After my job search story published on How I Got My Job in the US (also available on the blog), I saw heavy traffic on my blog and received quite a few subscribers. Thus, I felt motivated to write more often for my fellow readers! A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my mentee who is finishing up her sophomore year:
Her email got me reflecting on how I spent my summer and decide to dedicate this post to sharing what I think can make a productive summer.
First of all, whether you are in the States or home for the summer, having some work experience will definitely give you an edge. Gaining relevant experience in a professional setting will make recruiters feel comfortable that you are capable of being responsible for deliverables and working with others. Thus, you will not only increase your chance of being invited for first round interview, but also have plenty of examples to talk about for behavioral questions.
As an international student, my disadvantage in the first two years of college was that I did not have any work experience in the US office setting. My mentor suggested that recruiters might not be as familiar with internship opportunities in China and find it challenging seeing the skills transferred to the US. They might think you are fine working in your home country but still wonder if you can manage working in the US speaking a different language and practicing different office etiquette. Depending on the office culture, working in the China office of a global company could be an exception. To alleviate the potential concerns, I decided to find an opportunity in the US for my sophomore year summer.
Unfortunately, My plan to find an on-campus job failed with no words from the hiring offices. The career advisor in my business school recommended checking out the internship postings of Minnesota Council of Non-Profit. Even though most positions posted were unpaid, I decided to give it a try. The great thing was that I received responses from recruiters after multiple online applications, different from my on-campus job application experience. I eventually interned in the finance department of MS Society in Minneapolis for 15 hours a week.
My main project responsibilities were to do an inventory count of all the office furniture – put a label on each piece and record them accordingly. The project was not quite challenging, but I remember hearing that “you need to do the simple tasks incredibly well to gain trust”. So I did. Once I finished up the project ahead of time, I volunteered to make some process improvement involving the general ledger (take initiatives) and worked with employees and volunteers to manage additional workload during the fundraising period (work in a team setting). Most importantly, I learned to adapt and manage expectations with my supervisor. Before the internship, I was used to the Chinese value that you must do whatever the manager tells you. There is no room of negotiation. Thus, I found it intimidating to talk to my manager about changing the schedule to accommodate my summer travel plan and the lower work demand in the office. Funny how tiny that issue is to me now. At the time, I scheduled an appointment with the career advisor to discuss how to have the conversation step by step. Here is a plug for the career center – take advantage of the available resources! The advisors are incredibly helpful!
Apart from my own stories, after college graduation, I also met a couple of current international students who were able to leverage part-time job or non-profit internship. One student completed an accounting internship at the Minnesota State department in 2015 summer – no sponsorship is required to work in the state department. She just started her summer internship with E&Y assurance in Minneapolis. The other student completed an internal audit internship with YMCA and went on to intern in the internal audit department of Select Comfort.
My own experience and their stories remind me of the importance of starting small. As a young professional, there are areas outside finance that I want to try and I have been figuring out how to acquire the skills and knowledge. I wish I had reached out to the local non-profits sooner to volunteer and learn. Similar to Minnesota Council of Non-Profit, Volunteer Houston is a wonderful website!
Apart from gaining professional experience, I highly recommend brushing up your technical skills. If you work in Finance or Accounting, mastering Excel is a must. The knowledge will not only save you time down the road, but also impress your future employer. I definitely see the difference when I started managing the summer interns in the office. It makes my job easier when the interns know how to use vlookup, match, index, pivot table, etc. Fortunately, my business school offered Excel classes over the summer for free, so I took all three classes (intro, intermediate, and advanced) in my sophomore year. What’s more, Google is a great resource to find explanations of how a function works. I rely on Google heavily when I am stuck in Excel.
Networking and reconnecting with your contacts is also a great investment of time. Now that you do not need to worry about class schedule conflict, you could arrange to meet up with your contacts in their offices or even travel out of town to their cities for in-person meetings. I have discussed conducting effective networking meetings, developing sustainable relationships, and finding jobs outside your current city in my prior posts.
Save the best for the last – use the break as what it is intended to – rest and recharge! If you could afford to travel, go to other cities! If you have fun books you are putting off reading, now it is time! If there are local restaurants, shops or museums you would like to explore, grab a couple of friends and go! If you are considering picking up a new skill, you have the perfect window to do so! Regardless, do not just spend your free time on the Internet or on TV! 😀
Starting small, brushing up the technical skills and networking skills, and doing some much needed R&R are what I think make a great summer. Enjoy it while you can, because you do not get these long breaks anymore after college!
Have a question for me? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe your question is what everyone else is wondering. I look forward to hearing from you!