From an interview with Prince John, Commercial Account Manager.
Prince John came to Canada in 2018 from Chennai, India. Things were going very well in his career back home. He was assistant VP at a major bank—everything was set up. But the question of where he saw his kids growing up caused him to look outward. He wanted to build a career and a future for his kids in a place with a level playing field and opportunities for all. That search led Prince to Canada. He left Chennai on January 20th, where the temperature was 37 C and landed in Toronto where it was -18 C. The difference in temperature was an indicator of how different Canada would be. Prince shares his story of looking beyond the comfort of community to understand Canadian culture, achieve career and life goals, and truly make Canada home.
When I first arrived in Canada, I rented a basement apartment in Brampton. Like so many newcomers, I had to start somewhere. It was the middle of winter. I was alone, and it was challenging. I had decided to come to Canada on my own at first and then my wife and kids would follow after I landed a job. I spent very little time in that small apartment. This was pre-COVID, so I was out every day meeting people, interviewing, and working hard to find a job. Fortunately, I did. My family joined me within two months and my son started school on his third day in Canada.
Embrace Canadian culture: immersion and integration work
I am a firm believer in integration. As newcomers, we have a tendency to be very attached to our own community. I am an advisor to my community, an influencer, and I encourage people to stretch out to understand the breadth and beauty of the customs in this country. When you come to Canada, you need to embrace the multiculturalism that Canada stands for.
I learned that understanding and respecting others’ culture will help you land your job and become part of society. All you need to do is have an accepting mindset. And although we had a tremendous support system in our community here in the GTA, I decided that our family would venture outside.
I was offered an opportunity in Windsor (about 370 km southwest of Toronto) and I gladly accepted. I was so excited to be outside of the norm. People were striving to find work in downtown Toronto, but I had different ideas. I thought that If I went further out, I would learn more about Canadian culture.
Windsor is a small city which has its advantages. Financially, I’m in a much better position today for a couple of reasons. In Windsor, like other smaller cities, real estate is much less expensive than in a large city like Toronto or Vancouver. We were able to buy a house in our first year and begin building equity. I couldn’t have dreamed of buying a house in Toronto.
We deliberately bought in a neighbourhood that was not South-Asian, so we were immersed in Canadian culture from day one, meeting Canadian neighbours and making Canadian friends. I learned that culture is an important word in a new place. You need to understand, respect, and embrace the local culture.
After two-and-a-half years we left Winsor and many of our friends and neighbours gave us parting gifts. With the equity we gained from the sale of our house, we could buy a home in Guelph—another small city, much closer to Toronto. We’ve met new neighbours and friends here.
The other aspect of understanding culture was through my work. As a business account manager, I was dealing with 300 Canadian clients. By building partnerships I learned so much about the business culture here and even what people talked about outside business, like baseball and hockey. I learned many slang expressions and wasn’t afraid to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean.”
Starting from scratch is tough, but many have succeeded
When you come to a new country, one of the biggest challenges is that you are new. You are unproven. People don’t know what you’ve done back home and you may feel the 10 years you spent building your career and proving yourself is swept aside.
You can address that by creating opportunities to prove yourself. Ensure that people know you and know what you can do. Volunteering is a good way to get Canadian experience. It’s okay to start from scratch.
When you get a job—even if you feel you’ve taken two steps down and doubt your decision—try to appreciate that opportunity. Give yourself time. You’re building a new career and that will not happen overnight. In the meantime, try to talk to many people. You can learn from your neighbours. You can learn from people at your place of worship, you can learn from your boss and coworkers.
Another challenge newcomers face is that you don’t have a credit score in Canada, which can make it difficult to rent or buy a home. When we were planning to buy our first house, I was told that I might not qualify for this reason. I have always had impeccable credit. I asked if I could use my credit from home and it helped get our mortgage approved.
Five steps to success in Canada
Before leaving India, I did a lot of research on the Canadian job market, and my experience here has taught me that beyond understanding the culture, there are a few things you can do to help make your journey a successful one.
