Check out the job search story of Sijie Cheng, a finance professional at a F500 company.
Sijie is very passionate about helping international students and sharing her reflection and learnings on sijieand500words.com. You could also find more stories and her contact information on her blog.
In Steve Job’s famous commencement speech at Stanford, he said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Commonly speaking, it is easier for international students with business degree to find positions in the public accounting, consulting, or investment banking firms because these firms are used to hiring international talent. As one of the only two analysts with international backgrounds in Ecolab, whose company profile does not belong to any of the three industries above, I believe my story has a twist of serendipity. Looking backward, I am able to connect the dots that led to the job offer in the end. However, I am not here to discuss karma, which is out of our control, but rather courage and commitment.
The first key event is when I ran for the freshman representative of a student club. It happened during my first semester abroad after 18 years in China. I hesitated whether I made a strong candidate as a foreign national. Nevertheless, I pushed aside the insecurities and participated in the election because I felt connected with the club and had quite a few ideas to improve member’s experience. I got the position and served on the board for two years. Even though it was all voluntary, I took my role seriously, just as a part-time job. It was through serving on this leadership board that I met someone two years my senior that joined Ecolab after graduation. When I was looking for internship opportunities, he helped me connect with Ecolab’s recruiting team and shared insider’s tips to prep for the interviews.
Someone else also helped me with my Ecolab interviews, but it took at least four connections in between to meet him. Let’s begin with Tim, who I met through my mentor Bill at the business school. I learned from Tom that he knew an American in legal that speaks fluent Chinese and could be of a good connection. Thus, I emailed Tom and said I would love to be introduced to this connection because I wanted to find out how to leverage my bilingual background. Tom responded and connected me with Jack. Jack happened to be quite involved in the US and American business exchange in Minnesota and invited me to attend a speaker event on leadership. I vividly remember debating whether to attend this event or not because I had to spend more than an hour taking two different buses to get to the event venue on a Saturday morning (I didn’t own a car at the time). What’s more, I was not sure if this event could provide the immediate benefit that I was looking for – internship opportunities. In the end, I convinced myself to go despite the long commute and unknown benefit because it could potentially lead to something and if I didn’t go, I would never find out. Furthermore, it was not the time to be picky – when I didn’t have any offer in hand, I should jump on any opportunity even if it would require going the extra mile. It was at the event that I connected with Ann, whose husband works for Ecolab Finance. When I mentioned that I would have my second round interviews with Ecolab in a week, her eyes lighted up, “No way! You should totally talk to my husband!” Thanks to Ann’s introduction, I received more pointers on my second round interviews.
By now, you might be thinking – “you were fortunate to meet these two people, but everyone’s story is different”. As I reflect on the past, I have several takeaways that could apply to anyone. First of all, own your success and have confidence. When reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I learned the phrase “the Imposter syndrome” that describes the uneasiness that one is not qualified enough and would be uncovered any time (women experience it more often than men). That was exactly how I felt when I ran for the leadership position and even after getting elected. I am glad that I ran for it regardless. Fake till make it – even if you have doubts in yourself, you should never let them stop you from pursuing your interests.
Second, you need to consistently build a brand for yourself. If I did not put in the effort when serving on the executive board of the student club, I would not have people invest time in me and provide me guidance. Thus, the next time you feel like slacking off on a group project or any assignment, think about how you will be perceived and the possibility that they could become your future coworker, manager, etc. Take advantage of any opportunity to show that you are someone worth vouching for.
Third, Rome was not built in one day. It takes time and hard work to see results. I learned in freshman year how competitive it would be for international students to find internship due to the work visa constraints. Thus, I spent the remaining 3.5 years of college working relentlessly towards closing the gap. I broke down the goal of getting a job in the US into smaller milestones – building a good resume, receiving an internship, and securing the full-time offer. In sophomore year, I realized my weakness was no experience in a professional setting in the US. Therefore, I gave up my spare time to scroll through on campus part-time position listings, finding those that match my objectives, and tailoring my resume and cover letters accordingly. Unfortunately, I did not have much luck, so I was advised to try out internship opportunities with local non-profits. Although most of them are unpaid positions, they make equally good experience. My search eventually paid off and I got a part-time finance internship with the MS Society. The whole search and networking experience not only taught me to be patient, but also the importance of going the extra mile. Had I not invested time to find the internship and not pursued opportunities with my networking connections, I would not have built the resume and the connection necessary to receive the internship offer.
Again, you might be objecting – “My situation is different. You started since freshman year while I am already a senior in college and don’t have enough time to build a resume like you did. Time is not on my side anymore!” This brings me to the last point – time is relative considering your entire lifespan. I have some friends with no summer internships during their junior year, but kept working at it and got a full-time offer. I also know a couple of people that didn’t have a job when graduating from college but continued looking during the one year allowance from OPT and succeeded in the end. Their success stories were examples that if you want it bad enough and are willing to go above and beyond, you will get what you want. Your follow-up question might be – “what if luck was not on my side and I was still not able to find anything once the one year is up?” Well, don’t let that define the rest of your life. One of my favorite quotes is “Life is not a sprint but a marathon”. Should working full-time in the US be your goal, you always have the option of returning to the US for MBA. You will get there eventually and your commitment is tested through the passage of time. Encouraged by “He who laughs last, laughs best”, I always stay hopeful even if I fail. Because I know as long as I keep trying, failure is only temporary.
Looking back, each event serves a purpose – giving up leisure time to find work experience built up my resume, letting go of my inner insecurity and pursuing networking connections got me connections with the company I would like to work for, and always being committed to whatever I do led others to become my advocates. No matter where you are in the stage, do not be discouraged if things don’t turn out the way you hope. Keep at it and have faith that things would eventually work out for the best.