Of culture clashes and career carving

Holding the letter in my hand, I suddenly realized I knew what my career goal was.

I had just snagged my first job after moving from Pakistan to Canada at the age of 21. It was as an outbound call center agent for a BPO working with Canada Post and an office equipment client. Upon getting the job I had received a letter from the Recruitment team; a charming welcoming note full of warmth and kindness.

I hadn’t yet met the Manager whose signature was on the document. But when I read the beautiful welcome note and I saw the signature on there…that’s when I knew. Someday I wanted my signature to go on documents like this.

Fast forward, and I’m sitting in my seat signing a similar letter. I wonder how the person receiving it – the latest employee – would feel. I smile as I think I might have some idea.

Today I’m not just the only South Asian member of my Management team – I’m Manager of Recruitment at a successful retail organization.

Recruitment! I live, breath, eat recruitment. It’s what I’m passionate about.

I didn’t just get here because I was lucky, or because I had studied something great or had topped my class. Yes, contrary to popular belief, I found most organizations don’t look at your degree or transcripts when they interview you.

It also wasn’t because I knew someone in the company – another very popular belief among us South Asians.

It was definitely sheer hard work and determination and, of course, the prayers of my parents’ and loved ones.

There were MANY struggles along the way and each contained a valuable lesson as I carved out my career in a culture different from my original one. Here’s what I learned.

Give yourself enough time with appointments.

When I was called for my job interview I rode a bicycle with a paper map in my hand, and got lost for good twenty-five minutes in China Town. When I reached, I was exhausted and sweating like crazy! Lucky for me, I was taught to always give yourself enough time in case you get stuck on the way – that was lesson number one for me.

Work on your skills – but don’t stress it.

I made the choice to work on my speaking skills. I wanted to speak English perfectly. My dream job function required me to communicate with people all the time. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean that people who don’t have an American accent are not successful. Now that I’m in a position where I can advise people, and have in fact been able to convince most, I always say that it doesn’t matter how you’re saying something. What matters is the content of what is being said.

Be sensitive about cultural differences.

I couldn’t take curry to work for lunch. Believe me, I love our food. I am the girl who now brings Biryani to work pot lucks, because that’s how I introduce my culture to my colleagues. I’m just mindful of the fact that too much cumin or onion in my Qorma can make my co-workers nauseated.

Beware of blind spots in your personal hygiene.

When I was in Pakistan last year, my cousins always made fun of how I have a spray for everything (foot, mouth, body, face) – but that’s just what I learned over time. It’s not okay to go into a meeting with coffee breath.

Without going into great details, I learned a lot about personal hygiene. Nothing to be shy about; the kind of food we eat, does give a distinctive body odor and that’s okay. We just have to know what to do about it. And no, perfume is not the answer. Nor is bathing every day enough. It’s called deodorant (the one with no scent of its own) – a really strong one would be the clinical strength sticks or the dove 48 hour spray.

Be patient.

We are so used to “instant.” Instant download, instant coffee, instant everything. I deal everyday with individuals who think their current ‘role’ is not enough and they haven’t been at it for even a year. Good things will come. You will get that ‘senior’ in your title you have wanted, and you will get more responsibility. The 6 figure pay cheque will happen. Just do what you’re doing, and do it right.

Mistakes get made.

You will not always do it right – you will make mistakes and that’s okay. As long as you own your mistake and then fix it. “Sorry” alone doesn’t cut it. “Sorry” immediately followed by a promise to resolve is a must. And say sorry like you mean it.

Do what no one does.

We have always heard take the initiative – and we immediately start thinking about the big things. My initiatives were always doing the things no one else wanted to do.

Example: paper got stuck in the printer and everyone would sit and lodge an IT ticket and wait – well, I studied IT and worked as a help desk assistant part time. “Let’s give it a try,” I thought…and voila! Suddenly I am their very own IT guy! See the opportunity and grab it.

Don’t complain to your colleagues.

I have never been a fan of office politics and drama. If you disagree with something, communicate instead of gossiping and you will be surprised at how effective that is. If you see a grammatical error in a published document (grammar Nazis in the house say ‘Aye’), FIX it instead of laughing at it. Own your job, your organization – it’s what helps you put food on the table.

Make friends at work.

You get to learn so much about different cultures. It helps when people like you at your work place. It doesn’t hurt to have that one person who always has your back at work.

Learn – every moment of every day.

There is ALWAYS something or someone you can learn from. In my job, luckily I interact with several people every day and every new person teaches me something new every day. You will often see me reading new articles, new posts, registering for conferences related to my job function. It’s because I still have a long way to go.

Ask for a seat at the table.

Present an idea and then propose that you would like to run with it. Don’t be meek or mild here. I have presented to executives and board even while being a support staff. You just have to know ‘how’ to ask for it. Be polite but firm.

Lastly, when you achieve it all – Take your job very seriously but never take yourself too seriously. A mentor once said this to me when congratulating me for my promotion. And I think it’s the best advice ever – take your job seriously but never take yourself too seriously. In other words, don’t let it get to your head! This is a principle I now live by. I now have my own mentees and some would argue that I do have my dream job today. Now I patiently want to develop myself. Until I am ready for that next step in a few years.

I was always taught to work hard and passionately for anything I want in life – and to be patient, grateful and humble. I think it all paid off. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

This article is submitted by Omaira Liaquat

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