1. Start your career search before you leave home
Step one begins long before you leave home. Understanding the Canadian job market is very important. You might have been a superstar in your country, but you’re entering a new environment. So understanding what employers want and need from you is crucial. Do your homework. It is going to take some time, so start early.
Research the role you want. For me, it was fairly simple: I was a banker back home and Toronto is the financial capital of Canada, so it was easy for me to target where I needed to be. I said to myself before I came that I would work in one of the top three banks. I was searching jobs and roles even before I left India.
My approach was to stay laser-focused. Many newcomers may find the cost of living is high relative to back home, and may need to take a part-time job and start earning minimum wage to make ends meet. Doing that wouldn’t allow me the time to focus on my job search. So I decided I would not look for a part-time job.
Being very specific about your roles is critical, because that is how you build your resume for the Canadian market. In India, for any job, you can send the same resume. But in Canada, you need to edit and customize your resume for each and every job application.
If you know that you’re going to apply for two or three roles before leaving home, you are in a much better place. I reached out to YMCA while I was in India. They helped me format my resumes for the Canadian job market before I even left. So when I got here, it was easier for me to apply directly for a job because I understood exactly what I needed to do.
2. Prepare for your personal life in Canada
You also need to research about life in Canada for you and your family. There are so many resources available through Arrive, the Government of Canada, and community organizations. Take advantage of all the programs that are offered to you before you arrive and once you have landed to help you settle. You need a holistic approach to success.
For example, The Ontario driver’s license is a graduated driving license program. You are required to take a G1, G2 and then G test, but there are exceptions. If you have two years of driving experience on a full licence in your home country, you may be able to apply for a G license immediately. It’s worth looking into. That’s how I got my G license.
3. Connect with your network
It is very difficult to come to a new country, especially if you don’t know people here. So try to contact family or friends, or even friends of friends through LinkedIn, through Facebook, or wherever. Even just to touch base with someone here.
Before I left home, I reached out to my network here. My cousin’s sister knew someone at RBC. The second week I was in Canada I met the person I was referred to from RBC and he interviewed me. He had nothing to do with the job, but wanted to understand how well I could speak English and get a sense of the depth of my experience. He immediately put me in touch with a hiring manager who had a role.
4. Keep an open mind
When looking for jobs, having an open mindset is important. You may have to start a couple of levels below the position you had back home. You should be prepared for that. Have a plan to get to your previous level in the due course.
I had researched Canada’s finance industry. Out of the major Canadian banks, I really liked the RBC culture of partnership. RBC offered me a role as Business Account Manager, which was two steps lower than what I did back home. But the job came with an opportunity to go to Windsor, which really launched our journey. I am currently a Commercial Account Manager.
5. Find a good mentor
In India, we don’t have a mentoring system. But finding a good mentor in Canada can make all the difference. For example, my mentor was a woman named Victoria from ACCES Employment. She referred me to a lot of job interviews and really helped me. There are also many webinars and workshops featuring industry experts. I recommend newcomers take advantage of these whenever they can.
Contributing to Canadian society
When we looked at Canada, we saw it as an equitable place—fairer than many other developed nations. The government is very supportive of new immigrants and they need skilled people. New immigrants help to drive the population and contribute to society financially. In Canada, you have a level playing field on many counts. We were sure that when we came here, we could provide a good future for our children. They are well-settled (and love the winter).
Canada has given us so much, and our plan is to contribute as much as we can to Canada. In the last three years, my wife and I have started a couple of businesses and she is now doing her postgraduate studies in psychology. She wants to contribute on the societal front because we believe that in the post-pandemic era, people are going to need support with mental health issues.
I have always had an eye on politics, not to earn a name or fame, but because I believe in partnerships and driving people with a common goal. I don’t have my Canadian citizenship yet—the process is a little protracted due to COVID-19—but when I get it, I’m going to be more involved in the Guelph community. I’m going to reach out to universities, I’m going to be on the school board, starting from the ground up to really understand how I can grow. Maybe one day I’ll serve the people of Canada as a Member of Parliament.
The Arrive newcomer success stories are invaluable because every story is both unique and universal. If my story inspires even one person to believe that they can make it here, then I’m successful.