Creating Your Own Path: Nimra’s WorkStory

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! 

Organizing change: Sarah LeBlanc helps organizations reach full potential

by Laura Dillman Ripley

Sometimes you just have to try things. That’s a mantra Mount Allison University grad Sarah LeBlanc (‘06) lives by and one she is helping non-profits and other public and private organizations benefit from. 

“I really believe in the value of public organizations and non-profits that serve our communities,” says LeBlanc, a social and organizational change strategist based in Montreal, QC. “My works seeks to help these organizations find strategies that can make them more efficient and innovative with limited resources.”

Some of LeBlanc’s roster of clients includes Ongozah.com, the YWCA, and the Government of New Brunswick.

Prior to moving to Montreal in early 2016, LeBlanc, who is originally from Dieppe, NB, worked as executive director of le Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick (RFNB), an organization that aims to represent francophone women in the province.

LeBlanc was one of the first staff members at the RFNB, established in 2007. Along with lobbying for change on behalf of New Brunswick women, she was also tasked with establishing the new organization, and working to form relationships with government officials and other non-profit organizations in both the francophone and anglophone sectors of the province.

“In the early days, it was just me in the office (of the RFNB),” she says. “We grew to include a team of six people.”

Under LeBlanc’s mandate, the RFNB saw many milestones, including the establishment of the New Brunswick Voices of Women Consensus Building Forum, as well as the provincial government’s adoption of a gender-based analysis for new government policies.

“I’m proud of the roles we played in these changes in New Brunswick, along with several other lobbying groups and organizations,” says LeBlanc. 

LeBlanc also worked on Parliament Hill for two years in the office of well-known Senator and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire. During this time (between 2006 and 2008), Dallaire’s office handled many high-profile files including the Omar Khadr case, child soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the adoption of Bill C-293, concerning the provision of official development assistance abroad. The aim of the bill was to center Canada's official development assistance abroad around poverty reduction.

 “Working on Parliament Hill was an amazing experience, you learn so much,” says LeBlanc. “I am grateful for my time in Ottawa as an administrative and legislative assistant for Senator Dallaire.”

 LeBlanc also credits her alma mater for its impact on her budding career.

“As a student, I always felt that everyone at Mount A was out to change the world. It was a wonderful environment to be part of, and one I’ve grown to appreciate since leaving there,” she says.

Coming to campus from a francophone background, LeBlanc says both students and faculty played key roles in her education and future career choices.

“As a student I started a discussion and action group on gender issues, which received a lot of support from my peers. Academically, I worked with so many great professors including Dr. Loralea Michaelis in political science and (the late) Dr. Marie Hammond-Callaghan in what was then women’s studies. Both had a huge impact on my career choices.”

LeBlanc returned to campus in 2015 for the first Women in Leadership conference at Mount Allison where she facilitated a panel discussion and participated in a mentorship event.

“It is always great to go back to Mount Allison and be part of this community again,” she says.

Learn more about Sarah LeBlanc’s consulting company 

This article appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of The Record, Mount Allison University’s Magazine for Alumni & Friends. Reprinted with permission. /  Photo credit: Louis-Philippe Chiasson.

 

 

 

A Daily Dose of Happily Better Afters

By Veerta Singh, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Monica Soos has known from an early age that science was her passion. She began her undergraduate career in 2006 studying Life Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.  She later graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. Currently, Monica works in Toronto as the Manager of Strategic Pricing at Janssen Inc., the pharmaceutical division of the well established healthcare company Johnson & Johnson.

Immediately after Monica completed her undergrad, she was accepted into the Master of Biotechnology (MBiotech) program at the University of Toronto. This is a two year Master’s program which “bridges science students into the business world. It is specifically geared towards students who wish to work in the field of biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry”.

The Masters of Biotechnology program opened up another door for Monica when it provided her with a co-op opportunity in 2012. She was selected for a placement at AstraZeneca, a biopharmaceutical company, as the Pricing and Reimbursement Co-op student. It was in this role where Monica “learned about how the biopharmaceutical industry works and was able to take what she learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world”. This placement enabled her to strengthen and develop the skills that help her succeed in the current field she is working in. In 2013, Monica became the access associate at Janssen and eventually the Manager of Strategic Pricing in 2015.

When prompted to describe what a regular day at work entails, Monica provides a detailed picture of how she begins and ends her day. “The day-to-day work involves checking emails, taking care of ad-hoc requests and working cross-functionally with business partners to ensure that projects are being implemented”. Within the specific role, Monica stresses the importance of having analytical skills, problem-solving skills and the ability to work well with others because these are major qualities that are required to be successful in this field. She adds that “pricing requires alignment and execution with several stakeholders, so it’s important that you have a good rapport with them to move things along”. 

Monica explains that what she loves most about her job is that the field of pharmaceutical pricing is very strategic in nature. She is inspired by the challenges that are presented to her and believes that this job is the perfect fit for her. “I am constantly learning and growing within my role, which is what keeps it fun and challenging. I have always wanted to work within pharmaceuticals, and working for a company that makes a difference in people’s lives is definitely a dream come true.

When asked if Monica had any advice to share for those who are still in the early stages of their career, she says to “make the most out of all the opportunities presented to you, but make sure you actively seek out opportunities as well as this will differentiate you from others”.