Understanding Canada: Get comfortable getting out of your comfort zone
From an interview with Amit Chauhun.
Amit Chauhun is an account manager/project manager who works at a Toronto advertising agency and handles a large telecom client. In this role he’s had to learn the ins and outs of his client’s vast portfolio of products and services. As a newcomer from India, who arrived in Toronto in May 2021, he’s had to adjust quickly to life in a new country, learn about Canadian culture, and reach out to strangers to understand his industry’s opportunities and challenges. Luckily, Amit is the kind of person who, even as an introvert, gets out of his comfort zone to ask all the questions required to get the answers and guidance that helped him get where he is today. Here, Amit shares his journey, along with tips and insights for newcomers looking to land a job in Canada.
I have always asked a lot of questions. Some people might say I ask too many questions. But I’ve found that it has really helped me in life. The more data you collect, the clearer picture of life and work you can get. This is especially important when moving to a new country and trying to find opportunities here. It has been challenging, but reaching out to people and asking them all those questions has helped get me where I am today.
When I finished my 10th grade, I had an opportunity to go to Canada as an exchange student, while a student from Canada would come to India and live in our house in Nashik. I came to a small city called Cranbrook in British Columbia, in the Rocky Mountains. The whole point of this exchange was to understand Canadian culture, and I stayed with three different Canadian families. I went to high school there, and got to experience the Canadian way of living. At the end of the exchange, I didn’t want to go back home. I wanted to stay in Canada. When I returned to India, I had temporary tattoos of the Canadian flag on my face and on my hands, and my parents wondered what had happened to me.
My family ran businesses back home, but I never saw myself in that kind of business environment. I was more interested in the creative side, learning different things and trying new things. So I started to study marketing, something which I was more aligned to. At the same time, there was a technology boom. I got my first laptop, got my first iPhone, and realized I was a nerd. Technology was something that I wanted to be around throughout my life. After graduating with my master’s degree, I started to work with a social media agency promoting Bollywood movies, combining two things that I loved.
I moved from social marketing to core marketing and worked at a number of agencies, moving from project manager to account director, handling large international brands. I loved what I was doing, but there was no work-life balance. It was all work, 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. I was burning out. I needed some balance in life, to do other things in life. I started to look for opportunities in other cities, at smaller agencies, where I might find more balance, but they never materialized.
Living in Canada was always in the back of my mind
Something always in my head was that, if I could pick where I wanted to live for the rest of my life, it would be Canada. My plan was to do this later in life, but then I asked myself, “If you’re going to make a career change, why not go to Canada right now?” I reached out to a few friends who had recently moved to Canada and started asking lots of questions. What are the opportunities like in Canada? Is this the kind of place where I can live? What does it cost to live in Canada? And what are the difficulties I will face? I knew that living in a new country, away from friends and family was going to be challenging, so I spoke to as many people as I could, digging for as much data as I could find. That’s when I realized this was something I could actually do, and I applied for Express Entry to Canada.
COVID-19 put everything on hold
I got my permanent residency approved in December, 2019, quit my job, and booked my flight for April, 2020. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit in March and everything shut down. Flights were suspended and government offices closed. My visa was valid for six months and it eventually expired. It took me a year and a half and around 167 emails with IRCC to go through the entire process again. It was a very anxious time for me; I was jobless for a year and, I’ll be honest, there were times when I nearly gave up. But I said to myself, “It will get better. You will get a flight out. You’ve got to focus on going to Canada.” I didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing, so I started to work at my family’s business and obtain certifications for digital marketing and analytics to continue upgrading my skills. Eventually, I got my new visa and caught the first flight out. With stopovers and quarantines, It took me 67 hours to reach Canada–– and when I got to Toronto, I spent 15 days in quarantine.
Looking for accommodation and landing on my friend’s sofa
When I finished my quarantine, my first challenge was finding a place to live. The economy was just opening up and there was a housing shortage. Rent prices were going through the roof and people were in bidding wars for apartments and houses. The biggest challenge for me was that landlords were asking me for Canadian credit scores and I didn’t have any credit history in Canada. How could I rent anything? The only alternative seemed to be paying the landlord six to eight months rent upfront. That’s a lot of money, and it was something I could not do.
I asked my friend for help and he set me up in his living room (which was difficult for him because he was also working from home). He also explained a lot of the basic things in terms of how to get to Service Canada, how to get an OHIP card (provincial health insurance), and where to go to get your driver’s license. There is a lot of documentation when you first arrive, so for the first month I focused on getting all my government papers in place to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I continued to work on getting certifications to deepen my knowledge about my industry so I could add more value to employers.
Start a conversation on LinkedIn, don’t ask for a favour
The next phase for me was finding a job in Canada. I reached out to a lot of people on LinkedIn, randomly cold-calling. I did not have any friends in my industry, so I asked total strangers if they had some time to talk to me about the industry, about Canadian culture, or things in general. People who didn’t even know me would respond, “Hey, man. We’re here to help. If there are any questions, just shoot them to us.” I discovered you can even reach out to CEOs of companies. I asked, “Do you have some time to talk to me?” And they did.
