“…We immigrants are a special group in this country, we have to work much harder to earn a place. But when we do, I’ve only seen success…”
I always wanted to write my story for Toan and readers of “How I got my job in the U.S.“, but I never had the time to. Working and living in the U.S., you have a lot of options in pursuing your career. So I’ve taken quite a few big steps just within the last few months. I have moved, gotten a new position, and opened my own business. It’s yet to be seen if the choices I made will work out, but I’m proud of making the steps; and choosing to stay in America is my proudest decision. I finally got the chance to write during lag time between my jobs, so here are my thoughts.
I came to the country like most international student on an F1 visa. My alma mater is Coe College, an extremely small school in the middle of almost nowhere in Iowa. If you are going to another small liberal arts college like Coe, don’t fret. These schools offered some of the best education in the country and you’ll learn much more in adapting to the American life than a big state school. My friends, who were in gigantic schools like the Ohio State University, mostly stayed within their circles of Vietnamese and international students. And they missed out on a lot of the opportunity to assimilate like Coe offered. Even if your school isn’t Ivy League, getting the good grades and being on top of your class is better than struggling in a well-known school. But please take the offer if you are accepted to an Ivy. Who wouldn’t?
A small school in a rural area has its draw backs, and the worst of them is job opportunity. You’re not going to find a job after graduation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But that’s beside the point. You will need to take a lot of steps in order to secure a job, and they have nothing to do with the location of your schools. So, here are a few things that I’ve done to find my job that you might find useful.
1. Diversify my career
I took two fields in college. Business and Computer Science. It took me until sophomore year to decide that I wanted to take on comp sci, and boy, am I glad I did! Opening up to more than one majors, you will have to take on more work. If you’re still so certain about what you truly want to do (like I was), then you get the benefit of double your chances in the job market as well. Which leads to my second point…
2. Don’t be afraid of failures
When I was 18 and applying for schools, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. So I just went with what my parents had in mind for me. I chose a career in finance and accounting. I thought I was good with math so I might be good with crunching numbers in accounting as well. What I didn’t account for is the tremendous amount of memorization you’ll need to do to learn the rules of finance and accounting. And I failed, hard. My grades suffered because I had no passion in class. But it didn’t stop me in my career track. You’ll have four years in college, and you get the chance for a do-over! It’s not hard to switch career after the first year. I got it right eventually because I found my right callings, but it took 2 years. The next point is how I found it, through…
3. Internships, internships!
Please, do not waste your summers! Find internships immediately as you enter the first winter break. You will have three chances for internships and use them right. Network as much as you can in internship and job fairs. Write new resumes every two months. And by graduation time you will already have at least one year of experience under your belt. In today’s job market, it’s quite difficult for new college grads to find true entry-level jobs unless they are Ivy educated.
4. STEM is king
Unless you absolutely can’t stand science and know for sure you want to work in humanities for a living, I want you to open your mind up about STEM careers. (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths). I had a friend who got a 5.0/10.0 his entire high school life for Math, Physics and Chemistry, who now just completed his PhD in BioChem and about to earn more than six figures on his first PhD job. If you have the work ethic of a typical immigrant, you can do well in any fields you want to. And STEM is where the jobs are! It is projected that the U.S. and Canada will lack 1 million STEM professional in the next 10 years. You’ll find a job!
Even if you are as ignorant of science as I am, you can find many ways to marry your passions. I’m in User Experience and engineering, because i love visual design and I can program. There are so many other perfect mixes for you in STEM. Getting a Visa has been a tremendous obstacle, and STEM careers will definitely provide the best chance in getting a company to sponsor you. I had an offer for a H-1B visa, until I realized my green card through family was viable. But I wouldn’t be able to stay to get my green card if it wasn’t for my 18 month long OPT period.
My ultimate final advice for all the lovely young folks seeking a place in the American work force: America is a multi-faceted country. There are good and bad things. You will need to learn as you go, adapt and survive. Keep an open mind on any opportunity in front of you, work hard and you’ll do just fine. We immigrants are a special group in this country, we have to work much harder to earn a place. But when we do, I’ve only seen success.