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Svitlana Kotseruba“Some people think accounting is boring, but to me it is my life,” says Svitlana Kotseruba, a bookkeeper from Ukraine. “I love numbers, I love working with documents – this is my cup of tea. And this is what I do well.”

With a Bachelor’s degree, Kotseruba had a successful career in her country. She was about to be promoted to a Controller position when in 2008 her husband found a job in a small town in Nova Scotia and the family moved to Canada. “Leaving a good job and stability wasn’t easy for me,” Kotseruba admits, “but I have heard that Canada gives great opportunities and I tend to idealize it before coming here.” Finding a professional job in Canada, however, turned out to be harder than she expected.

One of the first challenges she encountered was her foreign worker status. The family had applied for immigration, but the process was long and until the decision was made Kotseruba could not use the immigration settlement services, register at job agencies and attend free English classes. Even though she had passed the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), required for applying for permanent residence in Canada, she still felt she needed to improve her language skills in order to find good jobs. “I was trying to contact immigration agencies and to explain them that I was in process of immigration,” she recalls, “but I was turned down dozens of times – I was told these services were for permanent residents only, not for foreign workers.”

To help her family budget, Kotseruba had to do survival jobs – in retail, fast food chains and at a local school. “Until that moment, I didn’t even know that there was a term ‘survival job’,” she says, “and that it meant a temporary job that a person takes just to pay the bills that were coming – because life requires it. It was my hardest time in Canada when I decided to do that. I started thinking that there was no way to get back to my profession. In fact, at that time I didn’t understand that it was just a matter of time…”

Nevertheless, Kotseruba kept contacting different agencies until one day she found a program which accepted foreign workers. It was at Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services in Nova Scotia. The program was related to job search. Twice a week participants attended classes where they were taught how to search for vacant positions and how to write resumes and cover letters. There were also activities that aimed to provide newcomers with interview skills. Job seekers were encouraged through success stories told in the classes. “I was so grateful that I was allowed to join this program,” Kotseruba says.

Svitlana Kotseruba One day she learned there was an opportunity for a mock interview that would be recorded and participants would be given a CD with the recording. Kotseruba took this opportunity and found out that the interviewers were representative of real businesses. The questions were related to her profession and she answered correctly to all of them. Also, she was told her English was good enough for working in a Canadian environment. The job developer told her, “Let’s stay in touch. You just keep doing what you are doing and one day opportunity will come.” “I was skeptical about that,” Kotseruba says, “but believe or not, one day the same person called me to say that a government agency was looking for Marketing Coordinator on a temporary contract. I applied and I was called for an interview.

“The interviewers were very friendly, but they were smiling and for some reason I took it as judgment on my language skills,” she admits, “because I couldn’t stop thinking that my English was not good enough.” Kotseruba was asked all typical questions related to administrative positions. The interviewers were interested in her computer skills and her abilities to multitask and to handle stress. At the end, they gave her the opportunity to ask questions. “I had several questions about their expectations,” Kotseruba says, “and I was taught in the courses how to handle this part of the interview. But then all of a sudden I remembered that after the interview there was going to be a technical skill task. So – probably I sounded very cocky at that moment – I told them, ‘You know what: no matter what you think about my language skills, let’s move to the technical part of the interview. I am confident that I will be able to do this task, because I am in process of immigration and I am sure the Canadian Government chooses the best people to move to Canada’. The interviewers were laughing but they let me in a room with a laptop and I was given the technical task.”

Kotseruba handled it brilliantly and finished in less time than she was given. The next morning at 8 a.m. she received a call from the agency and was told she was hired.

“It was a very important experience that taught me to believe in myself,” Kotseruba says. “No matter what the circumstances are, you can still find the moment to stand for yourself and to show yourself. That technical part of the interview just made my day.”

When Kotseruba’s family moved to Toronto, she enrolled in a CGA (Certified General Accountants) professional program to further pursue her career in Canada. She also did courses in business law and written business communication. “It takes some money,” Kotseruba says, “but after all CGAs can apply their skills everywhere – every business, every organization, every government agency, every economic entity needs accountants.”

A good advice to newcomers, Kotseruba thinks, is “Don’t be hard on yourself and don’t expect immediate results. It takes time.”

By Lucy Slavianska