In 2013, I took the best gamble of my life that I’ve had so far: I decided to move and stay in Canada. In the 3 years I’d been living and working here, I’ve grown so much as a person and as a professional, and I learnt and expanded my worldview in that amount of time. Being a young professional in Digital Marketing in Toronto has given me boundless opportunities.
My name is Gabrielle (Gabby) Garcia, and I graduated from De La Salle University in 2013 with a bachelor in Political Science and every intention of going to law school in Manila, as this is what people expected of me. Today, I’m a business developer for a top digital marketing agency in Toronto with every intention of starting my own company someday, and this is what I expect of myself.
Before I begin my story, I have to say something. I am a firm believer of owning up to your privilege(s) and being as transparent as possible about them, because not all struggles are made equally. I had three things going for me: a.) I am Canadian-born (meaning I never had to deal with Citizenship and Immigration Canada), b.) I had parents who were willing to invest in my marketability by paying for more education in Canada, and c.) as two amazing entrepreneurs, my parents also exposed me to business norms at an early age.
In the time I’ve been a professional in Canada, I’ve seen Filipinos who emigrated here struggle professionally. They tell me about how they have difficulties finding work in the industries they had trained for and worked in back in the Philippines. From my perspective, I feel like a large component of their inability to penetrate their chosen field is because of their approach to job seeking and work.
Pinoys tend to talk about how being “hard working,” and how “family oriented” and “agreeable” they are, and this should be their ticket into the professional world overseas. But this kind of thinking is flawed for two reasons; it’s both from the perspective of the person claiming that about themself and essentially, does not add any real value to your prospective employer in terms of a skills-role fit.
During my time in Corporate Canada, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on what it takes to succeed as a professional abroad:
1. Know your value, and what value you bring to the table
As I mentioned before, vague adjectives and good intentions do not give hiring managers much to work with. Know what particular skill set you possesses and how it fits into the role you want, and what value you can add to the team, role and company you’re joining. At the end of the day, companies want somebody who can produce and that contributes to the organization’s bottom line (whatever that may be).
2. Be discerning about where you apply to and why you want to work there
This one is a bit tricky, as I understand a challenge many immigrants face is finite savings. The pressure to find a paying job also cannot be ignored, especially those who come as families to Canada. Although I consider myself lucky in that I was able to pursue the job I wanted in the field that I wanted; much Halima and Christine, a lot of Filipinos who come to Canada have to take on survival jobs like working in fast food or in retail.
While there is always nobility in all work, this can be demoralizing and could atrophy the particular professional skill set you hoped to be able to practice in Canadian job market in the first place. This is an option while you try to penetrate your field, but you still have to be discerning about what offers you take on. Know why you want to be in that industry, and that will determine what you say yes and no to.
3. Always increase your marketability by staying curious.
Never stop learning. Even as principle in life, always seek to increase your knowledge. Read news about your industry, take free courses online, seek people in your industry and ask questions, but also don’t be afraid to answer them.
4. Never justify why you’re at the table.
In my work, I have to prospect for new business for my agency; and this puts me at the table with CXOs and VPs of Marketing of North America’s top companies.
In my opinion, it’s a Filipino cultural trait to defer to authority or to give way to seniority. But in my line of work, I will never justify why I have a seat at the table because the person across me wants somebody who has moxie and confidence, and we’re equal partners trying to solve their marketing problem together.
Also, I feel like young professionals suffer from feeling the need to prove adequacy, regardless of where they are in the world, and what cultural background they emerge from. But we have to realize, as young people, there’s a difference between proving your worthiness by producing quality work, and being a yes person. Don’t fall into the trap of the latter.
Taking The Leap
Everybody’s experience is unique, but I find that following these four tips has led me to where I am today. I work for Powered by Search, a premier Canadian digital marketing agency based in Toronto, whose had clients from Fortune 500 companies like FedEx, to small but up-and-coming startups. We’re also a Google partner agency, so I get to go to amazingly fun Google-sponsored events.
Most importantly, I work a job that I love; where I’m learning skills and meeting diverse, interesting, and talented people. Day in and day out, I work with a team that I think is the best Digital Marketing has to offer.
Building a career abroad can be disruptive both personally and professionally, having to leave behind friends and family, and walking into a different professional and cultural environment that can seem pretty intimidating; but if done correctly and purposefully, it can open opportunities for you beyond any that you can imagine.