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Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

Finding success after 186 job applications

by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

    Receiving his Professional Engineer P.Eng. Certificate with wife Rowena Receiving his PB Diploma in Engineering University of Manitoba
Ray receives his Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) Certificate with wife, Rowena.
Ray receives his PB Diploma in Engineering (University of Manitoba)
  Iron Ring ceremony with IEEQ batchmates
Iron Ring ceremony with IEEQ batchmates
  IEEQ 9th Cohort
IEEQ 9th Cohort

No, it’s not a typo. You read that right – 186 job applications – that’s the number it took for Ray Sator, Senior Traffic Engineering Specialist with MTS and former Filipino Members Chapter-Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba (FMC) chair, to finally land an engineering job.

If you are at the lowest point in your job search, discouraged, disappointed, and just about to give up – think again. Things with Ray may have been a lot worse. I hope that by reading his story, it may bring inspiration and motivation for your future career plans.

Ray was born and raised in Tagum, a small northern coastal town of Davao Del Norte, along with four other siblings. He went to a public elementary school in Tagum but moved to Manila when his father had to work there. That move led him to Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong, where he graduated high school and completed his bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

Before immigrating to Canada, Ray had a thriving career where he was employed at one of the largest telecommunications companies as a project manager handling wireless in-building solutions and outdoor special projects.

He moved to Canada in 2010 to be with his girlfriend at the time (now his wife), who immigrated the year before. His first couple of months were full of challenges.

“I did not have any relatives here to support and guide me. It took me four months to find a survival job,” he recalled. “I didn’t have any plans to practice engineering in Canada. My expectations were very low. I was already content even if I would just be flipping burgers.” That mindset changed very quickly when he realized there were opportunities to get back to engineering. “With a stroke of luck, I crossed paths with the late Mar Mance. He was the one who encouraged me to go back to the engineering profession. He introduced me to more people where I could get firsthand information on how to get my engineering credentials recognized. I also went to the Entry Program and Success Skills to get more information and expand my network.”

Ray was in the same cohort as me in the Internationally Educated Engineers Qualification (IEEQ) program at the University of Manitoba. The program, upon completion, was one of the many pathways to be eligible for registration with Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba as an engineer-in-training (EIT).

When asked to describe his journey and experiences leading up to his successful job offer after a hundred job applications, he says, “One of the advantages in the IEEQ program is the support in job applications, such a resume and interview preparations. However, my journey to landing a co-op placement was very challenging and became depressing. My co-op job application was very methodical and focused. I followed the recommendations of my counsellors in the IEEQ program and the University of Manitoba. I had a spreadsheet tracker of the jobs I applied for complete with contact details, name of the hiring manager and HR managers, date of application, date of follow up. My search for co-op became my first job while completing my IEEQ courses. When I hit 132 applications, with no positive result, I became depressed and began to question my abilities. I went and sought advice from our IEEQ director, counsellors, professors, former IEEQ students, a Success Skills counsellor, a Service Canada counsellor and literally spoke to whomever I knew at that time who had experience and background in getting an engineering job.”

Ray was beginning to lose self-confidence but the one thing that kept him going was a promise made to his wife – to complete the IEEQ program. But without a co-op placement, he would not graduate from the program and would not receive a post-baccalaureate diploma in engineering.

“I was becoming desperate. I planned to move to Calgary where there would be more jobs available. A former colleague in the Philippines, now based in Calgary was willing to adopt me while I looked for work. She told me to relax and take it easy, she sensed that I had become very stiff and a “work focus person” during our practice interviews. She advised that I should include the more human side of me like how she used to see me build work relationships in the Philippines.”

Ray was two days shy of departing for Calgary, when he finally landed a co-op job in a leading telecommunication company in Winnipeg.

“Out of 186 applications, I only got six interviews – three in Winnipeg and three out of province. I had more mock interviews than actual interviews,” he recalled.

Ethel: Can you share a specific instance where you learned a valuable lesson from an unsuccessful interview?

Ray: I learned from one of my interviewers that I was overqualified and that was the reason why I was not fit for the job that I applied for. I didn’t know that being overqualified is a thing in a Canada, especially when the country is built with immigrants. The next interview, when the job I was applying for was entry level, I had to downplay my experience and skills to match and not exceed their requirements.

Ethel: What strategies or techniques did you find most effective for standing out to employers during the interview process?

Ray: The technique that worked for me was to not show I was nervous because when you are, the interviewer becomes uneasy as well. The interviewer will focus more on your physical reactions and not on your answers. I learned that I must make the interviewers comfortable and that my interview is not a task for them to complete, but rather a place to get to know each other. I came prepared with lots of questions about the job, about the company culture, how they see me fitting in the company, long term plans and, in some degree, how they plan for retirement etc. I don’t ask about compensation, until I get an offer. In one of my successful interviews, the hiring manager said, “Ray, you’re a good man and I believe you will fit right in. We will contact you after we’re done with our interviews.” Right there and then, I knew that we had already built a relationship regardless of whether I got the job or not. The HR manager called and offered me the job 30 minutes after the interview.

Ethel: How did you manage the emotional and psychological challenges of facing rejection repeatedly?

Ray: My job hunting was becoming depressing, seeing all my classmates getting jobs and I was the only one in my cohort who couldn’t get one. I focused on the other aspect of my life that give me happiness, such as getting fit and knowing more about my environment. I took transit buses and got myself familiarized with what the city can offer. I did not stop learning, I enrolled on AutoCAD drawing, technical writing, an English program, financial literacy, and volunteered to help other immigrants.

Ethel: Were there any key networking or professional connections that played a significant role in your job search?

Ray: I did find help and support from the Internationally Educated Engineers Qualification (IEEQ) Program and Success Skills Centre in tweaking my resume, mock interviews, and exposure to additional training to improve technical skills. The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba staff were very eager to provide me help in searching the web for available jobs in Manitoba. The Filipino Members Chapter-Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-EGM) greatly improved my network and connections to hidden job markets and provided me an opportunity to volunteer so I didn’t get idle. Most important, my classmates, professors, and counsellors in the IEEQ Program at the University of Manitoba provided great moral support and encouragement to keep going.

Ethel: What was the greatest challenge you faced with your job search?

Ray: That I could not even land an interview. Imagine when I followed up with a hiring manager or HR contact for my application and being told that I did not qualify for an interview. It was devastating but during those times I would compose myself, talk to mentors, classmates, and counsellors to review my strategy and plan for actionable tasks that would yield results. In my case, I began to accept that it is a numbers game; the more applications, the more chances for an interview. The more participation in professional and social events, the more I gain connections, even friends.

Ethel: Reflecting on your experience, what would you say were the most valuable skills or qualities that ultimately led to your successful job placement?

Ray: My flexibility and adaptability. I was willing to be a great team player and start on something that I can build a career on.

Ethel: What advice do you have for individuals who are currently facing difficulties in securing a job offer?

Ray: It is a numbers game. Your job preference may not be available for you, but your transferrable skills will match plenty of jobs you never imagined. Be open minded, flexible, and determined.

Ethel: Your message to FMC officers and members?

Ray: Remember that we are all sitting on giant’s shoulders. The members and officers before us opened and paved the way to make it easier for us Filipino engineers get recognized in Manitoba. Our challenges have been reduced to more a manageable and even exciting journey.

Ethel Clemente-Fernandez is a professional engineer registered in the province of Manitoba. She is an active member of the Filipino Members Chapter - Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-APEGM).