My name is Swetha Kola and I came to Canada in August 2013 for my studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. Prior to moving to Canada, I had about five years of experience in India working with organizations such as Google and Make a Difference. Currently, I am working with the Strategy & Transformation Services team at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). 

This is my story.

I was born in Hyderabad, India, in what is considered as an ‘untouchable caste.’ Growing up, gender discrimination and financial limitations were some of the challenges I had to overcome. I have been able to achieve academic and professional success thanks to the unflinching support of my family and a strong urge to push my own, as well as my community’s limits. The inspiration I received from some senior professionals I met during my stint with Google and my work in the non-profit sector played an important role too. 

I was conscious of the fact that I didn’t have the financial bandwidth to afford a Masters degree, yet motivated to pursue an international education, I applied to universities in Switzerland and Canada. I got through both but the Canadian university (UBC) offered me a Women in Business scholarship that covered forty-five percent of my tuition fee so that made my decision easy to pick Canada. To cover the rest of my fee, my family had to take a bank loan and hand loans from some generous individuals who stepped forward. I did not want to burden my family back home for further financial assistance and worked two jobs for the entire duration of my MBA to cover all living expenses in Canada — this, on reflection, I consider one of my key accomplishments on my path to self-reliance.   

In my final semester, I was at an event where I connected with a professor. She reached out wanting to nominate me as a Future Business Leader at the Catalyst Leadership Conference. Among the ten students (all women) selected nationally, I was the only non-Caucasian and non-Canadian person. I was flown down to Toronto for the conference where I had a chance to meet and interact with a lot of influential people; I utilized that opportunity to have compelling conversations. 

At the end of the conference, a Senior Director from RBC asked me if I’d considered working with the bank. With zero exposure (until then) towards the inner workings of a bank, I politely declined. She later sent a recruiter my way with the job description of the role I am currently in. I liked the profile, applied, had various rounds of interviews, and finally received the offer. In retrospect, my job offer was an outcome of networking, connections, and relationship building! 

As someone who has spent considerable time in Canada living in two provinces, here are my top tips for newcomers:

  • Your resume should focus on the accomplishments and highlights of your career, with about three detailed bullet points for each experience, not be a laundry list of your jobs’ responsibilities.
  • Contextualize your experience for the Canadian job market by adding a one-line description of the organization you worked for in your home country. If possible, compare it with a similar organization in Canada for better comprehension by the recruiter.
  • For those with less than ten years of work experience, limit your resume to one page unless you are in an extremely specialized field and need to relay that information.
  • Have your references ready: Opt for senior leaders and where possible, people with universal job titles.
  • Leverage all available resources for newcomers provided by settlement agencies like Acces Employment and Skills for Change.
  • Build relationships with people and check in periodically so that you’re on the top of their mind when opportunities open up.
  • Be open to a new culture and work environment; job titles and roles may slightly differ from your home country. Stay tuned for my next blog to learn about more differences I observed between India and Canada. 
  • There’s no harm in negotiating your salary. The organization won’t withdraw your offer just because you tried to negotiate! Check for different benefits such as access to senior leaders for mentorship, tuition reimbursements, relocation expenses, work flexibility, gym memberships etc., instead of only monetary compensation.

Moving to a new country can be stressful but the right support from friends and family will help you get through the tough times. Personally, I owe it to my friends and family for keeping my sanity intact and giving me the confidence to make this world a little better for everyone else like me!