Guest contributor: Imran Khan (ISS Class of 2013)
1. Could you tell us about your experience with the ISS program and the types of opportunities you were able to gain.
Before I started the ISS program, I intended to pursue an area of research that I was deeply passionate about, while also gaining invaluable skills to secure employment. However, considering how difficult it was to enter the workforce, I tried to keep my focus on two fundamental things: (1) pursue research in an area I was personally vested in and (2) gather information on potential career opportunities. While conducting research was easily attainable through the graduate program, the employment information was something I felt I needed to attain myself.
Immediately after I started the ISS program, I reached out to several employers to conduct informational interviews with various professionals. My intention was to learn about their area of work and identify whether those areas aligned with my own interests. Through these meetings, I was able to secure two meaningful placements that helped direct my path.
For my first placement, I was the Diversity Intern for the TO2015 Pan Am Games. My second placement was with the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. As a result of those experiences, I was able to successfully land my first job with the provincial government at the end of the ISS program.
2. Tell us about your career experiences after the ISS program. What made you decide to start a business?
From my experience, I can attest that no job is too little, and it’s crucial to work hard in any role. While I did have a fair bit of employment experience, I knew I had to make a few compromises to enter the labor market and for long-term growth.
My first official job with the province was through the Ontario Summer Student Program. The program was intended to help students and recent graduates find meaningful opportunities with the provincial government and help fill the labor gap as older professionals were nearing retirement. The program pays participants slightly above minimum wage. I intended to leverage the program as a way to get an entry or intermediate-level role.
At the start of the program, I worked with my manager to create a performance plan that identified my interest in getting exposure to high profile initiatives. Identifying what projects I wanted to be involved in allowed me to support initiatives like the initial research and scan for the Employment Ontario Contact Center (EOCC) Live Chat system, the launch of the Youth Employment Fund program, and the College of Trades Apprenticeship Modernization. The experiences that I gained through this program gave me the tools and resources to land more senior positions. By the age of 25, I was a Senior Policy Advisor with the Ontario Government.
After a few years of working for the provincial government, I decided it was time for a new challenge. I started to build contacts again through informational interviews, which gave me the idea to start my own market research consultancy.
3. What skills did you gain through the ISS program that have helped you succeed as an entrepreneur?
The ISS program provides invaluable skills that students can use for various careers. The deep understanding I gained of issues related to race and employment is an area I’ve focussed on ever since completing my graduate studies. Whether it was my internship with Pan Am Games, work with the provincial government, or entrepreneurial pursuits, applying an inclusion lens has been an extremely vital part of my professional career.
Moreover, having a broad understanding of cultural differences in business is vital when working with international clients. Most of my clients are based out of Asia-Pacific (APAC) region and I work with staff from various cultural backgrounds. During the early days of establishing my business, I worked to ensure that I understood the business etiquette of my customers. This included ways to write, speak, and communicate on project-related activities. This sort of cultural understanding allowed me to establish strong and long-term partnerships with my clients. This has provided my business with a competitive edge in comparison to my competitors.
4. What’s the best career advice you’d give an ISS student?
I think one of the biggest assumptions that prospective students have about the ISS program is that it’s geared towards jobs in the not-for-profit (NFP), research, or public sectors. However, you can apply the experience you gained through the program to many other fields. I was able to successfully apply my graduate studies in starting and running a very successful market research agency by targeting and attracting international research in North America.
The labor force is presently experiencing a large shift. Many employers are reducing jobs and streamlining business processes, which has created a labor shortage. This has significantly impacted the NFP sector and government agencies.
At the same time, many employers are currently focused on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is creating new opportunities in areas of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Most (if not all) major corporations have roles that focus on creating a representative and inclusive workforce.
I see this as a significant opportunity for ISS students who have gained meaningful insights and skills that would provide significant support to companies that want to have an inclusive workforce. There are also many other fields of work that ISS students can go into, including project management, media and advertising, communication, information management, IT solutions, consulting, and more. For example, you can apply an inclusion lens as a communications coordinator for an advertising agency or as a project manager looking to implement IT software. In any role, you can be an advocate for equality among your colleagues or as a manager leading a team.
5. As a recent graduate, what strategies did you employ to help you advance your career?
Given the challenges that COVID-19 has introduced for recent graduates entering the labor force, graduates need to focus less on a salary and more on proving they can help their employer create a strong and meaningful workforce.
In every job that I’ve had, I’ve focused on working hard and providing meaningful solutions to help my managers in any capacity that I could. I always asked my managers to allow me to be involved in projects outside of my job description. This made me an invaluable asset to my team(s). Although it meant working longer hours than I had anticipated, it allowed me to expedite my professional growth compared to others. I think if you apply the same lens and worth ethic, you will pave your own path to success.
6. What’s your favorite memory from the ISS program?
There is no one specific memory that I can say was my favorite. My program had some of the most intelligent and insightful individuals that cared about social justice issues. I admired each one of them for their unique set of experiences and beliefs. While our views may have conflicted, we created an open space to talk about what mattered to us.
The ISSAA would like to thank Imran for preparing this post. If you’d like to contribute a guest post, please contact the ISSAA’s Communications Committee at email@example.com.