From an interview with Sugandha Mahajan, Content Manager and Writer, Arrive.
Sugandha Mahajan and her husband were doing well financially in their home city of Delhi, India. However, they saw little chance to live the life they wanted in this crowded space. So, they started to look elsewhere, considering Australia and New Zealand before deciding on Canada as their destination. As a marketing and policy communications writer, research was an important part of Sugandha’s work. She loves Excel spreadsheets and began calculating and planning everything she could a full year ahead of setting out. They came to Canada through the Express Entry program and arrived in Toronto on January 30, 2020.
Sugandha shares her story of careful planning, unexpected challenges, adapting to change, and finding her place in Canada. As Content Manager and Writer for Arrive, who better to offer tips and recommended reading for newcomers?
When we made the decision to come to Canada I did have second thoughts. A couple of months before we were scheduled to leave, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner, and I reached into the freezer to get a pack of frozen vegetables. I had a panic attack thinking that I would be living in this sort of freezing cold for the rest of my life! I had to sit down and call my dad (who happens to be a doctor). He said, “Relax. Take a deep breath. Stop cooking.” My biggest fear was winter, but, on the day we landed in Canada, it was snowing. It was so beautiful, the most magical experience I’d had.
Canada seemed to offer everything we wanted. I made lists of all of the things that I needed information on. Where will we live in the beginning? How much does accommodation cost? What are the rental prices like in Toronto? Where do I buy groceries? How do I get from the airport to my accommodation? Do I need to download maps? What’s the public transit system like? What about healthcare? Am I eligible for health insurance? How do I apply for a card? I began my research and set up Excel sheets to calculate the cost of living in Canada. We set aside six months’ worth of expenses, which equaled at least half of our income in India.
Luckily, my husband managed to retain his position and started working for his organization remotely when we arrived. This gave us the stability of at least one income and we did not face the kind of financial pressure that many newcomers face when they arrive.
It might take longer than planned to find your ideal job
The one aspect that I didn’t plan correctly was my job search. I grossly underestimated the amount of effort it would take to find a job. With ten years’ experience under my belt, I thought it would be relatively easy. I did some basic research but didn’t start applying to roles until I came here. And, even the day I landed, I was under the impression that I could spend two weeks just chilling, enjoying the city, seeing the neighbourhood, and then start looking for a job. I thought, “Sure, some people struggle to find employment, but it’s unlikely that would be me.”
When I did eventually start looking, I realized you don’t even get a response from most companies. It’s not like they’re going to reject you upfront; they just don’t respond at all. It took me six months to find a job. That was probably the bleakest time of my life.
I didn’t want a survival job because it eats into the time you have for your actual job search. I wasn’t looking for entry-level positions. I was reluctant to explore roles that were below my current position, but that changed maybe four months down the line.
I had been working in policy communications in India. So, my first and obvious choice was to look for policy-related or government relations roles here. The organization I used to work with is part of a global network and connected me with people in the policy domain here when I first arrived. They explained to me how policy and lobbying are completely different here than back home. It became clear that my experience was not relevant here. So my idea of finding work doing what I did back home was a dead end. But they did introduce me to some pretty great people that led me to volunteering opportunities.
Volunteering can help you gain crucial Canadian experience
Through the network I made in the policy field, I was introduced to an organization that was looking for a volunteer to help with marketing communication and content. They were policy adjacent, but also public-facing. I helped them create a website, and provided support in content creation, content planning, and management. I realized that whether it’s policy or marketing, it’s all basically communication. “Why would I have to limit myself to policy?” When I started considering transferrable skills, a whole new world of opportunities opened up and I found my first full-time job in Canada as a content manager at another company.
Close to one year into my first job, a friend of mine sent me a message about an opportunity with Arrive. “They’re looking for a newcomer to manage and create content.” Although I wasn’t actively looking for a change, I saw this as an opportunity to use my experience to help newcomers. Also, because I had a job, the process was far more relaxed. Instead of sending out 300 resumes, I had to send one good one.
I had found content on the Arrive platform very useful during my newcomer journey when I needed information on things, like how to get a driving license. So when this opportunity came up, I knew about Arrive and the great work they do. I realized how perfect this opportunity was. Not only would I be putting my skills to good use, but I would also be giving advice and helping other newcomers to Canada to make their journey easier. And that’s what I am doing today.
If you’re planning to move to Canada, Arrive is the platform where you can find answers to all the questions you have at every single step of your newcomer journey. There are over 500 articles on the Arrive blog, plus guides and webinars to help you succeed in Canada. The Arrive team is primarily made up of newcomers, so we are familiar with all the challenges newcomers usually face, because we have faced them too. As much as possible, we try to fill in knowledge gaps and provide information that’s either not available or too hard to find.
Sugandha’s Top five tips for newcomers
1. Start looking for jobs at least three months before you land in Canada
You don’t necessarily need to start sending in applications at that point, but you should definitely be doing your research to understand what Canadian employers in your field are looking for. This will give you some time to bridge skill gaps and polish your resume. Start sending in applications at least a month before you arrive.
2. Start networking before you leave home
Since most networking happens virtually these days, you can start while you’re still in pre-arrival. Make sure you connect with relevant people on LinkedIn, They don’t have to be just senior-level people. You can learn from everyone, including other newcomers.
3. Make a budget for your first year in Canada
Make sure to roughly calculate how much you’ll spend when you get to Canada. Budget for it. It may take some time to land a job, so make sure you have enough money set aside to cover at least six months of expenses.
4. Create a master resume and customize it for every job
Creating a master resume makes it easier and faster to customize it for every job application.
The master resume is not a resume that you send out. It’s basically a compilation of all your skills, achievements, and experience. You can later pick and choose the points that best match the job requirements for each position you apply to.
5. Maintain a job search schedule to keep a positive mindset.
When we arrived, my husband was working from 9 a.m. till around 6 p.m. I did nothing but send job applications. When you don’t hear anything back from the companies, it can be very demotivating. Find other things to do: take courses, volunteer, or do freelance work if you can.
I love living in Canada. I love the city of Toronto. It is so free, and so beautiful, and the people are so nice. When you go out on the street, everybody will smile or say good morning. That’s not something I was used to back home. There’s also just so much to do. So many places in and around the city where you can just go for a weekend or even a day.
Where we are right now really works for us. We bought our condo a little over one year after we came here––ahead of my goal, but my Excel spreadsheet keeps expanding with my goals. I still religiously budget every month. Even though our expenses now are pretty fixed, I always like to know just how much I can set aside for investments and other things.
I would say that, no matter how much effort you put in, no amount of preparation is too much. It’s better to overprepare than under-prepare. There will always be surprises or questions that you miss. Do your research, talk to people who live here, and of course, read Arrive articles.
Recommended reading for newcomers
- How to move to Canada and get permanent residence (PR)
Choose the ideal immigration program for your situation
- Canadian resume and cover letter: Format, tips, and templates
Before you start applying for jobs in Canada.
- Networking for Newcomers to Canada
Leverage your network to tap into the hidden job market.
- How to navigate your first 100 days in Canada
Create a checklist of post-arrival essential tasks.
- How to build a good credit score from scratch as a newcomer in Canada
Set a strong financial foundation for your life in Canada.