NGAN PHAM – My Job Search Process & My H1B Story

My summary of Ngan’s story: “I couldn’t ask for a better one!”

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When I had to return my laptop and left EY last year after failing the H1B lottery, I kept promising with myself that next year, I will come back with a better job offer, and I will share my story with others, so those who fail H1B lottery would have a positive story to keep up their faith in life.

This post should have come out way earlier to be a mental support for those waiting anxiously for their H1B results this year. However, due to a lot of changes happening in my life, I am sorry for the delay. I hope my story will still be beneficial for someone out there.

To accommodate a friend’s request about “How I got my job in the U.S.“, I will write my story in two parts. The first is “How I got my first job out of college in the U.S.”, and the second is “My H1B story.”

Part 1 – How I got my first job out of college in the U.S.

A little bit background about me. I am an international student from Vietnam, who came to Winthrop University in South Carolina, for college, back in 2009. Winthrop was lovely, but no one really comes there for hiring, let alone considering international students for jobs. I tried all different methods, networking with alumni and people in the community, sending cold emails to recruiters from big firms in Charlotte, asking my professors at school for recommendation. None led to anything fruitful. I may have some leads but all ended up in disappointment. The job market in the South was tough, even for local students, let alone international students.

After three awesome years at Winthrop, I decided if I really wanted to get a job in the U.S., I needed a bold move. I need to be where the jobs are. I need to get direct exposure to recruiters. It was too late to transfer, but I found out that my school had a National Exchange Program, where I can be sent to another school in the U.S. for a semester to a year, while paying my original school’s tuition. That’s perfect. Because I can still use my scholarship to go explore somewhere else, I decided that would be the way to go. With clear criteria in mind, e.g., a school in a big city, with reputable business program, large alumni network, and strong relationships with employers, I picked out the University of Minnesota. And that decision was almost the most critical decision I made that led to my job offer at EY.

Now, if you are at the right place, i.e., where the recruiters are, you already improve your chance to be hired by 70%. So pick your school carefully. Three months after moving to U of M, I got my official full-time job offer with EY Risk Advisory. It felt like a stroke of luck since in the hindsight, I did not remember it was a struggle for me. Here were what I did:

1. Have these docs ready at the beginning of the semester:

– An elevator pitch

– A proofread resume

– A cover letter template

– A networking email template

– A follow-up email template

– Most importantly, an interview capsule. This is almost like a summary about yourself and a compilation of your answer to every single common interview question in a STAR approach. Make sure your interview capsule covers every single details you mentioned in your resume. An interview capsule is a great way to get your stories organized and prepare for interviews. If you are interested in how an interview capsule should look like, PM me.

2. Go to student organizations’ networking events

– I find this much more effective than career fairs since the recruiters have more personal time with you, and at least, they only meet 10-20 students during the event instead of 100 like in a career fair.

3. Network with alumni through emails/LinkedIn messages/ and conduct informational interviews with them

– My trick is to use the “Find Alumni” feature on LinkedIn to identify the alumni you want to reach out, then go to your school database to search for the alumni’s emails. It is more likely for them to respond to your emails than your LinkedIn message.

– Get as much intelligence about the company, the team, the interview process from your alumni as possible. Then show off your knowledge in the interviews.

4. Practice, practice, practice, a million times in front of the mirror or your webcam, until you are totally relaxed and comfortable to tell your stories even in your sleep. I found this website (http://biginterview.com/) very helpful for practising interviews. They have a free trial period, so take advantage of it.

5. During interview, take control of the conversation. Do not be responsive. Be proactive. Offer to tell your stories and showcase your strengths without being asked. The more proactive you are, the more you are in control of the conversation and will not be worried of being asked difficult questions.

6. Have plenty of rest before the interview. Remember to show energy and enthusiasm during the interview. It helps a great impact on helping you be memorable and likeable.

Part 2 – Fail H1B Lottery – What to do next?

My career path is not a straightforward and smooth road. After going through all the hurdles to finally get a good job, I found myself failing to what is totally out of my control – the lottery system.

While feeling bitter and hatred, there was not much I could do to change my lottery result. It was a very tough time for me personally, to take a step back, and decide my next move: should I go home, should I try to apply for a different job in a different country, or should I go back to school to stay in the U.S.?

