By Rija Choudhry, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University
Stepping into the real world without work experience can be discouraging for any university graduate. After graduating from Ryerson University with a degree in Accounting and excellent grades, Nimra Choudhry had a clear idea about what her life was going to be like after she walked across the stage and earned her degree.
Clear, but not necessarily accurate…
“All my life I was told that academic success will open doors to many opportunities. What you realize is that - without any experience - you’ll have to start at the bottom”.
Currently, Nimra works as a Strategist, in the Strategy Group at RBC’s corporate office. As part of her job, she makes critical decisions regarding the corporation’s future by working with colleagues from various divisions and creating strategies for the next 5 to 10 years. “When you work as a Strategist you’re not only managing accounts and looking at numbers. You make those numbers come to life and tell a story. You engage in problem solving, creativity and present a solution. Solutions that impact the entire corporation. It is a position I genuinely enjoy, but I didn’t get here in the most conventional way. Sometimes you have to create your own path and the rest will follow”.
Nimra expected to land her dream job straight out of university, but reality had something else in mind. Success was a reward that came with great dedication and hard work, and it definitely did not come right away.
“After I left Ryerson, I applied to more jobs than I could keep track of! Eventually, I took a job at a call centre for a small collection agency”. Although the call centre job was not in her field - or what she had hoped to do - Nimra worked hard and took the initiative to collaborate with the Human Resources (HR) team to create a training manual. By thinking outside of the box, she was promoted to a Business Analyst position, where she provided training and delegated assignments to her team of 80 employees. What Nimra initially thought was a dead end presented her with a huge opportunity!
“Never let your past limit your future,” says Nimra. “I didn’t have a degree in HR, but I saw a problem and formulated a solution. Creating a training manual wasn’t something that I was familiar with. But it opened doors for me which I never knew existed”.
After Nimra concluded her role as a Business Analyst at the collection agency, she applied for an entry-level position at RBC in fund accounting, a position she held for two years. Despite having earned a degree in Accounting, she decided to follow a different career path. As she puts it “Just because you liked something in theory, doesn’t mean you’ll have a similar experience in practice.”
So, next, Nimra applied to an event planning and client retention role, a position that had been newly created at RBC. “I didn’t know anything about the role, but I decided to take it anyway. I realized the position wasn’t for me, but I would have never known had I not tried something different”. Nimra experienced many challenges that she attributes to working as a woman in a male dominated field. She believes, however, that it is important to not be discouraged and that “when you work hard others will not hesitate to vouch for you”. She continued to work diligently and let her performance speak for itself in every role she pursued.
By exploring different roles and responsibilities, Nimra developed a greater understanding of herself and realized her true passion for being part of RBC’s Strategy group and shaping the future. When that position opened, she applied, but she refused to be “just” a job applicant. She had to stand out. “After graduating you come to learn that it’s not only what you know, but also who you know. Networking is crucial to advance your career, because the last thing you want to become is just a number in the system”.
Nimra’s experiences prove that trying to explore different fields can take you out of your comfort zone. Yet, that is where the magic happens! Her efforts were recognized and earned her a referral and placement in RBC’s Strategy Group.
Nimra believes that self-exploration doesn’t end when you earn your degree. Her advice? “Don’t say no to any opportunity” even if it means you start your career in a position unrelated to your field. By having the right attitude, that position can get you where you need to be. And, according to Nimra, success will surely follow!