Finding Your Path in Canada

In the past five or six years that I’ve been helping newcomers to Canada, I’ve often come across people who seem hesitant to make career decisions. In most cases, they have too many options on the table and are unable to move forward.

I totally understand that it’s critical to be well informed, and in fact, I encourage newcomers to meet and discuss with as many people as possible. At some point though, you need to make a decision and stop asking “what should I do?”

If you feel stuck and unable to move forward, I’d like to give you some suggestions.

1. YOU are in charge of your own career.

We tend to expect that someone will tell us a magic formula or a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to all our problems. Perhaps in your home country you were in a large organization that gave you a career path, or your manager was supportive enough to guide you on what to do in each phase. But in Canada, you have to manage your own career.

Some immigrants even mention in their testimonials, “my mentor showed me the path I should follow.” Well… I would disagree with that. From my perspective, the mentor presented their own story and actions they took, and maybe gave some ideas, but the ultimate decision to follow that exact path was taken by the newcomer. While you should absolutely seek support and get mentored, your career is your journey, and you are the only driver.

2. Take enough time for introspection.

After talking to a mentor or other professionals in your informational interviews, take your time to reflect and understand how the information is applicable to your needs.

First and foremost, take good notes during your meetings. Then, make time to think about these points:

  • Did the person share a challenging aspect of their career, profession, or job? If you had to deal with the same challenges, how would they affect your performance or motivation?
  • If you discussed certifications or designations: do they make sense when you think about your long-term career?
  • What are your personal values? How does the role or path you have discussed fit with those values?

Settling in a new country is a journey of self-awareness, so strive to grow your career based on an internal focus rather than external advice only. Whether your career decision is about acquiring new credentials, or choosing a specialization, the answer is within yourself.

3. Look for ways to use your skills regardless of the job you get

If you enjoy doing something or have a lot of knowledge about a topic but are not currently applying those skills and knowledge, try to find a creative way to utilize them.

My first job in Canada was a junior-level position that did not allow for practicing my facilitation and learning design skills, so I started volunteering at various nonprofit organizations in Toronto that needed those skills. My volunteer work was not only appreciated, but also opened doors to more opportunities and helped me expand my network. I ended up learning new skills too, such as software for e-learning courses, experiential learning techniques, and agile project management, just to name a few.

I share the examples of two other immigrants:

  • An engineer with great experience in various countries was finding it difficult to continue his path towards his P.Eng. License. He decided to take some time off and teach Project Management at a nonprofit. This experience and connections helped him become a part-time instructor at a college. Discussing with other instructors and people he met through the college gave him confidence and direction, so after a while, he went back to his Engineering licensing exams and today he’s working as an Engineer in Edmonton, AB.
  • A middle-aged woman had been successful as a lawyer in her country but was not sure about pursuing a law degree in Canada. She networked and found a job as an assistant at a law firm. Although it was an admin role, her idea was to first understand the profession instead of spending a lot of money on a degree. Upon talking to the lawyers at the firm, she decided to become a Paralegal. She took about four years total to find what she really wanted to do, but currently, she feels satisfaction as a practicing Paralegal.

These two immigrants (and myself) decided to think expansively and try something new while still being associated to our professions, and eventually that initiative paid off.

Final thoughts

In Canada, it’s not easy to get a job exactly the way you want or have imagined it. Sometimes, the process will feel stagnant. At other times, you may feel that things take much longer than expected. Please keep in mind that those times are necessary in your journey.

Seek support from others, talk things through, and more importantly, be careful of your fears which often only keep you safe. Make sure to take action and keep moving forward! Remember that finding a career aligned with your passion and values will bring you long-term fulfillment.

Everything will make sense one day and you’ll be able to tell your successful story.


Liliana Nakamura is an HR Project Manager and Talent Management Consultant with experience living and working in Argentina, Japan and Canada. She holds an MBA from McGill University, a Certificate in Human Resources Management from Seneca College, and professional designations in HR, Project Management, and Change Management. In her nine years in Toronto, she has built a large network through volunteering in leadership roles and a mindset of giving value first.


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