What Does a Local Look Like?

November 20, 2018

A few days ago I attended a conference for Latin American entrepreneurs in Toronto, called LABTI-UP! The conference was insightful and inspiring at the same time. I saw a lot of drive, people who are creating products and offering high-quality services, and I heard amazing success stories from immigrant business owners in industries including technology, food and hospitality, drone making, and consulting.

A myriad of resources were shared, people engaged in all sorts of conversations, and valuable connections were made. In summary, the overall atmosphere at the conference was filled with optimism and a desire to thrive and innovate.

After having lunch with other educators whom I connected with, I attended a panel called Women in Trade, conducted by four women, leaders in their respective fields, who provided information about organizations that support women to become successful entrepreneurs. Towards the end of the panel, the moderator asked them what piece of advice they had for the women in the audience who wanted to either solidify their business or venture onto entrepreneurial avenues in Canada.

One of the panelists vehemently answered: You must look like a local, you must sound like a local, and you must behave like a local!

Interestingly enough, the panelist was not Canadian born, but an immigrant herself, so the way she supported her statements shook me to the core! I noticed how the energy in the room dropped dramatically, and even the other panelists (all Canadian born and raised) seemed puzzled to hear what she just had said.

What drove me to write this piece is that there was no time for Q&A since the panel ran a bit longer than planned, and none of us had the chance to challenge that piece of advice. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to dispute each of those three statements.

  1. You must look like a local: The panelist said that women should avoid wearing provocative clothes like they do in Latin America (this already is wrong on so many levels, that can be part of another article or discussion). The panelist’s statement is so confusing since Canada boasts hundreds of ethnic groups and languages; in the city of Toronto alone, there are over 200 ethnic groups and more than 140 languages are spoken, so I wonder, WHAT DOES A LOCAL REALLY LOOK LIKE? does a local look like a woman wearing a hijab? or perhaps, like a woman wearing a sari? or maybe like a woman wearing a fur parka? Do all local women really look the same and all wear blouses, dress pants, and statement dresses? I do not think so.
  2. You must sound like a local: The panelist supported her point by saying how she hired a speech therapist to deliberately reduce her accent. I mean, if she could afford $100-$200 which is on average the hourly rate of a speech therapist, great! but let’s talk empathy here and ask ourselves how many newcomers can actually afford a service like this. Let’s be clear: if you are new to the country and the language barrier is still evident, of course, you have to make sure that you work hard to improve your communication skills and enunciate your words because your ideas have to be understood by the people you are communicating with, but telling the new talent in Canada that they will not thrive because they speak with an accent, is irresponsible and very disempowering. I have never heard of a foreigner relocating to Latin America being told that they have to reduce their accent; on the contrary, people celebrate the fact that they are making an effort to communicate in the local language, so why do we have to perpetuate that idea that we are less worthy for being who we are because we decided to move to a first world country? It really baffles me!
  3. You must behave like a local: If by that the panelist meant that behaving like a local is co-existing in harmony with all walks of life and working together to contribute to the growth of this society, then yes, I absolutely agree because that is what I see every day in Toronto. Cultural fluency is paramount to succeed in Canada, that is for sure; being aware of the different dimensions intrinsic to work naturally within the Canadian context will definitely help these aspiring women entrepreneurs to develop and implement solutions to meet an array of needs for the betterment of our society.

Many of us are working day by day empowering the new talent to succeed in Canada. Newcomers, refugees, and international students arrive in the country every year to spice things up and add their personal touch to elevate the great achievements of an already successful economy, without losing their identity. Our job is to coach them and prepare them to conquer the work culture in this country, so they become part of a collective that applies their skills to make Canada and its people a sustainable society.

Look Like Yourself – Sound Like Yourself – Behave Like Yourself

Written by David Mendoza for Orbit 5


6 Steps to Building an Exciting Career in your New Home Country

October 16, 2018

Today marks my 10th year living in Canada and I have to say that career-wise it has been a great journey so far, full of learning experiences and ups and downs along the way, but great nevertheless. I thought this could be a great opportunity to look back and reflect, from an immigrant perspective, as well as share my thoughts on how you could build a career in your new home. This goes to folks who are new to the country, international students, people planning on moving to Canada, or even Canadians who are looking to relocate elsewhere. In my humble opinion, here are just a few aspects that should be considered:

Research: Do your homework by looking for information that can help you have a smooth transition into the Canadian workplace. What is common in terms of work behaviour in other parts of the world, might not be the norm in the country you have just moved to. For example, In Colombia, which is where I am originally from, most people wear cologne/perfume to work and nobody has an issue with that, (unless of course, the person has bathed in it); conversely, in Canada, a scent free environment is the rule in most workplaces. This might seem trivial but people have actually been fired from their jobs for “odour reasons”. Other things to consider are personal space, less hierarchical schemes and being aware of the importance of equality.

Open-Mindedness: When I arrived in Canada I was in my twenties, I only knew one person, and all I brought with me was $800 in my pocket, the language, and most importantly, an open mind! My very first job was lifting carpets at a decoration store. Something completely out of my comfort zone and from what I was used to, that turned out to be a very humbling experience. I remember once someone condescended me by saying: “Oh, so you left your country to do warehouse stuff? Nice!” I am glad I turned a deaf ear to that, focused on my journey, and viewed that job as a platform for bigger things.

