HIEP TRAN – Life is unfair and you just need to grind harder the next day

What would you do if you got a job offer, the company agreed to sponsor your H-1B visa, but later on did not keep their promise? My friend, Hiep Tran, a mechanical engineering student was in that situation. And what he did and has achieved is just purely amazing!

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I will finish my MS in Mechanical Engineering in spring 2016, specializing in Simulation & Visualization in Fluid Mechanics and got BS in ME and minor in General Business.  I have been through many obstacles like other international students just to get that “1st internship” and then that “full-time job”, got a taste of H1B decommitted by the company, back on track again as a graduate student and then look for a job again. Nobody wants to ride in that roller-coaster but life is unfair and all we need to do is getting back to the lab and ready to grind harder the next day. I would like to share with you about how I have faced adversity during my college and professional career and how to overcome it. That would sum up how I got three job offers at BASF The Chemical Company, Schlumberger and Turner Construction and a verbal offer from CB&I in fall 2015 before my graduation in spring 2016. There are three main areas that you have to do well in order to stay competitive in the job hunt process.

1. Academic

Do well in your major courses and get to know your professors well. This is what you should do constantly every semester to make sure that you stay competitive. Your professors can write average recommendation letters to their contacts in companies or they can write fabulous pieces that help you got hired the next day easily. In my field, professors have a very strong tie with industries because they’ve received a lot of engineering projects from different companies for research. Therefore, I always spend at least two hours every week getting to know them and their work in order to build up strong relationships. Strong relationship can be tell if your professors offer you lunch or dinner to discuss about your professional goals in life and decide to be your mentor. Life without mentorship is meaningless. You need a person to show you different ways to reach your goals easily. While you are still in college, your professors should be your 1st in the contact/networking list. Last spring semester 2015, I got a privilege to get to know a professor who has a lot of experience in chemical and petroleum industry. He was my instructor for a graduate course as well. I always have showed him my curiosity about the subject and visited office hours for questions. During that time, I applied to different companies for summer 2015 internship and I really wanted to work on something that is related to my master degree. After telling him that I got an interview with BASF The Chemical Company, he was totally surprised because BASF has never recruited at Iowa State. We drafted an interview plan the next day because I got no “interview experience” in chemical/petroleum industry. He carefully showed me how I should talk and what I should ask during/after an interview. Surprisingly I got an offer two days later after my 3rd round interview. I am currently working on the 3rd internship rotation with a production team after successfully completed two internship rotations with maintenance and capital projects teams. Most professors always support students and their future growth. Keeping them in the loop is always your 1st priority.

2. Off campus life

This is the crucial piece of your college life. Being “book-smart” is also just important as being “street-smart” and off campus life will teach you that. I am not talking about going to parties/bars every single weekend here. I am talking about attending networking events, career development work-shops, career fairs and sport events to learn something outside all “engineering textbooks”. I always make my time for different career work-shops, company information sessions or sport events (I will discuss this later). This is because I know that I can learn from company representatives how to speak confidently, write strong resume/cover letters and build up my networking. Please remember this, if you don’t come to those sections your chance of getting hired is low because recruiters remember well who they talk to before an official career fair. Don’t forget to bring your resume in so that they can scan through or help you fix some hidden problems. Career information sections will help you prepare for your elevator speech easily and make early impression. I have been consistently doing so since I was a freshman in college and therefore, got 4 months internship and 7 months co-op. It has helped me realize different career paths, learn how to prepare for my interview, get to know recruiters and speak like a professional.

When I have prepared so well for all interviews and job applications and then BAM! I got those messages: “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for this position.” It sounds so familiar to everyone right! Well I just simply move on the next opportunity. To be honest, I have received countless rejections from so many companies during my entire undergrad and graduate but I’ve always treated them as my motivation. This is because when I look at the bigger picture about internship/full-time opportunities in the market, there are so many out there. I just need to find them. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I get back to the lab the next day and figure out future game plans. Moreover, they also give you a warning that you need to improve something that other candidates have but you don’t. It might be your weak sale pitch while talking to recruiters, mistakes on resume, working experience, etc. You need to do whatever it takes to figure your weakness in order to improve yourself. This is because if you don’t nobody can do it for you.

