Annette Bilawchuk, Fall 2009

Annette Bilawchuk chuckles now when she thinks of her initial reluctance in agreeing to mentor a foreign-trained professional through The Career Mentorship Program. As Manager, Planning and Engineering at TELUS, Annette has engineers from all parts of the globe on her team. She was in for a happy surprise, however, when she began to realize the difference she could make in a newcomer’s life.

She was paired with Fen (Vivian) Li, an experienced electrical engineer from China. “A lot of things we take for granted, professionally and culturally. I don’t think I understood the extent of the differences even with my own staff. Vivian opened my eyes to the simple things we just don’t think about.”

Annette used the formal mentorship program outline as a guide to give Vivian some help with her resume and cover letter. The two started with an examination of what a resume should do for the job seeker. “I couldn’t even tell from her first resume that she’s a master engineer. In Canada, you have to emphasize the important information. I coached her to organize her resume based on what I want to see when a resume crosses my desk.”

From the much-too-long, visually unappealing first product, Vivian now has a resume that resulted in interviews for professional-level jobs. “I can’t describe that ‘Ah, ha!’ feeling of accomplishment I felt when Vivian got that first interview. These are the rewards of my investment of time. At first, she didn’t understand she needed to sell her skills and accomplishments over another person. Her experience in China was totally different from the Canadian norm.”

Annette and Vivian also spent some time conducting mock interviews with Annette’s peer managers and a male manager. “This proved very worthwhile as Vivian reacted much differently to the male authority than she had to female interviewers.” Interestingly, Vivian quickly picked up the nuances of questions based on behavioural scenarios. “She became very polished with these.”

Annette expected Vivian to work hard, and she wasn’t disappointed. “I gave her homework every week, which she did without fail. Vivian is very determined and very conscientious.”

She also gave Vivian some valuable connections into the Edmonton business community including introducing her to Toastmasters, making other connections to professional women, introducing her to Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology (WISEST) and even having her meet the president – a woman – of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA).

“I saw her confidence grow every time we met. Her excitement became my excitement. I couldn’t wait to drop everything I was doing to help her. She’s focusing now on what she’s capable of instead of believing she needs to accept entry level positions.”

Annette is convinced the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) is headed in the right direction for the Edmonton business community. “There are amazing skills and abilities coming from other countries. Initially, Vivian would have taken an entry level position because she was new to Canada. Let’s get all these professionals out of the cycle where they can’t be successful and where their skills and abilities are wasted. Give them the skills to be successful – and we all benefit.”