From an interview with Gian Botto – Manager, Project Management, RBC
Gian Botto left Peru in 2017 to move to Canada as an international student. His desire to gain international exposure, develop his leadership skills and build his network brought him to Toronto and landed him a role at one of Canada’s largest banks. This is Gian’s story.
Back in Peru, I started my career in operational risk, where I worked for a couple of years. Later, I moved to quality management before taking on the role of a project manager and eventually moved on to be a program manager at a Peruvian subsidiary of a large Canadian bank. After being in the same field for about seven years, I thought it was time to grow. While working at the bank, I was always curious about Canadian mandates, processes, and how organizations worked globally.
“I wanted to see more, connect with other people, learn new skills from them and in that process, build my network.”
My main goals at the time were to gain a world-class education, expand my network by meeting other students in the program who were from different parts of the world, and to improve my leadership skills. I wanted to learn how I could enable people to be their best selves and deliver their best on the job. To realize my ambitions, pursuing a Master’s degree abroad seemed like a good way forward, and I started looking for places to study.
Do your research, then jump in
While I had clarity on my goals, the process of moving to another country, studying at a foreign university and starting over seemed scary because there were so many uncertainties. I didn’t know what to expect. Online research did help mitigate some of those fears, but I was aware that real-life experiences could be different.
“In real life, you don’t know how it’s going to be until you’re in class, one-on-one with a professor and also collaborating with other students from the program. It demanded a lot of research and courage.”
My advice to others who are considering getting an education abroad is to suppress the fear and don’t let it bother you; don’t let it influence your decisions. Instead, have a clear view of your objectives. The clarity will guide you to strategic research that will help shape your decisions.
While I could have chosen other places to study, Canada particularly stood out because of its welcoming nature, diversity, and an established path for international students to apply for permanent residency and for their spouses to receive work permits. My wife and I chose Toronto, specifically because I wanted to continue my career in the financial sector, and Toronto is the place to be if you’re in finance or banking.
In Toronto, act quickly to secure rental accommodation
Finding accommodation in Toronto was challenging. My wife and I realized that we needed to make decisions quickly to secure a place we liked, or else we would risk losing it to other tenants. I heard of cases where landlords demanded a whole year’s worth of rent in advance, while on the other hand, even though some of my friends offered to pay a year’s rent upfront, their rental applications weren’t accepted.
“You don’t really get to pick where you want to live. Sure, you can have preferences for where you want to stay but you have to move super-quick and see what’s available and take it as soon as possible.”
You can check a few options, but don’t take more than a couple of days to finalize because the listing won’t be on the market anymore. Especially because most students arrive at the same time — in July or August — before the new academic year begins, and everyone’s looking for a place to live.
While looking for rentals, keep an eye out for places that get decent sunlight. When I rented my first condo, I realized that there wasn’t much light because there was a huge building in front of my window that cast a shadow throughout the day. In the beginning, I didn’t think it was going to be a problem. But over the next few months, I found myself waking up very late, particularly on weekends. Something like sunlight may seem irrelevant at first, but it has an impact on your life. I eventually moved to another place with a whole set of windows, and plenty of sunlight and it made a huge difference!
In order to rent accommodation, having a bank account is essential. When I moved here, I found it difficult to open a bank account because at the time there weren’t as many programs and initiatives for international students. Fortunately, my university had partnered with a bank, and that made the process of opening an account easier. Today, international students have many options, and it’s very easy to open an account.
Student life in Canada is busy, but networking is essential
For my MBA (Master of Business Administration), I joined the Rotman School of Management and graduated in 2019 — which was one of the happiest moments of my time in Canada. At Rotman, there was a ton expected from us beyond studies! Studying was just one part of the program.
We were taught the importance of networking very early on and encouraged to actively reach out, find mentors, and build meaningful relationships with people in the industry. Being in a two-year program, we also had the opportunity to network with our seniors who were leaving and the batch of juniors who newly joined the program — which, together, was a huge pool of connections we could leverage.