Practice speaking and listening actively as much as you can because having a great resume and sale pitch do not mean you present yourself well. I always keep in touch with friends who got multiple internships and great jobs at top companies. Those are people whom you want to practice having interview with. They have helped me improve my public speaking and listening skills tremendously throughout my college career. Moreover, your resume flies through HR filters faster because your friends put it on hiring manager’s desk the next day. Be thankful to those contacts and try to socialize as much with them as you can to strengthen the friendship. They are 2nd on your contact list after your professors.

If your college has a great sport program, awesome. Your job is to get to know it a bit. I did not really care about college/professional sports, especially football and basketball until I was a junior in college. I really didn’t know the benefit of getting to know this area and how it even would help my career. This might happen to you as well. Don’t get me wrong here, people in your companies do care and they talk a lot about it. You do not have to know in detail too much but having some knowledge is extremely helpful. Most alumni and company representatives always come to tail-gate football or basketball events to cheer for college teams or professional teams. Those are great events to socialize with them, have non-casual conversation and expand your network quickly. I’ve landed interviews during fall 2015 semester by going to different tail-gate events during my school football season. I just simply come there to have sport conversation with recruiters and alumni as much as I can. After that I just simply do follow-ups for next social meetings and BAM! Next INTERVIEW scheduled easily. In order to know schedules of recruiters or alumni coming back to your school for sport events, check your athletics department for this information. Alumni and recruiters that you have met in sport events are way more important than the people you keep in touch by e-mails, phone calls or text messages. They know who you are because they have met you physically. They are 3rd on your contact list. People you keep in touch by just emails, they are 4th on your list.

Having all those contacts prioritized, I have been able to land different interviews with different companies since my senior and graduate school time at Iowa State. It has been fun to get to know different engineering companies and practice interviewing skills.

3. Professional career.

  • Don’t be an average intern, ask for more RESPONSIBILITIES and BE A TEAM PLAYER

During my 1st internship as an undergrad student at a small engineering company near my college town, I just always volunteered doing different tasks besides my duties at work place, whether it was making design prints or doing fabrication at the company shop. Through hard work and dedications I was able to learn fast different aspects in my internship and communication skills.  When you ask for more responsibilities, you also help your boss life easier. Therefore, in return they will help you develop your own career as well. My 1st internship helped me a lot in getting 2nd internship at a bigger company later and finally to where I am today.

  • Be active in learning new materials and keep doing networking

Do not wait until your boss shows you what to learn. You are in the work force now and it is very crucial that you take initiative steps in learning more about your duties after your internship orientation day. The best way to know more about your current role is to ask whoever worked in this position before and network with that person. Get to know your peers and other managers because you might knock on their doors for help later.

  • BAMMM! You have done a great job so far but your company CANNOT SPONSOR H1B. What should you do?

People have different advice for you regarding this matter. But here is my situation and I hope it will help you make a good decision. After graduating with a bachelor degree, I got my 1st full-time job and the company decommitted H1-B application due to some reasons. I was freak out like everybody else because I got no idea what to do next. I could not believe this would happen. I got three months to get a new job but during that three months I got nothing due to visa sponsorship issue again. At the same time, I have called all my professors at school again to ask for graduate school application. This is because you need to have a plan B. That might be going back to school to get a master and then search for the next opportunity. I got an assistantship to continue my master. While pursuing my master I have applied the same principles as discussed above during internship/job hunting. The results are even more fruitful than I ever expected. You might think getting back to school for master is not worth your time and money but believe me it potentially provides more opportunities to you but you have to hustle after them. Do your best to get assistantship or scholarship for your master. If you keep all your professors in the loop, they definitely have the plan for you.

Final words: I hope my experience helps everyone prepare well during job hunt process. The road to success is full of pain, failures, disappointment and optimism. I am thankful to a lot of people who always got my back whenever I am down and to those who helped me go through all difficulties. As you go through your job hunt journey, do your best in everything, see every struggle as motivation for the next step and have an open mind-set for every opportunity. If you get tired, do yourself a favor, stay away from your laptop and go to gym. You will feel better after doing exercise. Finally be passionate about the job hunting because getting a job is also a full-time job. Remember, if you don’t hustle hard today, you will regret about it tomorrow. Finally, if you need my help in looking at your resume/cover letter, I am willing to help and provide constructive comments.

P/s: To mechanical engineer students, if you need my advice in career path, please also feel free to reach out to me.

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