Marissa’s Story: Challenging the Status Quo, Uplifting Newcomers

“Can you define the Canadian experience?” This is how a newcomer from the Philippines answered the well-known job interview question about her Canadian work experience just two weeks into her new immigrant life journey, in February 2001.


Meet Marissa Cecilia Bejer, human resources and development director at Cloverdale Paint, a leader in the paint and coatings industry in Canada. With a background in talent acquisition and strategic planning and a career span of 30 years, Bejer holds a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology and marketing. As a firm believer in sharing her international expertise, she became a business partner in an HR consultancy in 2011.

Bejer remembers the lessons learned at that very first interview when she was asked about her Canadian work experience. “So, this is how to compete here,” said Bejer, adding that it seemed “quite short-sighted.” Her international experience in the Asia-Pacific region impressed the recruiter, and she got a job offer. However, she ended up declining the job offer, because it offered hourly compensation barely above the minimum wage. “What a way to discount my global experience.”

Bejer kept looking for jobs appropriate to her qualifications in Human Resources, including non-managerial opportunities. She got hired by Home Depot as an associate development supervisor, taking a step down her career ladder. However, three months later, in a position reclassification process for her role, Bejer was interviewed once again and retained. Eventually, she got promoted to Human Resources manager.

In her new position, Marissa faced the challenge of filling night shift positions at Home Depot. To get to know potential candidates, Bejer designed and taught resume writing and interview workshops at immigrant community service agencies. The participants then took part in a mini-career fair she organised for Home Depot. “Immigrants come with great potential, background, and education, so why can’t we just place them in jobs,” questions Bejer, who hired the newcomers as initially planned.

“It’s important to invest in self-development,” emphasises Bejer. She studied for the Chartered Professional in HR designation at home, and then passed the test in 2007. Five years later, she was hired as a human resources manager at Cloverdale Paint.

Bejer continued her professional development and received the Certified Training and Development Professional (CTDP) credential, which sets the Canadian standards of effective workplace performance and learning. After all her efforts, she was promoted to the director level at Cloverdale Paint.

Reflecting on her first interview in Canada, Bejer remembers deciding that she would be committed to diversity, inclusion, and belonging once she, herself, made it to the recruiter’s chair. “We bring in a new way of thinking and looking at things. That opens up creativity,” Bejer concludes, adding that “everything is strange, and [immigrants] are adjusting to everything.”

“We shouldn’t feel inferior just because we came to Canada later in life. We didn’t earn our initial experience in HR here, [so recruiters] think that can’t be learned. [There will be] fundamental principles in any country. Treat people well, that’s the Human Rights aspect of it,” Bejer says, pointing out that employment standards, for example, can be learned. “It’s the life skills that are important. Stay true to your purpose and never discount what you can offer.”