At just 41 years old, Mojan Ghotbi has already lived several different lives. Born in Iran and married to a socially engaged journalist who opposed their country’s regime, she was forced to seek political asylum in France in 2012. The move proved to be the start of a new journey filled with obstacles. Along the way, it would lead her to a training programme with Wintegreat, followed by a Fellowship with OpenClassrooms partner Techfugees, and finally to her current position in Paris, following her online training as a Product Manager. Interview.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Iran, but I’ve been living in France for eight years now.
How was life when you first arrived in France?
We were met with a lot of administrative issues in our first year here.
It was a struggle to fill in all the paperwork, secure somewhere to live and find a job, especially with the language barrier.
We started learning French in 2013. My daughter was two at the time, so I needed to learn quickly, for her as much as for me.
Did that help with your job search?
It was actually a contact I had at the Paris town hall that really helped. Fate has a funny way of making things happen. I convinced them to give me a job as a teaching assistant by showing them that I’m great with children and was super interested in the position.
I ended up working at a nursery for four years. That really allowed me to improve my French and integrate into my new life. When I compare myself with other people I know, who came to France at the same time as me, it’s clear that working with kids was hugely beneficial for learning the language. I was never embarrassed to speak to them and they were always kind when they corrected me.
Working in a fully French environment really helped me improve my skills.
And after that?
After four years working there, I decided that it was time to go back to my old career.
In Iran, I had a chemistry degree and worked in R&D for the automobile industry, most notably as head of quality control and assembly line manager.
I found a two-month professional training programme in analytical chemistry at AFPA (an association providing professional training for adults) and started a course in water analysis. It was interesting and intensive, but apparently not enough to help me find a job – none of my applications were successful. My chemistry degree was recognised in France and I even had an equivalent qualification, but I hadn’t worked in the industry since my daughter was born.
I had to get myself back on track and rebuild my self-confidence.
Is that when you got a helping hand from the non-profit Wintegreat?
Exactly. I started with Wintegreat after that. It’s a six-month programme that helps refugees with their career development plans. You learn everything you need to know in order to get back into the job market and find work in France.
Lots of people find great work opportunities after the programme. I was lucky enough to have a contact at L’Oréal and secure a six-month analytical chemistry internship in Chevilly Larue (near Paris). It was different from other internships in that I hadn’t just finished my studies. It went really well. I was able to use what I already knew about analytical chemistry and I ended up doing final product and raw material analysis, as well as R&D for cosmetics. After my internship, I was offered a two-month contract but unfortunately there were no permanent posts available when that ended.
It was still a great experience to have under my belt for future job searches.
However, the hunt ended up being difficult as many companies didn’t respond to my applications.
At this point, despite loving working in the chemistry world, I seriously started considering changing to something completely different.
How did you go about training for a new career?
That’s when I met the Techfugees team. I’d always been interested in the idea of working in the digital sector, so I decided to join their Fellowship scheme. It’s a programme that introduces refugee women, like me, to all the various job options available in the digital domain. It was amazing and we got to visit lots of big tech companies like Google.
It was such a great way to get an insight into different digital jobs. After six months, I decided that project management interested me the most.
Brilliant! How did you meet and secure a job at your current company?
While doing the course, I went to a Techfugees job dating event and met RTE, a company in the energy sector. The R&D director was interested in my experience and offered me an apprenticeship position. So now I work as an assistant product manager with them and am completing my Product Manager program with OpenClassrooms on the side.
It’s exciting to be working in a completely new sector and I’m doing everything I can to get to know the world RTE works within.
You started in February 2020. Has it been complicated to take on an apprenticeship right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The team is really great and, despite everything, we’ve seen each other every day for conf-call meetings. We use the scrum method to share what we did the day before, what we have planned for the day and what we might need help with. That way, we can find solutions together. We’ve actually managed to maintain all meetings and stand ups. All the projects are going well! RTE is a really dynamic company and I enjoy working there.
Still, lockdown definitely didn’t come at the best time given how new to the company I was. It would have been great to be in closer contact with the team because they use a lot of acronyms, ideas and terms that I didn’t know at all to begin with. I was so lost in some of the early meetings! But my manager was really supportive and I know that I’m making fast progress.
My Product Manager training lasts one and a half years and I’m hoping a permanent opportunity will arise at the end of it.
I’m optimistic about it because everything is going well so far and I give it my all every day. Even if I don’t get a position with them, I’m learning a job that’s going to serve me well in the future, so I know that the risk I took of changing careers to become a Product Manager will pay off.
Since 2019, OpenClassrooms has worked with multiple organisations in order to give refugees access to 50 different full and part-time training programmes that will help them enter the job market. If you’re looking to hire new apprentices in France, contact us.