From an interview with Suzie (Suang) Zhang, CRM Marketing Coordinator, Ampli.
Suzie Zhang left China at the age of seventeen to pursue a management degree in Canada. The high school she attended had a program in collaboration with the University of Toronto, so Suzie took the entrance exams, passed, and headed for Toronto with two suitcases and a backpack. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery and exploration, Suzie stepped outside the comfort of her Chinese cohort, to become the type of student she wanted to be. She observed how Canadian students interacted, spoke to a wide variety of people at school and in her part-time job, and began to feel more and more comfortable in Toronto’s diverse cultural environment. Here, she shares how she changed her path to pursue what she loves, the importance of first-hand research, and how she built the confidence to ask for and get what she was looking for.
My Chinese name is Shuang and my English name is Suzie. It was given to me by my English teacher when I was just five years old. Even though it may sound like a little girl’s name, I decided to keep it. I think of it as a gift from my very first English teacher.
When I started university in Toronto, I could see a real discrepancy between the local, English-speaking students and the Chinese or Asian students. We were all management students, but the local students were proactive and confident; they had the courage to stand up for themselves and were always expressing themselves vocally. Asian students in general were pretty shy. We were more reserved. One of the main reasons, of course, was that English was not our mother tongue, but we may have also been overthinking things. For example, you may have an idea, but feel afraid to share it out loud in front of people because they might judge you.
As an international student at the University of Toronto, being able to observe different students at school was a privilege for me. It led me to ask myself what kind of person I wanted to be by the time I graduated and would it be possible for me to preserve lessons from my culture, like paying attention to details? I got an A for all of my math classes while I was in university, but I also loved expressing myself, talking to people, and sharing ideas. I knew in my heart that I wanted to get into marketing, so in my third year, I decided to take marketing and build my skills on both sides.
Getting to know people helps you become more confident
One of the key ways I overcame my shyness was getting to know local people. During school, I had a part-time sales job at a large retail mall. I would speak to locals all the time, whether that was talking to a grandma that came into the store, or chatting with the Canadians I worked with. It was just small talk: asking how their day was going, what they had for breakfast, or what activities they like to do after work, but it gave me the opportunity to understand the local culture and helped me improve my English language skills.
During the last year of my university life, I could feel how much I changed since I first arrived in Canada. I was more open-minded, I was more willing to raise my hand and express my ideas in class, and I was more comfortable talking to professors about career and job opportunities. It really helped me prepare myself mentally for my career in Canada. My mindset was: I can do this.
From retail sales to marketing to digital marketing
I was doing pretty well as a salesperson and, by the time I was about to graduate, my manager offered me a full-time position as the sales team lead. I was training new salespeople and managing the team. So after graduation, I didn’t have to look for a job, which was awesome, but I began to question whether I wanted to continue in sales or move forward in marketing.
After being away from my family for six years, I returned to China and landed a role as marketing communications manager at an animation company in Beijing. However, after a while, I realized that Canadian life just suited me better. I really enjoy the freedom here: I can be who I am without judgment and I can truly be myself. Also, Canada offered a better work-life balance.
So I moved back to Canada.
Digital marketing: Skills upgrade
At that time, the digital world was booming. Everything, including marketing, was moving online. I needed to strengthen and hone my digital marketing skills, so I applied to several universities and accepted an offer from The Schulich Business School at York University. My MBA is in digital transformation, which is essentially using data to help you make better and wiser business decisions. I landed my internship with Rocketman at RBC Ventures and began doing my MBA part-time.
During the first month of my internship, I reached out to my manager, and asked, “Hey, is there any chance I can maybe get a full-time job with you guys? I really enjoyed working here, and I think my skills and my background really fit.” Now I know this is not a weird thing to ask, but I would never have done that when I was younger. This led directly to my current role at Ampli.
Adapting to the Canadian job market: things are different here
Canadian resumes and Chinese resumes are very different. One thing is that for a Chinese resume, many companies ask you to attach a good photograph of yourself. It might sound funny, but that’s how you can add more points for yourself. But, in Canada, you’re not supposed to attach a photo. This ensures more equal opportunities for people from different backgrounds or cultures.
The second difference is that Canadian recruiters and hiring managers want you to call out your achievements in your Canadian resume. Instead of simply listing roles and skills, like you may be used to back home, you are expected to highlight specific accomplishments.
In job interviews in China, the questions are more straightforward: about the job, your skills, and experience. In Canadian interviews, the interviewers want to know about you as a person, too. They want to get a sense of your personality, your interests, how you’ll fit within the culture of the company, and how the company fits with you. Companies are very flexible, especially if they feel you are the right candidate and you can bring value to the organization. Some companies offer flexible hours to suit your schedule. Canadian interviews are also more relaxed. I think they want candidates to feel comfortable, open up, and be themselves.
When looking for a job in Canada, it’s very important to reach out and connect with people who are in your field or share your interests. You want to get your foot in the door, so you need to figure out how to connect with people who can help you. Don’t be shortsighted when you are connecting with people on LinkedIn, though Look beyond the short-term goal of finding a job and what this person can give you. You are building a network and building relationships. Think about the long term.
The network that I built through the MBA programs at Schulich helped me a lot. I took advantage of all of the resources the MBA program offered. There were several career advisors, and I reached out to them all to help improve my resume, get feedback, and practice interviews. I started actively looking for an internship the moment I got into the program and got a lot of interviews with tech companies, retail companies, consumer packaged goods companies, and financial companies. The more you network, the more interviews you’ll get. And, the more you interview, the better you’ll get at it.
Suzie’s top five tips for international students and newcomers
1. Be patient with yourself
2. Be open-minded
One of the greatest advantages of Canada, and Toronto specifically, is its cultural diversity.
It is only when you accept others and their culture that you can be accepted by them.
3. Be agile
It’s important to be adaptable. Never restrict yourself to your current status quo. Be willing to change and explore new ideas and opportunities.
4. Be clear about your goals.
Knowing what you want is the first step toward getting it. During my MBA, my goals became much clearer and my approach was more purposeful.
5. Be proactive
If you never speak up for yourself, and never ask, it’s going to be really hard for you to get what you want. You need to say it out loud first, then you can be heard.
At the beginning of my journey, I was this curious, but shy Chinese girl. Then I made an effort to absorb everything around me like a sponge. At the same time, I did not forget my culture or what was inside of my heart. Through all of my exploration, education, work, and life experience, that shy little girl has become more confident to know what she wants and not be afraid to ask for it.