2023-08-25T10:52:06-04:00Sep 25, 2020|

There’s no straight line to success: Turning obstacles into opportunities

From an interview with Carroll Ong.


Carroll Ong came to Canada from the Philippines by way of Taiwan, Kuwait, UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Bahrain. He has a BA (Bachelor of Arts) and MBA (Master of Business Administration) in Commerce and 15 years of experience in retail banking. In 2018, accompanied by his wife and their daughter, Carroll set out with the goal of changing careers and providing a better life for his family. Like many newcomers, he faced challenges. Carroll shares his story of dealing with financial struggles, career setbacks and how during the global pandemic, he adapted to the new normal of online job markets, networking and turned the hurdles of this virtual environment to his advantage on his career journey. This is Carroll’s Story.


The first thing that came to mind when we considered moving to a new country was providing the best future for our child. We wanted to find a place where we would fit in. Although we’re from the Philippines, English is more or less our first language. So we thought we should go to an English speaking country and a country that would be welcoming to a family like ours. We thought of going to Australia, the UK, and of course, Canada. We did some research and of the three, we felt that Canada would be our best chance. 

Three years ago, we started applying and finally got the invitation to come to Canada. We were living in the Middle East at the time, and we had lots of belongings we needed to bring to Canada. Our daughter had to go back to the Philippines before we could migrate to Canada. She continued her education there for about a year before we finally moved here. It wasn’t as easy as just flying off.

One of the major decisions we had to make was how we would come to Canada. We decided to come all together, as a family.  In hindsight, maybe I should have come ahead of my family to gain a foothold, to find a job and be a little more financially stable before bringing my wife and daughter. We could have been in a better financial position. But we’re here, we’re healthy and we’re all in this together. We’ll be okay.

You may ask yourself, “what am I doing here?”

There have been times when I questioned coming to Canada. But when I ask myself why I’m here, I remind myself that in the long run, I want to live life to the fullest and I want the best for my family. I try to see our situation from the perspective of the child of immigrant parents. I talk to my daughter and ask her to understand that this is a turning point in our lives. From what I can see, although she is very happy to be here, there have been challenges. She has asked me why we keep moving from one place to another, or why she had to change schools again.

The financial challenges are real. The cost of living here is higher than what we were used to. I’d say that we came here with less money than we’d wished to bring. So, we had to budget very carefully, be practical in what we spent and be wary of every move that we made. Before coming here I never imagined discussing the idea of trade-offs in life with my child at such an early age.

I’m trying to let her understand the real challenges that we’re going through right now. I know it can sometimes be unfair to share your burden with your kids. But on the other hand, the earlier they understand the real financial situation, the earlier they get the gist of it, the more responsible they become. Things are not as convenient as it used to be for her. But whenever I asked her, “Do you miss the Philippines?” She’d say, “Yes, I do sometimes. But I’m good here.”

People say there’s no place like home, but I want to be in a place where I’m truly happy as a person and I believe that there’s no better place in the world than Canada.

Be ready to change but never give up on yourself

We have all these idealistic visions in our mind when leaving home to start a new life. But things may not be exactly as we imagined. Although it had been a while since I’d competed in the job market, I thought I could relearn everything and start from scratch. Saying it and thinking about it is much easier than actually doing it or getting the experience out of it. You have to adjust your expectations and be ready no matter what.

In the process, I got myself into a couple of jobs. The first was similar to what I had been doing, but I realized quickly that this is not what I came to Canada for. The second was working for an insurance company and it was at a call center. Maybe this was a way to get my foot in the door of a new industry. I realized after a few months that this was not the way to do it. 

Those were very costly pauses for me, but it’s important to remember who you really are and what you really want to do. If you somehow divert along the way, it’s okay, as long as you still have your eyes on the direction you want for yourself. There will be unexpected turnabouts. It’s a fact of life, it happens to everyone. It’s just more pronounced when you are an immigrant. 

I want to land a position as a financial analyst, so I am taking the steps to elevate myself to be in a better position to achieve this goal, like getting the Certified Financial Advisor (CFA) designation and communicating to potential employers that I am committed to doing whatever is necessary.

When you come to Canada you have to be productive. I want to be that person. I want to make sure that it works for me. If it works for me, it should work for my family. If it works for my family, it should work for the country and the economy.

Remaining positive during the pandemic  

In February I was actively networking and sending out resumes, but then the pandemic hit and it put a stop to that. I wondered how to remain positive. This was not just happening to us. Not just for myself, not just to my family, or even just to Canada, but the whole human race.

During the time when I was unemployed and I was struggling to have a routine, I would start my day by considering what I could do to make today better than yesterday. Having that perspective in my mind, every day I asked myself, “Okay, what can I do better today?” I tried to capitalize on small things like answering an email or helping someone else. So bit by bit, I was able to build on that. And I had my online studies.

I was a part-time student at York University Bridging Program for Internationally Educated Professionals (IEP). I gave it my all and focused on studying and I got good grades. I did my best to do some networking activities. I was able to do group work. I was able to collaborate with many other students. I joined virtual webinars, seminars. It was quite fun for me – talking to a lot of new people from different companies, different organizations.

Make networking work during COVID

Since the pandemic, I’ve been attending online networking sessions with various groups. They may be mentorship, or recruitment, or information events. I listen intently and make sure I’m engaged. I’ll throw out questions and be as active as I can. It’s all virtual now, so I can network much more efficiently. Sometimes I attend one to two events in a day.

So, the more networking events, the more contacts I make, the more people I come to know. Usually, I connect with them through LinkedIn or email.

I have also been paired with a mentor through the CultureLink mentorship program.  She’s a career coach and is hitting the nail on the head for me. We talk about networking, about following up, about how I should approach my job search and interviews. I used to wing every interview. I would often miss the small details. Now, if interviewers ask certain questions, I know what to expect. I am now much better prepared. And I’m much better at doing phone interviews and virtual interviews.

I’ve become used to the virtual environment we’re now in. For me, it’s more beneficial. When you do virtual interviews, you’re much more in control of your environment. The physical environment is really the prime factor: like now I can stand or walk around while doing phone interviews. Or if it’s a virtual interview, I’m in a familiar setting, which is in my home office. It’s more comfortable compared to say, walking into a foreign office environment and meeting in a closed conference room. I feel it has become an advantage, it works a lot better for me. I landed a job through a virtual interview.

4 virtual interview tips for newcomers

1. Be prepared

I know it’s a cliche to say, “prepare, prepare, prepare.” But just like in-person interviews, the key to success in virtual interviews is preparation everything from how to introduce yourself, to practicing responses, to behavioural questions.

2. Communicate

How you communicate is really different in a virtual interview. You talk to the camera instead of seeing the person eye-to-eye. That’s another thing to get used to. Also, you have to convey an extra positive vibe through your facial expressions, which would appear overdone in an in-person interview.

3. Look your best

Some people recommend elevating your computer so that your camera is at eye level. That seems weird to me, so I still put it in a normal position, but I make sure to lean in a little towards the camera which makes me appear more engaged. Consider the lighting (natural light is best) and make sure the way you groom yourself and that what you’re wearing is appropriate for that virtual meeting.

4. Don’t fidget

Try to minimize your movements and hand gestures, because they register in the interviewer’s mind. They can be very distracting. The key is in your face.

While COVID-19 brought many challenges, it also presents opportunities

I completed my IEP program, so I’m better equipped with a new certificate, which I hope to make use of in my future job search. But for now, I’m just happy that I was able to land a new job. I’m also happy that there are still more opportunities coming in. I can tell that this coming Christmas will be a better one than the last.