“…I remember walking into interviews the first few times with my jeans and cowboy boots. I thought jeans were fancy, reserved for special occasions…”
My journey has been somewhat similar to the thousands of journeys that have come before me. The story of an immigrant, adapting to life in a foreign country, trying to hold on, trying to make it. And like the many stories that have been told before mine, there were struggles, and there were self-doubts. All those rejections, all the depression. I have heard these stories over and over again and the majority of those who make it share the same recipes for success: good preparation and persistency. This is where each story diverts. Everyone has a unique way to prepare. Everyone has his/her own story of failures, of falling down and standing back up. As for me, here goes my story of preparation, of rejections, and finally a happy ending?
I started my job search before my fresh year even began. I contemplated Econs because that’s the field my parents can get me into if I ever came back to Vietnam. I thought of Math, because that’s the norm: I knew I could do it. I wanted to do writing because that’s what I like to do. The biggest contender was Actuarial Science. I have heard of the major back in high school, took a professional exam, and knew the job outlook was good. Yet without anything else, I would just be another name, another Math/Econs grad, a faceless resume somewhat dull. I decided I need to check all the boxes, whatever they are that employers look for. With that amount of preparation, somewhat anal, I sounded great on paper: 4 majors, perfect GPA, 2 relevant internships with 2 major firms in the U.S., and a lot of professional exams passed (for those who know about Actuarial Science, I passed 4 exams by the start of my junior year in college). There was only one issue – a big one: I am an alien, a FOB one. 🙂
This is where I tell you about my stories of rejections and failures. Naturally, with that great looking resume (thanks to a huge amount of preparation), I got a ton of interviews. A majority of them turned me down right away for they do not sponsor international students. Some others were open to sponsoring but my childlike personality wasn’t a fit to many companies, where professionalism is expected. I remember walking into interviews the first few times with my jeans and cowboy boots. I thought jeans were fancy, reserved for special occasions. Silly me! But all I needed was one company to like me, and one and only one did during my first year trying for an internship. After all those trials and errors though, I got better, learnt the art of interviewing and the next year was a much easier endeavor.
So after all that ramble, let me summarize a few key points for you to hopefully give anyone interested a few points in preparing for their job search in the US as I think I have made it pretty clear that preparation wins you half the battle. 🙂
1. Do yourself a favor and go where demand surpasses supply.
This can be as simple as picking a major where job outlook is booming, a major with successful track records. Of course, there’s always the outliers, the superheroes who make it despite the odd, but what is the odd that you will be the odd? 🙂
More importantly though is where you look for jobs. The more places you look, the better your chances are. Remember, all it takes is one company to like you. In my experience, bigger cities have more opportunities but also more fierce competition. I wasn’t confident I can set myself apart from the likes of Ivy-leaguers competing for jobs in NYC. I felt I had a much better chance in Minnesota.
2. Be bold, be different.
I didn’t want to be just another piece of paper, another set of numbers, another desperate applicant so I took risk in my cover letter, treating it like a creative writing project of mine, thinking how many people actually look at cover letters anyways? Most didn’t read my cover letter, many didn’t like it, but some told me they liked it so much they brought me in for interviews. Remember, all it takes is one person to like you! Who cares if everyone else didn’t!
3. Prepare for the worst case scenarios.
It doesn’t matter how hard you try, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side. In that case, you want to have alternatives if all else fail: be it going to grad schools, finding a job in your home country, or going elsewhere to look for opportunities.
4. Understand that sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can come together.
This is somewhat of a cliché, but as I reflect back on my journey, I realized how true it is. I remember feeling very ashamed for not getting an ASEAN scholarship to study in Singapore, but had I gotten one, I would not have been where I am today. Then there was the mountain of rejections before the best offer came my way. When life gets bumpy and things do not turn out the way you had hoped, just know that these things happen for a reason, and maybe – just maybe what you conceive as misfortune is leading you to a better future.
5. Lastly, do everything you could, but leave the rest to destiny.
I really like a quote from Thomas Jefferson (maybe?) that says, “I am a great believer in luck; the harder I work, the more I seem to have of it.” So try hard if you want to achieve your goal, but know that sometimes it’s out of your control. I was lucky enough to have backup plans. I didn’t need to get a job here. I could have been ok going to grad school for 5 years or go back to Vietnam to live with my parents. I didn’t need to win the H-1B lottery. I had another try with my STEM majors, and if I had failed that lottery twice, life goes on. I’d still be ok. I think it helped release the stress tremendously that I always accepted the worst case scenarios. Those scenarios turn out to be not nearly as bad as you’d imagine. Sometimes what you perceive as a success story – a happy ending – may not be what you really want. There are times I wish I could be back home, away from the high stress that work brings, spending time with my parents.
My name is Linh Duong. I have been with Deloitte as an actuarial consultant for the past 2 years, and this is my story.