Category Archives: Career

Email from a Mentee – What Makes a Productive Summer

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:

Letter from Mentee

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 Maybe your question is what everyone else is wondering. I look forward to hearing from you!


Serendipity in My Job Search

Preface: this is an article I am writing for “How I Got My Job in the US“, which shares stories of how international students got job offers in the US.

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 Tom, 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.


Networking Hack #2 – Return the Favor

In college, I dreaded networking the most, not because I didn’t have brilliant questions to ask, but because I felt I as a student could not provide anything in return while I usually asked for something – information, a job referral, a contact, etc. To me, the scale was out of balance. As a result, the notion of being indebted haunted me and impaired my confidence at the meetings.

Honest Networking

It was not until I was approached by students to set up networking meetings that I realized I was not as resourceless as I thought I was in college. When thinking “Oh, I wish student A would have done this when we spoke last week”, I also learned to see “I really could have helped Alumna B when I met with her for an informational interview a few years ago”. After many rounds of reflection, I discovered the networking meeting could be an equal information exchange rather than one-way street. I could wear both hats – to find out answers to my networking requests (“the taker”) and to understand the other person’s aspirations and offer to help (“the giver”). Had I been back in college again, I would not have let the limited experience of my college-self impact me negatively. There are many ways to return the favor and stay in touch in the long term, such as giving feedback, sending relevant information in their areas of interests, introducing contacts, etc.


I did not recognize how powerful giving feedback is until I started blogging and have been in dire need of suggestions to improve my blog. I want to know if I have articulated my ideas, what topics my target audience would be interested in, etc. Thus, I reached out to a mentee of mine and asked her for a list of topics she is curious about. Thanks to her recommended list, I have written “Networking Hack #1” on how to conduct information interviews and this article on how to leave a long-lasting impression and stay in touch. Similarly, anyone could do the same for his/her networking contact by offering constructive feedback. When attending a company-sponsored networking event, you could connect with the recruiters and provide thoughts on what you enjoy and what else to include to make it even better. Comments and suggestions are in high demand but hard to get since we often delete event survey emails without participating. If you offer what the recruiters care about without them even asking in the first place, you will definitely stand out. What’s more, you get to connect with them on a personal level rather than being just a name among the survey results. Another example is if your mentor works in an industry you are familiar with, such as Target or General Mills, you could offer personal insights on certain products experience. I am sure you will have a fun idea exchange!

Apart from contributing personal ideas, another way is to share resources in the field that your contact is interested in. Resources could range from book recommendations and news articles, to contacts to introduce them to and professional development event information. I found out recently that one of my contacts was moving to Chicago.As someone who have been through moving to a completely new city not knowing anyone, I offered to introduce him to friends I know in the area. Someone who I find very inspiring has opened two women’s wear boutique shops in Minnesota. Since I have been quite a shopper myself, I sent her articles on the retail/fashion industry. I also shared her store information on Facebook, hoping to drive more store traffic. I am a firm believer that as long as I am thoughtful, whether the information could be of help or not, my contacts will appreciate the effort I put in. More importantly, I feel happier when I could do something for others.

To stay in touch in the long term, you could follow up periodically and give a status update. When others invest in you by volunteering time to meet with you, introducing their contacts, and forwarding your resume, etc, they would love to know what happens to you in the end. I did not empathize that feeling until I start mentoring students. I would wonder “what happened to Student A’s interview?”, “Did Student B meet my coworker and find it helpful?”, etc. Sending a brief email update is always a nice way to reconnect and gives another opportunity to keep you on your contact’s mind.

No matter what you do, it takes genuine interest to understand what your contacts care about and a well-informed mind to be resourceful. From checking your contact’s Linkedin profile and asking questions at the meetings, you will notice things that matter to them, such as the industries they are in, professional goals, college affiliation, personal hobbies, etc. To discover the relevant resources, you could stay in the know by not only following the news, but also turning to the Linkedin Newsfeed. I was able to find a networking event through Linkedin that one of my contacts might be interested in attending. If you are at a loss of how to help, you could always try “what can I do to help you”. Someone asked me this question before and I was able to ask for a favor.

When you initiate to help your networking contacts, you will strike them as thoughtful and having their interests in mind, instead of being all about “What I want…” If you share similar feelings as I once had in college, why not try these suggestions of giving feedback, providing relevant information, and sending periodic update emails. I hope my tips will help you generate more ideas. When in doubt, always think in your networking contact’s shoe and ask yourself “if I was him/her, how would I like to be treated?”



