Isaac Mbaziira sent out his resumé like all students looking to land a job, but he followed it up, literally
Story and photos By Chris Muise
Isaac Mbaziira, a young public-relations associate, came to Halifax as a student in 2008.
“It was never actually my decision to move to Canada,” says Mbaziira, a 29-year-old from Uganda, whose parents personally scoped out Canadian cities and universities while he was away at boarding school.
“My dad said to me, ‘There’s a big document on the table. I’ve paid your tuition, I’ve signed you up for the newcomers program, and you’re flying out to Halifax tomorrow,’” Mbaziira says. “I looked at him and I thought it was, like, a joke. I started laughing.”
But it was no joke. Mbaziira was in Halifax the next day, enrolled in Saint Mary’s University and woefully unprepared.
“I got here January 4, 2008,” he says. “I had a pair of shorts on, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Because I didn’t do any homework, I figured I was going somewhere where it was warm. It was exactly how it was portrayed in Cool Runnings. That’s how I got off the plane.”
Despite the shaky start, Mbaziira quickly found a path. His parents had hoped he would get into accounting like they had, but Mbaziira wanted to put his people skills and creativity to use. He went into marketing instead.
Seven years in, and Mbaziira has found work in his field, first with the Halifax Partnership and then with National Public Relations. He has permanent residency status and after another three years working in Canada, he’ll be able to apply for citizenship.
Immigrants following Mbaziira will have a different path to citizenship. The provincial government has recently introduced an entrepreneurial immigration stream and, thanks to the Ivany report, the government will be looking more to newcomers to help bolster the local economy by creating new jobs as they arrive.
Mbaziira faced what he feels is the typical experience every new graduate faces in this province, especially international graduates: rejection en masse.
“I applied for tons of jobs when I graduated, like every single graduate,” Mbaziira says. “I applied for maybe over 100 jobs and I got zero interviews.”
That kind of rejection can be scary, especially when your freedom to continue living in Canada depends on landing a job. “You have to get a job, which is, as we know, not easy here in Halifax. And most importantly, you have to get a job in your field,” Mbaziira says. “That’s a challenge, and if those two are X’s, then you can’t really get permanent residency.”
What he discovered, he says, is that the Nova Scotian job market is all about who you know. “Networking was a big thing,” he recalls. “Everyone said to me, ‘you need to go out, you need to meet people.’ It’s great to have great grades, but you need to have something more than that. People need to understand who you are as a person. It’s easy to hand out a resumé, but your resumé needs to be in-person… I said, ‘I’m going to be a walking résumé.’”
Mbaziira took advantage of any event or industry meet-and-greet he could, sometimes up to six in a week. He sought work and volunteer experience while still in school, meeting potential employers and industry experts.
“I had tons and tons of coffee; I can’t keep count,” Mbaziira says.
This approach worked: National recruited him. He suggests more immigrants and graduates try the strategy. “Halifax is small and a lot of people keep saying there are no opportunities here,” Mbaziira says. “There are opportunities here, but you have to be willing to put in the work. You have to be willing to go an extra mile.”
But Mbaziira admits many jobs in the province go unadvertised. He urges Nova Scotian employers to reach out to people starting their careers. “People put in the work, but then sometimes it takes the people on the other side to come in and say, ‘let me unlock some opportunities for you,’” Mbaziira says. “A lot of those opportunities need to be made more visible… we need to be willing to help one another to find those opportunities.”
Mbaziira ran the Connector Program while he worked for the Halifax Partnership. That networking program brings together employers and people starting their careers in Halifax. He wants to see more Haligonians share their time and insights into the local job market with those starting out.
“It’s a simple program, where you basically volunteer 30 minutes of your time to sit down with an immigrant, an international grad, or a local grad, and you give them insights into the job market,” says Mbaziira, who now volunteers with the program. “Even in my current job, I’m still meeting tons of immigrants, meeting local and international grads, I’m having coffee with them and… giving them some guidance… Imagine if everyone in this province did that. Imagine how many jobs we would be able to fill.”
Mbaziira is grateful for that first push from his father. “Best decision he ever made for me that I would never have made for myself,” he says. “I tell him that everyday.”
Mbaziira says he’s eager to offer advice to anyone he can help, including readers like you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.