Immigrated to Canada from Argentina 13 years ago
Studied Advertising & Communications at University
Works in the digital advertising space
Household income in the range of 190-240 K
Personal income in the range of 100-130K
You would not guess it from talking to Ricardo but he is a planner at heart. Not a planner in the traditional sense – he has to spreadsheets, lists or timelines written down. But you can see his thinking; you can see that he plans in his head. He has an understanding of what he wants, what is important to him and engages others in his journey.
Ricardo was born into an upper middle class family in Argentina. Although he loved the country, the culture and was close with his family and friends, he had an understanding that his opportunities for long-term happiness were limited due the lack of economic security, scarcity of jobs, the violence (he had once been held up at gunpoint), and the high level of corruption.
Ricardo wanted more control over his future and decided he was going to emigrate. Speaking English he debated between the US where his brother was, Ireland (where he had additional family), Canada and Australia. He chose Canada because of the openness to cultural diversity, the more left leaning politics, the access to nature, the existence of health care, the economic opportunity and the vibrancy of Toronto.
And so at age 32, after spending 1.5 years on paperwork and saving $2,000, Ricardo left his job as an Account Director in marketing and boarded a plane to Canada. Taking advice from his brother, Ricardo knew he had to solve his problems one by one.
First he had to find a place to stay. He left his suitcase at Union station and went to a backpackers hostel. He got one bad tip and then jumped on one of the first opportunities he had for decently priced accommodations. He ended up renting a room in a Richmond Hill house (about an hour from the city centre) for $500.
His next task was to find a job. Someone told him to go to the library and there he started to access some of the services available for those looking for a job. He got help putting together his resume and through a job program, learned how to look for a job. He was very grateful for the help in understanding how things worked.
Ricardo’s goal was to get something inside a larger company. He felt that if he got his feet in, he could build Canadian experience and grow. He just needed to get in the door.
He thought of it as a numbers game. The more he applied, and the more interviews he got, the greater his chances for success. He applied for every posting he saw, reached out to companies he had worked for in Argentina and took every interview he could get. This let him practice his English and the wording he would use to describe his background and skills. Ricardo spent lots of time talking about how he would sell newspapers door to door…
After a month, he secured a position at a call centre in a research firm he had previously worked for in Argentina. He had come with a letter of recommendation from that firm. A few weeks in, the HR person he had previously connected with let him know that there was a co-ordinator position available. He applied and got the job securing a salary of $32,000 a year. This enabled him to move from the room he was renting in Richmond Hill to a bachelor in the city.
Ricardo was responsible for co-ordinating communications for people doing surveys. After 12 months, he was promoted to a project manager and received a $2,000 raise. During his time as a project manager, Ricardo became friends with other project managers and he learned his salary was $10,000 below theirs. He was making 33% less than those with the exact same job.
Knowing that he was underpaid, and that it is much easier to negotiate when entering a new job than when getting promoted, Ricardo spent time and energy looking for new opportunities. After, 9 months as a Project Manager, Ricardo moved companies and was able to increase his salary to $46,000.
At his new company, Ricardo once again worked hard and within 14 months, was promoted to Account Director. Again he was given a small raise. This time he received $4,000, increasing his salary to $50,000. He was told that once he proved himself, he would be given a raise. Ironically, they had just given him a promotion for proving himself. He knew people around him were making $70 - $90,000.
Within a year, he once again moved to a competitor in an Account Director role and then increased his salary to $94,000. With that jump, Ricardo was finally at the same salary level as his Canadian counterparts.
So in four years, Ricardo went form an annual salary of $32,000 to $94,000. It is important to note that Ricardo was in a growing industry and already had the skills (he had worked in this field in Argentina). What he was focused on doing was building Canadian experience so that he could effectively negotiate when entering new positions.
What were the key factors that enabled Ricardo’s success?
1. Ricardo works to understand the context around him – He reads and connects with colleagues and friends openly with the goal of everyone succeeding. He shares his information and in exchange others share with him. This is how he built a good understanding of the earning potential for his skills. This is how he learned that in most cases, companies do not properly reward you when they promote you internally.
2. Ricardo develops strategies that take his context into consideration. Knowing that he wanted more stability, safety and economic opportunity, Ricardo’s strategy was to emigrate from Argentina. Knowing that he wanted to increase his salary in his industry, Ricardo’s strategy was to work hard, get promoted at a company and then to move companies and get a salary bump.
3. Ricardo is genuinely interested in people, in doing and in being active. These interests have really helped him be successful. He does not network in the American sense of the word. Instead, he is interested in meeting and getting to know different people. He makes time for lunch, connecting either with colleagues or re-generating on his own. He plays on a field hockey team, regularly goes to see live music and walks his dog daily. Through these activities, he has gotten to know a variety of people and built up his knowledge of opportunities and salary levels. He shares information and others share with him.
He has been in Canada 13 years and has worked at 7 different companies within that time period. He found 2 of those jobs himself through the standard job application process. The other 5 were all through acquaintances. His acquaintances did not get him any of the jobs, but they let him know the opportunities existed, sometimes making introductions. This often opened the door to an interview.
Ricardo says “You have to move and do things, if you sit around, nothing will happen. People help each other when they know and like each other. It’s human nature.”
Ricardo is now happy with where he is. When he looks back, he says he would not do anything drastically different. It would have been good to have more than $2,000 to emigrate but then again he knows that if too much time had passed, he may have gotten stuck – you have to jump at some point. He is happy that he kept his focus on moving and advancing and that he always makes time for people he likes. He has not only built his career, but also built a community of Canadian friends that are like family.
From a systems perspective, how do we enable all immigrants to leverage their skills, while being fairly paid and successful? How can we meaningfully take advantage of their knowledge and expertise? And how might we prevent companies from using their market hold on employment take advantage of those populations that are most vulnerable and most need employment?
Might we just do that by coming together, sharing our knowledge and working to help each other advance?