Immigrants and international students usually come with a wealth of education and experience, and they should take pride in that. However, at the same time, it is important that they have realistic expectations. I am not saying you should only aim for low pay and physical work, but I urge you to consider the impact that an entry-level position can make to your life. Customer service, front line, and administrative positions can help you understand how the Canadian customer thinks, how to work with multicultural populations, and other aspects that little by little will open many doors. Having said that, not all immigrants have to necessarily go through the same process. Earlier this year, with Orbit 5, we facilitated our workshops for a group Latin American newcomers; one of the participants, who had been in the country for just over 2 months, landed a managerial role in one of Canada’s biggest financial institutions shortly after completing our program. As you can see, it is up to each individual and the strategy they want to build and implement to achieve their professional goals.

Language: You MUST have a strong command of the official language. If we are speaking about the Canadian context, either English or French, depending on where you live. It does not matter if you have an accent, but you need to be able to communicate your ideas in a clear way, and be understood when you speak. Strong communications skills are required to thrive in any field. So, if you have identified that language is a barrier, reach out for help as there are many initiatives out there sponsored by the government (many of them free of cost), to help people who are determined to enhance their language skills. Take advantage of the fact that Canada is one of the most multicultural places in the world, and force yourself to interact with people who do not speak your mother tongue. Get immersed in the language! This could be a fantastic learning experience, and a great opportunity to start building a network, which leads to my next point.

Networking: It is not enough to only have a résumé anymore. A thought-out strategy is needed to find employment since the most effective and fastest way to find work is through networks and connections. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “How am I supposed to use a network if I do not know anybody here?” Fair enough! And that is the biggest challenge that New Canadians face. If you think about it, it is not only in Canada; it happens all around the world. When it comes to hiring, networking is the norm. What can you do about this? Challenge yourself and go out there, approach community centres, attend a variety of events, look for professional associations you can join, invest quality time to enhance your Linkedin profile. Use Linkedin’s features to follow companies of your interest, and connect with people that potentially can agree to sit down with you for an informational interview over a cup of tea or coffee.

Consider volunteering as well as doing internships if you can compromise money for the sake of increasing the number of connections that can give you a hand to expedite the attainment of your career aspirations. If you decide that you need to go back to school to be more competitive and upgrade yourself in certain areas, make sure you use all the institution’s available resources and get involved. Connect with staff, faculty, program coordinators, and most importantly, make strong impressions with your classmates; you do not know if the person sitting next to you today, may become the next superstar in their professional field tomorrow.

Tolerance: Simple. Be tolerant and embrace diversity; be open to work with people who at first glance might be substantially different from you, because you will be surprised about how much you can learn from them. In the end, you will see that we are all more similar to each other than we think. Leave all prejudices behind and discard the stereotypes that you brought with you from your home country. Give yourself the chance to have valuable interactions with people from all cultures, beliefs, lifestyles, and walks of life.

Reflect: What is it that you bring to the table that nobody else does? What is your unique skill-set? How can your abilities and international experience make a difference and solve problems for the employers you want to work with? What are some other challenges you see that might prevent you from achieving your career goals? What strategies are you going to use to overcome such challenges? Ask yourself all these questions and come up with an action plan.

Get involved, ask questions and ask for feedback, stay positive, and be nice to everyone! To all employers out there: hire an immigrant and international student. Give them a vote of confidence as they can make tremendous contributions to your organization. Lastly, for all New Canadians, welcome to this beautiful land. Enjoy this country because it allows you to be your authentic self and live a free life, which is priceless.

Work hard, play harder, and know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter how many hurdles you may encounter along the way. Using our intellect and our personality to overcome those hurdles is what makes life fascinating!

Written by David Mendoza for Orbit 5


Job Interviews: To Wear a Mask, or Not To Wear a Mask – That is The Question

August 21, 2018

“Tell me about yourself”, the interviewer asks.

You have two options: talk about personal topics including your family, your hobbies, the things you enjoy doing on the weekend, and your pet. Or you can talk about relevant stuff; your career journey, your accomplishments, your motivation for applying for the position, and the skills you possess that directly relate to the job and make you a strong candidate to take on the role.

Which option would you choose? Probably the latter, right? It just makes more sense but in reality, many people still go with the first option.

We have to put ourselves in the employer’s shoes; they are running against time handling a large number of applications, they have several candidates to interview, they are pressured to find the best fit. Do they really want to hear about your weekend habits?

Imagine that tomorrow you are running your own business; a bakery, for example. The business is growing and you need someone to give you a hand, so you are interviewing a prospective intern to help you keep up with the production. What answer would you value more from them, the latest trick that Rocky, their dog, learned? Or the number of muffins they can bake to perfection in an hour?

Please note that there is nothing wrong about Rocky. As pet owners we know how proud we feel about the things they can do, but that is not what the employer wants/needs to hear. It is not the right context. However, if it was a different setting, say a social gathering with new friends, talking about Rocky could be a great way to engage in conversation with others.

When meeting an interviewer you wear a mask. You do not communicate with them the same way you communicate with your best friend or with your mom. The concept of the mask does not mean that you cannot be yourself. On the contrary, we encourage you to be authentic and genuine, but strategic at the same time. It all comes down to making a first strong, positive impression on the person you are discussing your qualifications with. That virtual mask you are wearing represents the attributes you want you convey in your message, and how you articulate your ideas in a way the employer clearly sees that what you bring to the table will benefit the organization. If you achieve that, that meeting could result in you actually getting that job you have been dreaming of.

Now, the employer asks you about things you do in your spare time to have a good work/life balance. Please go ahead and talk about Rocky. If the employer happens to be a pet owner too, the likelihood of you having won them over already is quite high!

Written by David Mendoza for Orbit 5