From an interview with Maria Lorena Mari.
Maria Lorena Mari is an economist. Originally from Cuba, she was working at the University of Barcelona, where she holds a PhD in economics, until 2014 when she took maternity leave. Her husband had an opportunity in Canada at the University of Ottawa, so they decided to move to Canada in November of 2015. Maria’s expectation was that with a PhD she would easily find a role in her field. However, she soon realized that she would have to adapt and use her experience to ultimately create her ideal role. Maria shares her story of how believing in yourself and having an open mind can help you find a job, deal with adversity and find happiness.
I was on maternity leave when we decided to move to Canada. Because my husband didn’t have as many opportunities in Spain, he accepted a position at the University of Ottawa. I thought Canada was a very interesting country, I liked the idea of an adventure, and I was sure it would be easy for me to establish myself here with a PhD in economics. We started our life in Canada in January 2016.
I quickly learned that, unfortunately, when you arrive in a country where nobody knows you, people don’t trust your studies and your experience, and it can be difficult to find your ideal job. So I started as a bookkeeper at a small company in Ottawa. My husband and I thought that if we moved to Toronto, I might find more opportunities as an economist or a financial analyst, and would find it easier to do any studies necessary to get Canadian credentials. So, in 2018 we moved to Toronto.
Once in Toronto, I found a job as a bookkeeper at a small law firm. But the employers saw something in me, and they gave me more responsibilities. In addition to my bookkeeping tasks, I was a payroll specialist, office administrator, human resources – everything. But this law firm had a very demanding schedule, and because I had a young child at home, I needed a more flexible schedule.
I had to change jobs, so I applied to another bookkeeping job because I had gained my Canadian experience in this field. I was called for an interview where I met my current employers: three young entrepreneurs who owned six different companies, ranging from restaurants to retail and IT – all startups. They appreciated my multi-tasking skills and my experience in Canada and Spain. There was such a good mutual understanding, and I was hired the same week.
On June 18, 2019, I started as their bookkeeper. But because I had worked as a researcher for so many years, I wanted to verify every recorded number. So I started to check every transaction from the previous year – I mean from the entire 2018 fiscal year and the first quarter of 2019 – to understand the financial transactions of the different companies and the work done by the previous bookkeeper. In one of the companies, I detected bad practices from the employees, which jeopardized the profitability of the business. I made a report recommending the introduction of deposit slips to control the deposits done by the employees. We immediately saw an improvement in the financial figures.
The rest of the companies were performing well, and because I’m an economist, I decided to advise the partners to help them make their business more profitable. One key recommendation I made was to better plan purchases; these should be more connected to the sales cycle. I supported my recommendation with an analysis of the items that needed to be purchased regularly versus those that should not be, based on past sales performance.
They appreciated my work very much, and I received a new title and salary: I am now the financial controller.
“In big companies, you are a specialist. In small companies, you can be involved in everything. I like that.”
I needed a role that provided me with flexibility. They needed someone to help them organize their businesses to be solid and profitable in the future. The original bookkeeping job was not my ideal job when I applied but was proven to be the opportunity that I was looking for. Every day is different. Every company is different. I work with enthusiastic and open-minded people, and they listen to me. It’s challenging and exciting, and definitely not routine. I enjoy my job very much.
I think it’s important that newcomers don’t take the view that they are desperate to get a job. Employers are also desperate to find skilled employees who enjoy their work. You have to value your studies and experience and look at the situation as a win-win for both you and the employer.
Working from Home: Balancing roles of controller and mother
In this weird time of COVID-19, I am lucky that I can do my job at home. I am very lucky. It’s what I need right now with my six-year-old child; he’s a handful. Even when I have the finances of six companies to handle along with the churn of the business, I am prepared enough professionally that I can do it in chunks of time. Since March, I have had to perform the role of mother and teacher during the day, and when my child gives me some time, and my husband assumes his fatherly role, I can do my work.
While it has been challenging, I can handle it because my job is all about results. I don’t have to accomplish specific tasks every day. I just need the internet and the monthly bank statements from these companies to review the finances and deliver reports when they’re needed. I can do it anytime. I have to be both an attentive mother and a financial controller, and I make it happen.
Read more about starting a new job while social distancing.
4 things that will help make your Canada journey a success
Even if you have a PhD, you may have to study to achieve a Canadian equivalence. Identify your goal in the Canadian job market and research the credentials that you have to get in order to be successful in your job match.
Use your experience and match it with jobs here. Identify how you might have to re-frame that experience or focus on aspects of your experience that employers are most interested in. You have to be attractive to your employers, and to be attractive – you have to sell yourself and all your experience. It’s like marketing yourself in Canada.
Language was my greatest challenge. At first, I felt ridiculous speaking English. It’s difficult because even if you have excellent conversational skills in your mother tongue, you can forget English grammar out of nervousness. I have been improving my English by practicing with people and becoming more confident. One of the challenges that come with our new reality of social distancing is that it’s difficult to practice English face to face with other people.
Assume nobody knows you, and ask yourself, “Would I hire someone that I didn’t know?” The answer is, “No.” Employers like to hire people that they know and trust. Networking is crucial in your job search and can help you find the right fit in Canadian companies. You may change your resume a bit to get your Canadian experience and then build from there.
There are mentorship programs that can match you with industry professionals in Canada who can introduce you to people in your field and help you find a job. As a member of the Canadian Association for Business Economics (CABE), I enrolled in their 2019-2020 mentoring program, which would include several networking events. Unfortunately, these events have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Happiness can be found in the simple things in life
My goal is to be happy. I want to be happy professionally. I want to achieve professional fulfillment with my ideal job. I was happy in Cuba, and I was happy in Spain. But happiness is about more than a job. I moved because I wanted a better standard of living for my family and me.
My sense of happiness is being with my loved ones now. It’s the company you keep on your journey through life: your friends, your family, your children, your spouse. My life goal is to bring my parents here. Affection is vital – to have love around me. This is basic. It’s simple. It’s no mystery.
I appreciate the little things; every moment within my day. Every day that I wake up, it’s a lucky day for me. When you turn on the TV and see the news, you know that we are lucky. When I look in the mirror and say, “Hey, I can work. I am healthy.” If you are healthy, you are a powerful person. You can go for your ideal job. You can go to that cultural event. You can do anything. You have to take a minute to be grateful for these simple things.
I like adventure; I have travelled a lot in my life, so I like new things. I enjoy the winter in Canada. There is something called maple syrup candy. It’s so simple; you pour freshly tapped, boiling maple syrup onto fresh snow. I always wanted to try it. I enjoy Canada, every piece of it.
My advice to newcomers is to come with hope but not a head filled with expectations. Be cautiously optimistic because you may experience frustration, and things may not happen according to your plan. Come with the willingness to accept change: to change as a person, as a professional, everything.
Come with an open mind.