Forced to suddenly quit her university studies back home, she was keen to start learning in Canada, while contributing as much as possible. Despite being limited to “Hi, how are you?” when she arrived, she registered as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
“It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done,” she says with a laugh. “I had no idea what they were talking about and literally had Google translate in my hand the whole time so I could understand them.”
Picking up and leaving all that was familiar to be immersed overnight in a completely new world, Maria embodies pluck. She exudes easygoing confidence, seems to roll with life’s ups and downs and says she always wants to be learning so she can keep moving forward.
She applied herself to learn as much English as possible in preparation to work in office administration, her chosen field. Today, she speaks nearly flawlessly, but smiles while acknowledging some of the small bumps along the way, like when she served her young cousin a peanut butter and ham sandwich by mistake (“Ham and jam sound so similar!”) or when she was asked to get keys from the front desk at Habitat for Humanity, but thought they asked her to get a kiss.
Finding a job
With English under her belt, next up was getting a job. “Where I come from, if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” she says. But where to start, especially as a newcomer with no Canadian work experience?
She admits, there were some very low points. “I had nights where I was crying because my bills were piling up and I wasn’t finding work and I didn’t have the opportunity to prove myself,” she says. “I didn’t have Canadian experience or education, and I can tell you, many newcomers think of these barriers.”
While searching for opportunities this past summer, she applied for Altis’s Newcomer Program, a paid internship that offers newcomers hands-on, practical guidance on finding a job in the Canadian market.
Benefits of the Newcomer Program
When program organizer Katherine Soler called Maria to welcome her to the cohort, she couldn’t believe her luck. “I said to Katherine, ‘You have to be kidding me! You’re going to hire me to teach me how to find a job?’“
In addition to offering help with job searching, interview skills and LinkedIn marketing, the program helps newcomers adjust to Canadian workplace norms and customs, while connecting them with a professional network that has their back.
A naturally gregarious person, Maria said as a newcomer, even she found her confidence lacking at times. “You’re in a new country, you don’t know the culture, you don’t have many contacts and sometimes your self-confidence is kind of low,” she says. “Participating in this program gives you a little boost of confidence because you have instant connections and people who can help you. And for me, it really expanded the way I talk to other people.”
Program pays off
When it came to her job search, the timing of the program couldn’t have been more ideal. Just as she completed her internship, with a newly minted LinkedIn profile that had grown from six to 300 connections in three weeks and virtual job interview skills fresh in her mind, she received her work permit and began applying for administrative assistant roles.
The response was instant—and positive. She received multiple requests for interviews at all kinds of companies, from catering and real estate to finance and accounting.
She went for multiple interviews and was offered not one, but two jobs—the first on the spot, the second a mere 15 minutes after the interview, while she was driving home.
Maria was shocked. “It’s something I still can’t believe. I was scared because comparing myself to other people who are native English speakers always brought me a bit down. But the confidence I got from the program really helped boost me up,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Thankfully, I killed all my interviews!”
Choosing a job and a career path
In the end, she chose her current job working as an administrative assistant at Integris Law, which specializes in real estate law, among other areas, because of the growth potential she saw. Not only had she been studying law in Mexico, but she said she’s always been interested in real estate and hopes to learn the ropes from her colleagues
So far, she loves the choice she made. “Thankfully I had the opportunity to pick between offers, so I chose what I was really excited about and felt passionate about. I’m working with amazing people. I feel welcome and comfortable, so I feel I made the right decision.”
And while she says she feels “very, very lucky,” she also feels the Newcomer Program gave her a leg up. “If I hadn’t had the opportunity to take the course, I don’t know where I’d be. I was able to meet people, practice interviews, learn how to use Zoom and LinkedIn, all these things were very helpful.”
Advice for other newcomers
When asked if she has any advice for other newcomers, she pauses. “Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. I would catch myself saying, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’ But when I look back at all the things I’ve done, it motivates me to keep going in the right direction.”
We’re in the process of updating this program to make it even more robust, so please stay tuned for an exciting announcement at the end of October about our next session.
In the meantime, if the criteria below sound like you, please send your resume to program lead Katherine Soler: email@example.com.
- Interested in building a career in human resources, with a focus on recruitment
- Have experience working in HR/recruitment, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to gain relevant work experience in Canada
- Currently reside in Canada (Eastern time zone) and legally able to work in Canada
- Have a good WiFi connection
- Passionate about building a career in Canada
- Project positivity and are open to coaching and feedback