So, what does it take to succeed in the highly competitive search for jobs?
As Derly Valencia’s story illustrates (and as do those of Tara Weber and Deborah Aarts that you’ll find on subsequent pages), it can be summed up largely in the two “Ps” — persistence and positive thinking.
There’s also a third crucial “P”, and it’s people.
Your job search is not a solitary effort.
The more you reach out to others for help and are willing to open yourself to new people and new situations, the easier your task will be. No matter what happens, as Valencia indicates, the experience of opening yourself up to the world will be a richly rewarding experience. Derly Valencia had a blossoming career as a public accountant in Colombia, while her husband worked as a mechanical engineer. Their country’s economy was healthy, its natural settings beautiful. However, Valencia started to notice her homeland becoming tainted by violence and crime, and stories of kidnapping became more and more frequent.
“We felt like we were living in an unsafe situation,” Valencia says, “and that’s why we decided to go.”
Coming to Canada
In April 2003, the couple boarded a plane for Toronto. The magnitude of their transition became clear upon their arrival.
“When I was in Colombia, I wasn’t very scared about it. But when I came here, and I saw the big place, I just wondered what I was going to do.
“We didn’t know anyone here.”
Alone, overwhelmed, and jobless, the couple had difficulty knowing where to start. Valencia began her Canadian life by doing the best thing she could think of: getting in contact with fellow Colombians in the country. Neither she nor her husband knew these individuals, yet the pair were welcomed with open arms.
“We visited their families,” she recalls, “and they basically gave us advice, about job websites, where to look, things like that.”
Heeding the advice of her new friends, Valencia got in contact with a few career centres and started researching different workshops and training seminars. She discovered soon enough that her experience – as a Colombian-accredited, Spanishspeaking accountant – would not be enough to land a career in her field in Canada.
Language was the first major barrier she chose to overcome. Valencia had studied English in Colombia, but soon found her training helped little on the quick-speaking streets of Toronto.
“It was so fast!” Valencia laughs. “I couldn’t understand it very well.
“(English) is very difficult, and very different than Spanish.”
Rather than give up, Valencia signed up for an English as a Second Language course, and studied intensively for two months. After that point, she continued to study part-time, picking up whichever classes she could in order to conquer the linguistic divide.
“That’s the most important thing here,” she comments. “(Without English) you cannot work very well.”
While she was working to master English, Valencia was also mapping out a career plan. A trained professional in Colombia, she was optimistic of her options. As she soon learned, however, applying her skills in Canada was to be a challenge.
“I went to different employment agencies, and I did research by Internet, but it was difficult,” she admits. “If you don’t have Canadian experience, you don’t get a job. It’s very difficult.”
She made efforts to learn the terminology and technology associated with the field in Canada, doing research and studying on her own time in order to master the trade.
In order to work as an accountant in her new country, however, Valencia would have to gain accreditation as a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified General Accountant (CGA), or Certified Accountant (CA). She chose to pursue the second option, and made contact with a CGA to evaluate her credentials. She received partial credit for her Colombian experience, but still had a long way to go before reaching the fifth and final level of CGA certification.
“If an accountant is not enrolled in one of (those programs), it is very difficult to get a job,” she explains. “Always in the job postings, they ask for CGA experience, or CA experience, even for entry level positions.”
She signed on to a CGA accreditation program and, as of November 2005, had reached the fourth level.
After addressing her linguistic and credential concerns, Valencia set about to find work. She approached Accessible Community Counselling and Employment Services (ACCES), a free employment service in the Greater Toronto Area. Through the service, she got her proverbial foot in the door of her field through an unpaid volunteer position at an accounting firm. In her placement, she did much more than crunch numbers: she also made some excellent connections, and learned of government wage subsidies available for trainees.
“I worked for that company for one month,” she explains. “I made some friends, like a network. They helped me to find another job. In that job, I was sponsored by the government, by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. They paid part of the salary, and the other part of the salary is paid by the company.”
That job begat another, this time a six-month placement at a financial company. Valencia didn’t relax, however. She continuously applied for other positions, aiming to have work lined up when her contract ended.
As a result, when she was offered a full-time job at the end of her placement with the financial company, she turned it down – she had already landed a position at the chartered accountancy company where she works today. After eight months of hopping from position to position, she had landed what she considers to be a good full-time job in her field. “It’s a very good experience for me,” she smiles.
While Valencia is in a good position today, her journey was not without its struggles. She became frustrated “many times.” Occasionally, she even considered abandoning Canada and returning to Colombia.
“I thought about (giving up),” she admits, “but it’s very difficult to go back. You’ve left everything you had before. You have family and friends, but it’s not enough. You left a job, and the positions you had before. It’s very difficult to go back. I couldn’t do it. The only thing I could do is continue trying to compete here.”
Valencia remains disturbed, however, by the fact that while her husband has worked in several positions, he has yet to land a position in the engineering field.
“It’s part of my frustration here, because in my case, it’s going well,” Valencia says. “But in his case, no.”
She is confident, however, that over time her husband will meet with the same success she has.
Indeed, she now feels “more calm, and more secure,” than she has since arriving in Toronto back in 2003. And while she knows she and her husband still have a good way to go before becoming fully satisfied in their careers, she is determined to get there – one small victory at a time.
“Even if I feel frustrated sometimes, I know that this country has a lot of opportunities that other countries don’t have,” Valencia shares. “If I (were to) work in any other country right now, my conditions would be worse. Right now I’m here, I am doing something for myself. And I can do it because there are a lot of things around that can help you. But you need to look for the opportunities. You have to try to meet the right people, learn the right things.”
In her unique way, she emphasizes she will stick with the positive attitude that has seen her through: “I try to think up,” she smiles.
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