical product manager at a global tech firm, Damanjyot participated in a worldwide hackathon sponsored by the company. His hack was unique, management liked it, and he filed for a patent. His interest piqued, Damanjyot realized he wanted to get into the product management space full time: innovating products and getting them to market. Four years into his career, he set out on a journey for an MBA in Canada. Arriving in Toronto in the summer of 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, he came down with the virus and quarantined in a hotel room that had bed bugs. After overcoming these initial challenges, Damanjyot has been busy navigating his new life in Canada. Here, he shares his journey of coming to Canada to study, start his career, and build a life in his new home.
In 2019 I decided to make a pivot and move from Delhi, India to Toronto to pursue my MBA. I began by researching MBA institutions in Canada. After narrowing my choices down to Canada’s top ranking business schools— Rotman, Schulich, and Ivey, I reached out to people with similar profiles to mine in India and Toronto, who were also pursuing an MBA. Once I accepted my offer to study at the Schulich School of Business, I also reached out to seniors, peers, mentors, professors, and administrative staff at the school to confirm my qualifications, where I needed educational assistance, and how to go about getting it. I completed my first year of the MBA program in India, then came to Toronto in 2020 and graduated in May 2021.
Networking on LinkedIn, you need to know who to talk to
I connect with people online and at events to explore potential job opportunities and learn about Canadian culture. I quickly discovered people are really knowledgeable and generous in sharing what they know. But there’s an ocean of information out there, and it helps to be clear on what you’re looking for so the person you contact knows how to help. That was one of my biggest challenges as I navigated my new life and searcheding for a job.
I knew I couldn’t simply ask, “Hey, can you get me a job?” and expect a response. To make a proper connection on LinkedIn, I needed to explain my story in 300 characters: Who I was as an individual, what I was doing, why I was connecting with this person, and how I could bring value to them, as well as myself. To find the right opportunities, I learned it helps to know a lot about Canadian industries. There is definitely a learning curve to good networking.
I didn’t always connect to enquire about a job. While an individual may not have a job opening right now, there might be one a year down the line. If a contact posted an article on Linkedin, I would post a comment. because I want to provide value, as well as receive value. It’s important to form a bond on LinkedIn, not simply make a transaction.
Adding value goes both ways
I connected with a senior director in the innovation field. I wanted to learn exactly what kind of work he focused on and to determine whether I could offer any perspective to his team. Initially, I’d hoped this individual could guide me, but after a few coffee chats I realized he was actively looking to move from innovation to product management, as well.
He had some interviews lined up but he wasn’t really clear on the terminology of the product management space. We talked, we shared our job search approaches and on weekends we ran mock interviews for each other. Over the course of a couple years I networked with only a dozen or so people which was enough to get me into the industry.
Recruiting, rejections, and rewards
Towards the end of 2020, I started to proactively search for job opportunities, doing interviews in November in the hopes of landing a job post-graduation in April. I was getting a good deal of traction based on my profile but I wasn’t able to convert interviews into job offers. I was getting one rejection after another, and I wasn’t sure why.
This was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had invested four years worth of savings into an MBA and, yet, was not able to obtain the job I wanted. At the time, my entire family in India was diagnosed with COVID, and they were not doing very well. My health wasn’t the best either. All of this affected my mindset.
So after seven or eight missed opportunities, I began reaching out to Human Resources professionals for feedback on what I was doing wrong. Understandably, most didn’t respond––with hundreds of candidates, providing individual feedback to every applicant is impossible. Thankfully, a couple of them got back to me and said: “You’re very early in the game. We can’t wait until April.”
This was a surprise. In India, companies typically interview university candidates six months before graduation. However, I’d finally learned in the Canadian job market, interviews took place closer to graduation. I had to change my mindset. This taught me the importance of understanding the recruiting timelines of the local geography.
It turns out that interviewing early proved to be helpful, after all. I stayed in touch with some of the recruiters on LinkedIn and was able to learn what went well, and what didn’t go so well, in my interviews. In February, I interviewed with the company that would eventually hire me for my first job in Canada. They reached out with an offer in April.
I started as a Senior Product Manager, leading the machine learning initiatives at a major online automotive marketplace. But I decided the automotive industry was not the place for me. I wanted to innovate as well, so I joined RBC Ventures in January. This job is the perfect combination of product development, finance, and innovation. Currently I’m a Senior Product Manager in the paytech/fintech area which includes revamping the billing for one of our products. My goal is to lead product strategy on an amazing product and onboard the next million users.
|Know the tools and technology
Technology may be similar from one geography to another, but it’s important to know the jargon and tools used in your native ecosystem. Canada has its own suite of tools and working style. In Job interviews there might be questions related to these tools, and if you’re not familiar with them ,you may not be able to provide appropriate responses. Learn about the technologies in place.
I think Canada is the place for tech at the moment. There are many opportunities here, as well as a lot of amazing talent—among locals and newcomers. Great opportunities are out there, but the positions get filled quickly. When the market is hot, offer letters are dispatched more rapidly.
The Venture Capital ecosystem in Canada is great––startups are booming. Some of my fellow Schulich graduates have acquired funding for their startups. If you have the right product, there are people ready to invest. I envision myself having a startup of my own one day.
Damanjyot’s top five tips for newcomers
1. Have an open mind.
Just be open to experience and you’ll learn along the way.
2. Know where you want to go in life.
You need to have a goal or post-education trajectory in mind, but at the same time explore
3. Integrate with Canadian culture.
Learn about the wonderful people here. Understand different cultures and embrace the cross-pollination of ideas.
4. Understand water cooler topics
An awareness of casual conversation topics like local sports teams and events can help you break the ice in interviews.
5. Be confident and make the pivot.
Of course there will be challenges; you can solve any of them.
Achieving quality of life in Canada
Life in Canada is going very well. Toronto is an amazing city for walking and exploring. I live downtown, right on the harbourfront near my workplace. When the clock strikes 5 p.m., I grab a coffee and enjoy a walk on the harbourfront trails. There are a lot of meetups and communities, too. For example, today I’m going to play badminton with people from all over the world, organized by a community of enthusiastic people. In Toronto you can explore new places, new cuisines, and meet new people. Learn the culture, and get a sense of the Canadian mindset.
Two years ago I wouldn’t have believed that a second country would welcome me and treat me the same as if I was at home. I love that spirit of Canada. The level of trust, both on a personal and professional level, that individuals and organizations place in you is unique.
My life goal is to travel the world, but I think I’ll start with travelling across Canada. Seeing the northern lights is top on my list. Most recently, I visited Montreal and had an amazing time—and the best poutine!
I knew very little about Canada when I first considered moving here. I read about the country and reached out to people who had recently made the pivot to Canada. I learned that Canada is a very welcoming place where the people are always willing to help. It offers world-class education at a reasonable cost compared to other countries, and is a land with tremendous opportunities. The way I see it, everyone wants to be in Canada right now because it’s the new growth engine in the West.