It’s important how you craft a message to someone on linkedIn. In a limited number of characters, you have to convey your interest in the industry and in the person’s story. For example, I might say, “I’m Amit, I’m new to Canada and I have x number of years in advertising. I’ve seen your profile and career trajectory. It is amazing. Do you have some time to chat about how you started working in the industry, how you grew in your career, and what can I do to get started?” Or, “This is what I would do in India. Is it different here in Canada?” And they might answer, “Oh, no, no. It’s similar. But this part is different.” This starts a conversation and that’s how you will learn a lot more.
The formula for successful networking is to understand the industry and what you can offer, not what they can do for you. Remember these people don’t know you and may have many people reaching out to them. Why would they just give you a referral? Don’t ask them for a favour; start a conversation.
Be yourself in interviews and focus on your strengths
I was really anxious at my first interviews. I hadn’t worked in my industry for a year and a half, and I felt rusty. Going in, you know a certain number of interview questions they’re going to ask you. But I was answering like a robot. I wasn’t being me; I was just trying to showcase my skills. Interviewers want to know who you are as well as what you can do. One person I interviewed with reached out to me and offered to do a mock interview. They told me, “You need to show your personality, whatever your personality is. Don’t try to portray yourself as being the best guy in the company or the best guy in the industry. You need to be yourself and focus on your strengths. Think about what your strengths are.” I stopped interviewing for a week and instead focused on writing down my strengths and what value I could add to an organization. I needed to be very honest about myself. This is who I am. This is what I like. This is how I do things. When I changed my approach, I started getting a lot more responses from employers. Then I got a lot more interviews.
Understanding Canadian culture
I had an interview at an agency that was something of an eye-opener. They asked me a few very simple questions: “Do you know three famous Canadian TV channels?” I did not know the answer. “Do you know three famous Canadian sports teams?” I did not know them either. I knew I needed to start doing something about this right away.
Reach out to people who work where you want to work
I saw an opening at a cool Toronto agency (where I currently work) and I wanted to understand what the culture was like at the agency and what the role would involve. So, I reached out to people who worked there and asked them lots of questions. The role was different from what I had been doing in India, but I saw it as an opportunity to learn and a challenge that would inspire me to do more. I even reached out to people working on the client side to find out how the industry works. It took four interviews and I landed the job.
Persistence, patience, learning and luck
It takes patience and persistence to move to a new country and start a new career. I went through multiple rounds of interviews with one company, and I felt like I was almost there only to be ghosted at the end of the process. To this day, they haven’t replied to me. At times like this I felt like giving up. I actually looked at flights to go back to India. But it happens, and you cannot give up. You have to keep going for it. Don’t ever be worried about asking questions–– even if you think it’s a stupid question. People here are willing to help. You’d be surprised how many of them will take the trouble to explain things to you. So keep asking questions, keep on trying, and it will come through. You will get there. It’s just a matter of time.
Outside of the challenges I faced, I consider myself to be very lucky, too. When I arrived, the economy was suddenly opening up and there were lots of opportunities out there. But in addition to luck , I think it’s all about perseverance, discipline, and a willingness to learn.
My motto is “Get comfortable getting out of your comfort zone”
This is my philosophy and I keep this statement nearby. By leaving your comfort zone, you will learn, you will grow, you will prosper in life. I’m a very introverted person: I’m not a very social person. But when I came to Canada I learned I had to get out and meet people. For example, I recently met up with my colleagues from work for the very first time. I was surprised that I could even talk to so many people, but I learned so much about Canadian culture and where people live, what they do, how they came to the agency, and where they are in their career. I’m in the position where I’m still learning different things about Canadian culture. I plan to keep on putting myself out of my comfort zone. I want to keep on doing and learning a lot more, not just for my career growth, but also for my personal development. It’s been just a month and a half since I joined my agency. I’m still in the honeymoon period and I’m learning quite a lot. Everything is different working in a new country and working at a new agency. Thankfully, I have landed with an amazing company and work with excellent people. My company has been extremely helpful and given me the opportunity to upskill. I’m currently learning about project management; it’s new to me and it’s challenging, but I want to do it. I want to be in a place where I am being challenged. I recently started learning to cook for myself (In India, I never cooked), and I have nearly burnt my kitchen down, twice! But we have to keep on learning new skills. I will always be learning, always asking questions. It’s been 16 years since I came to Canada on the exchange program and, as things open up, I’m really looking forward to going to visit my Canadian families (as I call them) back in British Columbia. I was a crazy kid. There’s a photo of me in one of the newspapers of me going down the ski hill, carrying India’s flag. I broke my leg and my collarbone while learning to ski, but I can’t wait to go back.
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