Our Spotlight on Success series focuses on immigrants who utilized their skills, experience, education, and personal attributes to succeed in Canada. This month, we are proud to feature one of our credential examiners at World Education Services (WES) Canada, Anna Mkhitaryan.
In 2009, the year that Anna Mkhitaryan landed in Canada, there were about 18,000 Armenian Canadians living in Toronto. Of those, Mkhitaryan knew one person closely: her husband.
“I didn’t know anyone here,” Anna says. She is sharing her story in one of our office meeting rooms. Outside, the sky is overcast and the day unseasonably warm; the pre-lunch traffic noise from the street below hums softly inside.
She had met her husband, an Armenian-Canadian business owner who’d been living in Canada for 17 years, over the internet. Two and a half years into their relationship, they got married and she moved to live with him in Canada.
Prior to her move, Anna had been working in an office administration role in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. She had also been in the process of completing her Ph.D. and was trained as a teacher and a language specialist in English and German. Her fluency in English helped her adjust to her new life in Canada. “I studied British English,” Anna says, “so it was a little bit easier for me compared to someone who didn’t speak English at all. But even then, it was difficult at first. Especially the way Canadians speak and communicate. It’s different from what you study in school.”
With her knowledge of English and her high educational background, Anna thought her job search in Toronto would be a smooth process. It turned out to be the opposite. “Every job I applied to, they would say that I was overqualified,” Anna says.
At one point, after being repeatedly rejected, she removed her graduate degree from her résumé to qualify for entry-level positions. It didn’t work, and she remained unemployed for a while.
As an independent professional who had been living on her own in Armenia, Anna was not used to her new situation. “It was very hard,” Anna says. “I was taking care of myself, I had my own apartment, and suddenly, I was a dependent of someone else.”
It was her son who would play a pivotal role in her career pathway. “I would say it was my son who helped me get a job and build my network,” says Anna. “Because he was born here, I took him to the early childhood center. I met people there and started communicating with different cultural groups. Then I participated in a few workshops at the Afghan Women’s Organization which were very helpful.”
In 2013, Anna’s husband had to close his business. At that time, their son was enrolled in a private Armenian school, and the expenses started to add up. Anna knew she had to find a job quickly if she wanted her son to remain a student there.
Eventually, she got a job in the office of an Armenian supermarket. It was not the kind of work Anna had hoped for, but it was better than nothing. While she was employed at the supermarket, Anna continued looking for opportunities that aligned more with her educational background and professional expertise. One day, a recruiter from a job agency contacted her and asked her if she wanted to interview for a company called World Education Services (WES).
“I said, ‘Of course!’” Anna recalls. It just so happened that Anna had had her Armenian educational credentials evaluated by WES a few months prior to that interview invitation (her Canadian equivalency was equal to a master’s degree in education). After she updated her résumé with the WES Canadian equivalency, Anna received more job interviews. This opportunity with WES was special for her though, and she was determined to apply for it and succeed.
“I wanted very much to have this job, but at the same time, it was awkward because the work-time specified in the job description conflicted with my son’s school pickup time,” Anna explains. “But I knew that if I didn’t go for this interview, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
“Hitting the wall for four years made me strong and stubborn.”
Interview day came, and of course, it was a successful one. After six years of looking for the right opportunity, Anna finally landed in a place where her knowledge and expertise could be applied. Despite the challenges, and moments of frustration, anxiety, and doubt she faced during those years, she never stopped believing that there was something better for her.
“I learned to be flexible when it comes to jobs or job searches,” Anna says. “You have to be confident because only you know best what you are capable of. Even if you’re not experienced in some kind of job, you should never lose your sense of confidence.”
“Don’t say you don’t have enough experience. Say, ‘I can do that!’” she says.
After starting at WES Canada, her position evolved from a document scanner to a credential examiner. At the time of this interview, Anna is a year and two months into her employment.
She says, “Whenever people ask me where I work, I proudly say, ‘WES’.”
What were some other lessons she learned along the way?
“Always trust that people will help you in your time of need. The friends that I made at my son’s school helped me by picking him up and looking after him while I was at work; the lady at the Employment Ontario location who updated my résumé; the workshops I attended at the Afghan Women’s Centre, they were all very important to me getting a job here at WES.”
The next big goal for Anna now is to complete her Ph.D. She wants to start from scratch and focus on education.
“My professor back then would always tell me that I liked to swim against the flow,” she says. “I think it’s just a part of who I am. I always want to put myself out of my comfort zone. Even while I was unemployed in Canada, I would take my son in the stroller and go to the park and talk to strangers.”
“You never know what will happen.”