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​​​​​​​​​​​​​AMA Toronto’s mentorship programming is helping many newcomers launch their marketing careers. We’re sharing a conversation with Balaji Raghavan, a well-educated, experienced marketer from India who completed the Mentor Exchange program in 2016. His mentor helped him establish an extensive professional network that led to a senior role at a blue-chip Canadian company.  

Tell us a bit about your immigration experience. When did you come to Canada and what difficulties did you experience at the time?

Balaji: “I came to Canada from India in 2015 and, as for many immigrants, it was extremely challenging to land the first job. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for marketers to adjust to a new country fast because you need to understand the local market, culture, content, and polish your spoken and written English. While doing my MBA here, I tried to invest some time in building a professional network through having regular coffee chats. That’s how I came across AMA Toronto, a great place to meet like-minded people who are always willing to allocate some time to you. Just by interacting and talking with them, I got a chance to learn a lot about the industry.”

Was it challenging to get your first job here? What steps did you take to succeed in this journey?

“Yes, it was definitely hard to land my first job here. I think that people with a technical, finance, accounting, or IT background have more transferable skills than marketing professionals. Employers might assume that newcomers don’t understand enough about the local culture and have no idea how to position products and services to Canadians.  To know how to respond to these types of questions during an interview, I decided to be genuine in my intention to learn about Canada, polish my communication skills, improve my understanding of local products, culture, and the marketing industry. So, I joined AMA Toronto as a volunteer and did a six-month project for a real company as part of my MBA program. These kinds of things helped me get some experience and adjust to the job market.”

Why did you decide to join the Mentor Exchange program? How did you find it? What was behind that decision?

“Though I had over 10 years of experience back home, I knew from other immigrants that it would be hard to find something quickly if you’re “overqualified.” To get over this challenge, I decided to start networking with people from the industry who also have done a lot and are quite experienced. After attending some AMA meetings, I made a decision to join the Mentor Exchange program and was curious how it could help me. My initial wish was to have a knowledgeable person who I can ask questions that bothers me a lot. But I got more than expected – a network of peers who participated in the program as well. This network helped me with some introductions and interviews. I enjoyed the supportive environment the Mentor Exchange program provided. With my mentor Sharifa Khan, we had a meeting every three months for around one hour to analyze my progress. If I had any questions, I could drop an email to get her opinion on my challenges. She even connected me with some people from the industry.”

In your opinion, what are the benefits of having a mentor – for newcomers?

“Let’s say you’d like to build a corporate career, and your mentor is from the same industry. In that case, it’s going to be a lot of learning. For instance, a mentor can help you with interview preparations, your resume, and small talk. I think that’s the key takeaway here. I could also relate the Mentor Exchange program to my MBA curriculum. Even if the classroom provides you with a lot of knowledge; in-depth, hands-on insights and connections come from peers with different backgrounds. The same thing applies to the Mentor Exchange program, I learned a lot from my experienced peers and expanded my professional network significantly thanks to them. It’s something extremely valuable to those who are new to the country.” Presently, Balaji is a Senior Market Manager at TELUS, a dynamic, world-leading communications and information technology company. A graduate of the AMA Toronto Mentor Exchange, Balaji served the chapter in 2017 as a partnership manager, advancing to become VP, Partnerships & Sponsorships and member of the Board of Directors in 2020.   Elvina Bulatova is an internationally-trained marketing and communications professional who often writes about the challenges new Canadians encounter. As AMA Toronto’s PR Manager, she helps newcomers learn more about the association’s mentorship opportunities by managing media relations and creating on-topic content. Elvina has over nine years of experience, including managing global campaigns in the sustainability industry.

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