Thinking of changing a job or even a career? Our Co-Director of Events, Folake Owodunni, a former lab technician and new immigrant to Canada, shares how she broke into the world of communications in a new country with Lisa Gu, Director of Membership.
LG: How did a biology student become a savvy communicator?
FO: I loved biology in high school and majoring in it was a no brainer for me. Early into my university life, I was shocked to find out my courses were very different from what I expected. I did not enjoy my program, but decided to stick with it.
Meanwhile, I took every opportunity to take literature and other English courses because I loved reading and writing. Running from a genetics class to Shakespeare was my daily routine and those arts classes were the highlight of my time in university. If that was not enough of a clue that I was in the wrong program, I entered an essay contest in my first year and won. Unfortunately, I still didn’t get the message. After graduating, I got a job as a laboratory technician at a fantastic company — The Bridge Healthcare — in Lagos, Nigeria, but after three months on the job, I was miserable and ready to quit.
One day, I learned from one of my colleagues that the Managing Director of one of the subsidiaries, PathCare, was looking for someone to write an article. I volunteered to take on the task. The article was well received and shortly after, the Managing Director asked me to help start up a small Corporate Affairs department.
I spent the next year and half learning everything from public relations and working with the media, to website management and events planning. It was fantastic and I’m forever grateful for this amazing opportunity!
LG: In addition to the core communication skills you mentioned, you also bring diverse expertise in project management and market research. Are these skills must-haves for today’s communicator?
FO: I would say yes. You don’t have to be an expert with a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation (I don’t!), but you should understand the basics of planning and executing any kind of project, and most importantly, understand your audience. My two years as a consultant with PwC helped refine my research and project management skills.
Being able to understand the needs of your audience through research, create projects that achieve clear objectives, and deliver those projects on time and within budget are considered minimum expectation for any communicator — not just management or executive level communicators.
LG: You’ve lived in several countries: Nigeria, U.S., U.K., and Canada. What’s one thing you learned from your global experience?
FO: It sounds very cheesy, but no matter where I’ve lived and who I’ve interacted with, everyone seems to want to belong and feel valued. Sometimes when I try to market a product or encourage adoption of a change, I get so caught up in the tactics that I forget about the basics — the most impactful communications connect with people and make us feel we belong.
LG: Speaking of impact, you’ve interviewed many inspirational women leaders. Is there someone who inspires you?
FO: I had the privilege to meet many inspirational women when I worked as a freelance writer and participated in Women in Successful Careers, a professional mentoring program in Nigeria. Two names jump to my head right now and they are connected to business and politics. First is Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, Minister of Solid Minerals, and social activist in Nigeria. She is one of the major drivers behind the #bringbackourgirls movement — a campaign aiming to end terrorist kidnappings of girls and women in northern Nigeria, and return those that are still missing. Her passion for excellence and ability to see an issue to its resolution humbles and inspires me.
Another woman leader I look up to is Tara Fela-Durotoye, the founder and CEO of House of Tara International — a top makeup brand, studios and beauty school in Nigeria. The recent entry of her husband into the 2019 race for Nigeria’s presidency adds a new dimension to her already incredible career. I’m excited to see the outcome of that!
Why do I admire women in business and politics? Because that is where influence lies, and the way I see it, women at the intersection of both are unstoppable.
LG: You moved to Canada in 2015 and jumped through hoops in your job search. What are your top three tips you’d like to share with new immigrants who are starting their career in Canada?
FO: I could talk about this for days. But here are my top picks:
Network. I know — you’ve heard it before. But it remains a valuable way to enter the workforce. Don’t network randomly — target the people that can get you face time with hiring managers. For me, that meant sitting down with a fairly new recruiter who saw the value of international experience and was as hungry to place candidates with his clients as I was to find a job. A contract role was a great way to enter the market for me.
Keep applying. This may seem to be contradicting the first point, but many jobs are still found by submitting resumes and going through interviews. While I landed my first contract position through networking, my current, full-time role came through a very traditional application process. Cover all your bases.
Become an expert communicator. Not every job requires eloquence, but it will never harm your chances to have great communication skills. And even if you are looking for a job that involves zero human interaction, you need to be able to communicate effectively to get into that job. Whether your barrier is language, articulating your thoughts, or confidence, go out of your way to develop your communication skills. Take advantage of community support such as public speaking clubs, mentorship programs, or language courses to prepare yourself for that conversation that could lead to your next job.
One final point: in the course of your search you may meet people that unwittingly undermine your experience or value. It’s difficult when this happens, but be polite in your response, seek encouragement from people who are rooting for you, and keep going. You will find an employer that truly values who you are.
LG: Thanks for the candid and thoughtful advice. Any closing thoughts?
FO: Thank you for this opportunity to share, IABC! I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the IABC Waterloo community. To see people who love their profession and are always looking for ways to elevate it is inspiring. I’ve loved volunteering on the IABC Waterloo board as Co-Director of Events. It’s been fun bringing communicators together and expanding my network in the KW area. And here’s my shameless plug: come to the 2018 Break Through Conference on March 21st and join our mailing list to find out about upcoming events.