Cindy Chan attended Columbia College as an international student in the early 90s. She returned to Vancouver in 2021 as a skilled immigrant. She was eager to find work that allowed her to contribute her leadership experience in higher education student services. For over 20 years, she had led innovative programs and projects at prominent universities in Hong Kong.
After settling down in Vancouver, Cindy started looking for work. “I was discouraged,” Cindy says. “As I started researching my options for finding my first Canadian job, the advice I found indicated that I needed to apply for entry-level jobs. It seemed that I would not be considered for any professional positions that were close to what I had before unless I first got Canadian work experience.”
Cindy was determined to make the best of her situation. She started connecting with people in the student services field which helped her better understand how Canadian post-secondary institutions ran. “Through my networking, I learned so much, but it was also rewarding to exchange ideas and share the rich experiences I have,” Cindy explains. One of the best experiences is serving on the Community Impact Advisory Council of Columbia College. She is proud of this bold initiative, where she is able to share her experience in running social innovation programs and learns from other dedicated community leaders about local issues.
She then began applying for work. “Based on the advice I got and the discouraging stories I heard from other women immigrants, I wasn’t sure where I fit in the job market. I got the impression that it was hard for newcomers to get into a professional role and even harder for women immigrants. So I applied to everything from junior to senior roles,” Cindy shares. After several months of applying for work, Cindy was asked to interview for a program coordinator role at Vancouver Community College (VCC).
In the interview, Cindy met Michael Yue, the interim director of the Partnership Development Office at VCC. Michael was impressed by Cindy’s performance at the interview, including her experience running a university service-learning centre as well as the effort she had put into understanding challenges and trends within Canadian post-secondaries.
When asked why Cindy was selected for the role, Michael explains, “Though we had 60+ applicants, Cindy had the skills, experience, and expertise that best aligned with what we were looking for. I see her global experience as an asset. She brings new perspectives and ideas that help to strengthen and improve the work we do.”
In her new program coordinator role, Cindy oversees the delivery of several skills training programs that support newcomers and visible minorities to transition into the Canadian labour market. “I get a lot of joy from supporting people to find work. It is also rewarding to learn from their resilience,” she says.
Cindy’s contributions are recognized by Michael. “When hiring a new immigrant, there can be a concern about that person’s ability to integrate into the Canadian workforce. This has not been an issue with Cindy. She is capable, open to learning, and consistently takes the initiative to figure things out.”
Looking back on her experience in finding work in Canada, Cindy has some advice for new immigrants: “First, take care of your mental well-being. It can be overwhelming, coming to a new country as there is so much to do when you first arrive.” She continues, “Secondly, networking is critical. Talk to people in the field that you want to get into. I have found people are nice and willing to help.” She concludes by saying, “Try not to compare and look back at what you had. Instead, focus on what you can learn in this new situation.”
Michael adds his advice for new immigrants, “As an immigrant myself, I think it’s important to have a flexible mindset and to trust your abilities. Make an intentional effort to learn about Canadian culture and get connected in your new community through meeting people or participating in programs, recreation, or volunteer work. This will show a potential employer that you are committed to living and working here in Canada.”
New immigrants can be encouraged by Cindy’s story as it illustrates that with determination and preparation, there are options other than taking an entry-level job to gain Canadian experience. “Canada is looking to welcome many skilled immigrants in the future so I hope that more organizations will see the value of bringing skilled immigrants, like Cindy, onboard into professional-level positions,” Michael concludes.
The story is a project of the Immigrant Women’s Advisory Committee (IWAC) supported by PIRS (Pacific Immigrant Resources Society) and funded by the Fund for Gender Equality which is supported by a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and the Equality Fund, with support from the Government of Canada.