In Peru, where I come from, having a coffee chat with a random person is not common practice. People usually only meet with direct referrals or friends. Sending an email or a message saying, “Hey, can we have coffee?” to someone at a company you’re interested in made me feel very uncomfortable in the beginning.
Tasks such as tailoring my resume to suit the roles I was interested in applying for, practicing for interviews and networking seemed very tough. Gradually, with guidance from the career centre at my school, I did get better at it. I learned that it is very important to start networking as soon as possible because connections take time to develop. Over time, I built meaningful connections that paid off.
Connections can help you find the opportunity you’re looking for
A friend at school invited me to an RBC networking event, hosted by my university, that he was helping organize. I hadn’t heard of that event outside of casual conversation with friends. Since I had the invitation, I decided to attend.
“Networking was kind of intimidating at first because there are a lot of people. Everyone is looking for jobs, and you have to find your way into conversations, not necessarily to tell them who you are, but at least to have some context so you can approach those individuals later on.”
At this event, I had a chance to meet a person who was in charge of managing the RBC space on the networking platform, Ten Thousand Coffees. He offered me the opportunity to join the platform. However, I didn’t actively start using it at the time because I had my exams coming up.
In the interim, I was contacted by a project manager from RBC who was on the platform. He sent me an email asking if we could chat since we had common interests in our profiles. I readily agreed since this opportunity just came out of nowhere!
“There are people who are interested in your skills, but the thing is that you have to make yourself visible to them. That’s why it’s important to make connections and build them.”
I met the project manager, and he told me about an internship opportunity with one of the teams and introduced me to a director at RBC. Several interviews later, I landed a four-month internship at the bank.
Stay focused and be persistent
When I began my internship, I was fascinated with the scale of operations at RBC. The previous organization I worked with in Peru had about 600 employees, including the sales team. Going from an organization with 600 employees to 80,000 was huge!
Since I had only four months to make an impression, I gave it my very best, did what I was expected to do and went above and beyond. I volunteered for courses and events, which was very well noticed. During this time, I also continued networking with other people within the company to better understand their career paths — this helped me set expectations and provided clarity on the way forward.
I would suggest to other newcomers that instead of having a wide breadth of options and not the best quality of content for your resume or your interviews, it’s much better to focus on just a narrow set of options. They would be limited, but that enables you to provide super high-quality customized content to these opportunities, which will boost your chances.
“Networking is all about putting yourself out there and building relationships even though the position you’re looking for may not be available. In more than 60% of the cases, the positions are not posted. So you have to actually be out there networking before they actually post the positions. Because when they post them, usually they already have their candidates pre-selected.”
Be focused and persistent, and keep at it. Sometimes you may not receive responses to your messages online, but don’t let it stop you from reaching out to more people. Networking will ensure that when the time comes, you are at the top of their minds. And if needed, you can go back to them at a later point and ask about open opportunities. It will eventually pay off!
“It may seem surprising how many cases (like mine) result from luck, but one has to make luck work for themselves.”
Networking skills matter not only outside the company but also within. After the internship ended, I continued to stay in touch with my colleagues, and when a full-time position opened up, they reached out to me. That’s how I landed a job offer with RBC, and I’ve been working here since April 2019.
Be patient. Adapting and settling in takes time
Don’t get frustrated. Networking, adapting, settling in takes a lot of time. I made the mistake of getting desperate and applying to more and more positions (even those that weren’t in my best interest), and it didn’t yield favourable results. Therefore, it’s important to stay focused and optimistic! Take all the chances you get!
During my student days in Canada, I didn’t have much of a chance to explore the city and its surrounding places. But once I graduated, I started going out more to truly experience what the country has to offer!
My journey to Canada has taught me to be courageous, to be steadfast in my decisions, to meet people from different walks of life — to build on past experiences and embrace my inherited culture. Keep growing and learning!