As a part of my New Year resolutions, I vowed to keep this blog up and share with audience some thoughts and information that they can find useful in any way. Several students reached out to me to seek some guidance and advice on how to find a job. So, I rewind my bitter-sweet memories and compile my career-seeking experiences that might leverage opportunities for graduating seniors. However, I have no profession in career consultation; and this article is based entirely on my personal experience and recommendations.
It was winter break of my senior year when I learned that I was going to get so confused. I made two goals for winter break: learn how to play guitar and find a job. By the end of winter break, I nailed several songs with a bunch of chords that I learned, but sadly the second goal was not so successful. When the last semester in college started, the confusion hit me. Looking for a job is hard, but it it especially harder if you are an international student on an F-1 visa. Below are the major conditions:
- Your unemployment period while in the U.S. is 90 days once your Optional Training Program (OPT) starts. During this time, you need to secure a job, otherwise you will have to transfer to a new school or leave the country.
- A job has to be related to your area of study. For instance, if your major is computer science, your job has to be in the technology/computer industry.
- You have a year to work in the U.S. counting from the day your OPT starts. If you have a STEM major and decide to work for a STEM job, you can extend your OPT for 2 additional years.
The last condition is probably one of the largest barricades for international students to jump over. Why is that? Most companies need an employee who can work with them for a long term. But since you can only work for a year (for non-STEM), they are less likely to hire you when they can find an American candidate who can do the same job and possibly stays in the company longer without them having to pay for a sponsorship. So, how the heck can I get a job in the U.S.? Well, one thing I know for sure is that it’s possible. Here what we should know:
I know! You’ve probably heard about “internship” a thousand times already. As a matter of fact, everyone starts talking about it when they give advice on seeking a job. As you read this article, you might probably have a few internships listed on your resume, or you might not have anything at all. And for those who do not have anything at all, you are probably thinking about quitting this page and moving on to the next Google search. Well! Moment of truth, I never had any internship in college. Not that I encouraged you to not seek internships, but having a few makes life easier. You do not need to intern at Google or Goldman Sachs to stand out in the candidate pool – it’d be amazing if you intern in a big company – but any work experiences related to what you study will do.
Internships cost money. Most internships are unpaid, and if it’s qualified for college credits you will have to apply for something like CPT and pay your school for the credits. What a sad world we’re living in! My problem with not having an internship was not because I couldn’t find one, it was because I couldn’t afford it. Then I seek an affordable alternative way to gain work experience and explore my career of interest. I looked for openings on campus, and I found a position in Business and Finance Office at my college. Applied! I worked there for the last two years. If you are not graduating soon and are seeking a cheaper way to gain work experience, go talk to any departments of interest and see if you can do something.
Now internships come with costs and benefits. It’s like you trade your time and money for a job possibility. An internship gives you the opportunity to explore your future career. It gives you a clue of whether you like what you are doing and what you are going to do (As I’d like to call it “a taste of real world”). It helps you expand your network, it reveals what a*****es or unicorns people are, and it may help secure you a job in the company or their partnered companies. It theoretically sounds good, but in real life it sounds better. So, I highly recommend doing an internship or even an on-campus job.
2- Making a decision to apply for OPT
Looking for a job in a tight circumstance is tough. Applying for an OPT is a hit-or-miss. You pay $410 for the OPT application and choose your starting date. It’s like playing lottery. You have your numbers lined up and now you’re waiting to get a big fortune if you’re lucky. But the good news is you have a chance to choose your numbers before you pay the $410. If you get one number right and you think it’ll give you a big reward, go ahead and write them a cheque. If you do not get anything before the OPT application deadline, then it becomes a lottery.
By the end of March, I applied close to 50 jobs and had an interview with more than half of them. There were a few companies that offered me an internship position with 20 hours a week and a minimum wage that was $11~12 an hour; and to be accurate, a summer internship with the possibility of an extension. Thank you, next! None offered me a job. At this point, I questioned myself if I should apply for an OPT or would I be better off getting out of the country and finding a job back home or elsewhere. So, I started to do a costs-benefits analysis. Costs are OPT fee, rent, food, and other bills during the unemployment period, and a one way flight ticket. Benefits, IF I get an offer, are a higher paid job, savings, sponsorship possibility, or a plan to apply for a graduate school. But I only had that much savings from summer jobs. It was super hard to make a decision with a budget constraint. But in lottery you have to be all in it to win it (not always the case). And I was all in it.
3- How do you find a job?
This paragraph is probably the reason that keeps you reading. Let’s get into it. Networking, LinkedIn, Indeed, Alumni, Career Consultation, Career Fairs, and so on. These are great great resources, but non of them seems to work out. Applying through websites feels like dragging your resume and dropping it in the trash bin on your computer. But there are no better resources out there that can guarantee you a job. From a point of comparison, it is better than walking from one company to another company with a resume in your hand. Therefore, keep doing what you are doing, and on top of that take my advice if you wish. I’ll keep it short and sweet.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. A job is just a job. Some thing will turn up whether or not in a way that you want it. There is no end point and you just need to keep going where life takes you.