I would love to hear from you! Your thoughts are always welcome! You could leave a comment or email me at

Networking Hack #1 – Make it Easy for Others to Help You

Have you sent lots of networking emails but gained little traction?

Have you set up networking meetings that ended with no job prospects?

Sometimes feeling like the resume guy in the cartoon?

Unfocused Networking

Chances are you are not doing it right. To have high request response rate and productive networking meetings, think of ways that are convenient for others to help you. First, you must know what you want to achieve from the meeting, then incorporate the purpose in the introduction email, and lastly follow up with easy to execute plans. All these ideas are drawn from my personal experience of being on both sides and lessons passed down from the wise.

Network with a clear purpose

Networking meeting should always start with a purpose, which will help you narrow down what information you are seeking and who to talk to. A networking meeting without a well-thought-out purpose is a waste of time for both parties. Moreover, it is quite likely that the connection won’t even accept the request in the first place since he/she might be wondering “why me?” Thus, you should never network just to check the box. Instead, take the opportunity to explore topics such as “Does the company has the roles that fit my background and career aspirations”, “Does the team has the right culture that aligns with my personality”, etc. Further, networking does not need to be limited to job searching. You could also learn from those with intriguing career paths and get mentored.

Once you determine what questions to ask, set up meetings with those that could give you the answers. Linkedin is usually a great resource to research and gauge if one is the right connection. Relevance of one’s background to your networking purpose always matters more than the title he/she holds. No matter what decision-making power he/she has, if you are a strong candidate for a job, eventually your resume will be passed onto the hiring manager. It happens a lot in my office that if there is an opening on the team, the hiring manager will ask everyone if they know any good candidate. What’s more, you could always start with the junior analysts to “knock out the basics” and then to move up to people at the senior level to understand the team culture and strategy.

Articulate the purpose in the introduction email

With the purpose in mind, you narrow down the list of connections. Now it is time to set up a meeting. However, in the initial email, sometimes networkers fail to explain clearly how the request relates to the connection. I have outlined two requests that I encountered and my initial reactions. I have abbreviated the emails and kept them anonymous.

Case A

Email: “…. I am an international student looking for advice…”

Reaction: What particular areas of advice are you looking for? Academic? Adapting to the US culture? Job search? Leadership? What’s more, even under each area, there are multiple subtopics. For example, under job search, stand-alone topics could include networking, getting interview invites and interviewing. When the topic is too general, I will be at a loss about where to start and uncertain about how much time commitment the meeting is going to be.

Case B

Email: “… I am looking to move to Houston to start my career in finance. I am wondering if you have any advice or know anyone I should reach out to as I begin my application process…”

 Reaction: This should be a direct request for an informational interview, where I could learn more about your background. You could tell me what finance jobs are of interest and what companies you have looked into in Houston. What’s more, I am more likely to introduce you to my connections once I get to know you beyond the email.

Knowing that I could have high expectations, I nevertheless responded to both emails. However, there is room for improvement to eliminate any potential questions from the connection.

Propose specific actions in the follow-up email 

After the networking meeting, if you are interested in potential employment, propose ways that the connection could easily take part in. I have outlined a couple of actions and their enhanced versions.

Scenarios Actions Further Improvement
Available job posting of interest Tell the connection you have applied Email the connection a job description with your resume so he/she could forward directly to hiring managers
No job posting of interest at the moment Thank you email to show appreciation Commit to check back with the connection later, specify what types of position you are interested in and include the resume, in case he/she could forward your resume to other companies that are hiring

Overall, you should bear in mind the goal of minimizing the amount of work your connection needs to do.

We could all agree that people are more likely to act upon something if the undertaking is easy with clear directions. Our connections have competing priorities in life that they could easily say no to the meetings, since they don’t have any obligation to volunteer their time. Invest time and efforts in making it easier for others to help, such as knowing what you want to gain from the meeting and writing clear introduction and follow-up emails. In that way, you are more likely to get what you want.

Bonus – if you could read Chinese, below is a great article that inspires me to write this post. Although some points are overlapping, I try to make my examples as relevant as possible to college recruiting. I believe it is through concrete examples that one really learn to practice the ideas.

P.S. I will try to get back to my publishing consistency of every other Sunday evening. If you don’t want to miss a post in case I am behind schedule, be sure to sign up for notification via email. In “Hack #2” post, I will share my ideas of “giving” in the networking dynamic. Stay tuned!