Now, you only have options if you did your preparation. I knew the year before mine, there was a lottery, so I already applied for grad school way back in February. And when the lottery result came in, I had already been admitted into the master program at the University of Minnesota. So, my first advice to you, if you suspect a lottery coming, prepare ahead. Do not let yourself scramble at the last minute. You will not do yourself a favor and will end up with very limited options of mediocre programs.

EY gave me the option to transfer to a different country, but for personal reason, I wanted to stay in the U.S., and opted for grad school. For many positions, you may be able to negotiate with your company to keep you as a part-time employee during your school year, so you can reapply for the next H1B round. In my case, I did not luck out, and had to leave my job. The worse part is as an “experienced” staff, I could no longer apply back to EY through the campus program, and would have to wait until close to my graduation to reapply as an experienced hire.

Returning to school, I had so much confidence that I would nail interviews easily due to my significant advantage of being with EY for a whole year. Unfortunately, the lottery discouraged many companies from hiring international students, so as I reconsidered my options, it really came down to only Deloitte and EY who were still hiring international students from U of M. I could not pursue EY through campus recruitment anymore, so really, my only option was Deloitte.

Realizing my option was too limited, and Deloitte was not my best fit (I did interview, and failed, totally for fit reason), I freaked out. I never had the thought of applying outside Minnesota, since I still thought the best way to be hired is to be where the recruiters are. I did network with alumni before, but it was only for informational interviews to get myself ready for actual interviews, never for job referral. I do not know how to do it or if I can do it.

My fiance encouraged me to look outside MN, and look into opportunities in Boston or the Bay Area. I decided to go to the career center to get advice, and that was one of the critical factors that helped my job search process. My career center provided me with a great list of alumni in these areas, with their email addresses, and current workplaces. They gave me tips on who are the active and “known-to-be-helpful” alumni, and recommended me to read the book ” The 2-hour job search”.

For anyone who is thinking of applying for a job through referral, I highly recommend “The 2-hour job search.” The book is very concise and packed with extremely helpful tips, giving you immediate ideas about what to do, how to start, how to carry on the conversation, and how to make the ask. I followed the book instruction, and diligently compiled my list of alumni, sending out 5-6 networking emails per week, and tried to set up at least 2 informational interviews per week.

Be patient, be persistent. This networking process is a long process. You need to build relationship with your alumni, and make them feel confident about referring you. It also plays on the right timing for the right job to show up as well. So just keep the conversation going, check in with your alumni every few weeks or once a month. I started networking in December, and it took me 5 months to finally get a job offer!

Tailor your LinkedIn profile for the kind of job you want. Now that I am a bit more experienced than before, I started receiving recruiters’ messages about opportunities via LinkedIn. I revamped my LinkedIn profile completely to get away from “internal audit/ risk advisory” jobs, and try to get more “strategy/ consulting” opportunity offers. I did receive some good opportunities in my LinkedIn Inbox. Many of them are not applicable for international students, and I screwed up some. But this is still a good strategy.

Be where the recruiters are. I have learned that “where the recruiters are” do not need to be physically, but can be virtually. Through online resources, I found out several virtual career fairs where recruiters from great companies show up (eBay, Genetech, Visa, etc.). KPMG often has their own virtual career fairs, which are great way to connect immediately with recruiters without the hassle of dressing up and lining up hours to talk to recruiters. Follow your interested companies to stay in tune with their recruiting events. Here are some great websites for virtual career fair info: https://www.careereco.comhttp://mashable.brazenconnect.com.

Have faith in yourself, and in life. This is the most crucial part of job search. It is so easy to feel defeated and depressed after multiple rejections. For tons of reasons, despite my really good experience at EY, I still did not get any job offer until the very last day of my grad program. It was natural to feel self-doubted, to cry, and lose confidence in yourself, to hate life, and to curse it for its unfairness. But do everything I listed above, do it consistently and persistently, be your own cheerleader along the way, and good things will come. When I thought I was a total failure and deeply ashamed for going to graduate without a job offer, the best offer I never imagined came to me. At that point, I realized that life gave me tons of lemons before to prepare for a huge pitcher of margaritas for this big party. 🙂

I am an Associate at Global Client Incentives – Corporate Strategy team at Visa right now, and happily enjoying my new life in the Bay Area. Had it not been for the H1B lottery, and multiple rejections, I would have never been here. So next time life throws you out of your course, know that something exciting is awaiting you.

Cheers!

Ngan.

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