The Career

In Conversation With…A ‘Settlement Worker’

This week’s featured graduate majored in Economics at one of the top universities in Canada, but instead of working an unfulfilling job, she instead used her multilingual talents and big heart to do good for her community; she pursued a role as a settlement worker for new immigrants settling into Canada.

Are you as intrigued as we were? Read more below!

The Struggling Graduate: Describe yourself in 3 words.

Z: Ambitious, enthusiastic and compassionate.

The Struggling Graduate: What is your role and what is a typical day like?

Z: I work as a settlement worker at the YMCA Immigrant and Employment Services; I assist refugees and immigrants in their settlement process in Canada. I provide information regarding all local resources for education, language, community involvement, employment services and so forth. I also help clients in filling forms and applications for permanent residence, citizenship, housing, employment insurance and other legal documents. It’s done on a case by case basis, since every client has different needs. My job is to assess those needs, write a settlement plan for them, and follow through on helping them settle into Canada. 

The Struggling Graduate: How did you get your job?

Z: I was previously working in the finance for 2 years after graduating with a major in Economics. I had a lot of benefits and vacation time but I was getting depressed after a while because I was not being challenged, and wasn’t maximizing the use of my skills and energy.

As someone who is very extroverted, I felt I needed more human face to face interaction. I am very driven and ambitious, and I knew that I needed to find a job that required my skills, would challenge me and bring out the best out of me to be successful. I can work tirelessly, learn any language or skill if my heart is passionate. I knew I had potential to find something amazing. But it is so hard to change careers. 

I did so much research and realized that I would be a perfect fit for immigration work. I began an Immigration Consulting certificate online in January, and searched online for jobs requiring specific skills such as Spanish, French or Arabic. I found a job as a settlement worker. It required that the applicant speak fluent Mandarin. I was so excited! I studied Mandarin in University, participated in a Canada-wide Chinese Bridge Contest, won an excellence award and was invited on 2 occasions to the consulate of China in Toronto. I also loved that the job was in settlement and community work. I applied and got an interview. 

I took the bus for 2.5 hours from the city I lived in at the time on the day of the interview. I felt it went well and the people interviewing me (including my current supervisor) were extremely educated and friendly. I got a second interview where I did a presentation regarding a case study. Everything went well but unfortunately I wasn’t taken for the position as I wasn’t too fluent in Mandarin. 

I felt extremely low. Getting your foot in the door of a different industry is difficult. However, at the same time, I felt excited because it reminded me about the importance of doing work you love. I resigned from my previous job in finance that same month, relocated to Waterloo, and spent 2 months searching for a job while doing freelance translation on the side for immigration firms. I would also teach French at a local community center for free. I got some job opportunities but I wouldn’t accept a job unless it was something in Immigration and Refugee work. After some time, I got another call from my current employer telling me there is an opening. I provided my 3 references who attested that I had a great work ethic and great energy and the rest was history.

The Struggling Graduate: It’s amazing how some things turn out, and that really highlights the importance of keeping good relations with hiring managers, even if you don’t get the job. What skills do you need to be good at your role? Describe the kind of person who would excel in your role. 

Z: In order to do this role you need to be extremely organized, detail oriented and compassionate. The service you provide should be gold. What’s amazing about this job is there is no micromanaging. You just do your work, do it well, keep track of all your appointments, the needs of every client and report your work very well. 

You also need to have an appreciation for community and immigration/refugee work. The job we do requires us to be exposed to all kinds of traumas, histories and psychologies. It’s important to love it otherwise it may be emotionally draining. For me, it’s my passion. I believe so much in the ‘Canadian Dream’ and I want to help others reach it. 

The Struggling Graduate: That’s truly inspiring. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Originally, this work has inspired me to want to work for the UNHCR. But as I am working here, I am realizing how much I love the YMCA. I love helping people and seeing them walk away with hope and excitement for the future.  The culture is also amazing, we work extremely hard but also recognize each other’s successes and achievements. One day, I was so sick and had to go to the hospital, and everyone, including my supervisor who is extremely busy, texted me to ask how I was doing and if I needed company at the hospital. We do community work but we are also a community for each other. A lot of people who work with me are educated, international, and knowledgeable and have a lot of enthusiasm to help others succeed. I want to work for the YMCA as long as I can, even after I finish my Immigration Consulting Certificate and continue helping others succeed. 

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