- Sharpen your resume because first impression matters. Keep it one page short, not wordy, and straight to the point. We often joke that if your grandmother reads your resume and understands what you’re doing, it’s an attractive resume. It is true. You might want to take a look at this post about how to write a killer one.
- Start looking for a small company rather than a big one. They are not as competitive and they are more likely to look at your resume. I know everybody says apply for the big firms, go for salmon, not tuna. Let’s keep it real! Unless you have above 3.5 GPA and internships at the top tier companies, let’s not think about salmon just yet.
- Stop fantasizing about finding a company that grantees you a sponsorship in the future because there are none out there. You’ve gotta earn it. I once met with an alumni, introduced by a college employee as a great man who graduated and has helped a lot of international students. He even made a promise to help with (H1-B Visa) after OPT. So, I went for an interview and learned that a job was a full-time janitorial services provider (clean building’s windows). it would not pay for the first 3 to 6 months and after that minimum wage. I’m not saying it was a bad deal. It was a horrible deal. Come on, I graduated with a B.A. in Economics dude! Keep your options open. Don’t fall for anything like that just because someone mentions H1-B.
- Look up a company on LinkedIn and reach out to people who work there for some advice or information. There is no shame to do that, only awkwardness that you can easily overcome. Once you get a conversation started, you’ll be relieved.
- You have encountered a question “Will you now or in the future need a sponsorship?” in almost every application you fill in. If you answer Yes, you’re an honest person and that’s great. But sometimes you need a few tricks to get through some difficult times. Check the other box! It might help you pass the application process and you’re still an honest person.
- If you get to the interview stage, congratulations! This is where things get really tricky. When I had my first phone interview, here is how my conversation with a recruiter went. “Hello Chhai, will you need a sponsorship to work in the U.S?” “Yes, but I can…” “Chhai, our company doesn’t sponsor an employee at this moment.” Hung up! Yep! It was literally how it went. And you will get a few phone interviews like this. Don’t worry, they are not great companies for you neither. Remember when you check a “No” box on your application, this is when you need to explain why you don’t need a sponsorship. You won’t need it now because you’re authorized to work in the U.S. for a year (for non-STEM). Make it clear!
- Be professional and knowledgable about what you study. If you are an Economics major, start talking about what you know. The economic books that you like, how the market is doing. Tell recruiters how you can use what you learned to do the job that you’re applying for. After the interview, send them a short email to show your appreciation.
- After the first interview, there might be a second one. Keep seeking advice from professors, career center, or other resources about interview questions and answers, while keep applying for more jobs.
- “We will contact you in a week or two.” It is exciting and you can’t wait to hear back about the result. A week later, you get an email and it is a straight up rejection email. You get frustrated and lose your sh*t. This is how you lose the battle. Don’t look at a rejection as a failure, look at it as a motivation. And before you know it, some companies out there will see you.
4- Last Resort
You try and try and try and nothing ever happens. You are graduating in less than a week and yet to find a job. Your OPT is starting from mid-May and you are about to lose your employment days. Let’s try something else. Let’s apply through an agency, give them your resume, and schedule an appointment. The question is why would I do that? I will only get a temporary job, no bonus, the benefits are horrible, I don’t know where I end up working. Remember when I said applying for an OPT is a hit or miss. Well, would you rather miss? I don’t think so! because $410 was debited from your bank account. Some companies out there might need a temp worker because one of their employees is sick, on vacation, or on maternity leave. You might get a full-time contract job of multiple months, and if lucky enough a whole year. Apply! you can work hard and show them your skills. If they like you, they might keep you or refer you to other companies. But bear in mind that agencies might not have anything that you’re interested in. I will include a few links to some agencies below for those who look for a job in Portland, OR.
5- Things we often ignore when applying for jobs
Now we get to the “DESPERATE” stage. Your investment in finding a job costs money and you need some sort of income to make some profit or break even. So, you are willing to take anything and do anything. You accept the job. After the first month, you realize this is not what you’re looking for. Don’t stay! Leave! At the end of the day, it is not about getting a job in the U.S and making money. It’s all about your happiness and your desire to grow in your expertise. And getting out there to explore the possibilities will help you achieve this. You don’t graduate with a bachelor’s degree to just do anything. You seek options and pick one. With that being said, working in the U.S. is great but not that great. The world is full of possibilities no matter where you go. It is like going to a liberal art college. You take different classes and keep changing your major because you’re not sure what you like until one day they force you to pick a major and stick with it. But until then, keep exploring.
Now Chhai! What the heck, man? You just wrote a long article about finding a job, and at the end you’re telling me to just keep looking. Well, If you get a job at point number 3, you’re welcome to disregard my advice on point number 4 and 5 unless you don’t like the job. Remember that the world does not revolve around the fact that you have to have a job in the U.S. and make a lot of money. Find something that you are passionate about, and this is not straight up easy. This is when you rather take a miss. Do something, if you don’t like it, stop and move on to the next thing until you find a click.
Seniors, congratulations and good luck with everything!
If you have any questions, comment below or send me an email. Happy to discuss.