Preface: I am writing this article because my schedule doesn’t allow me to speak as a panelist at the workshop hosted by my alma mater. I am writing down my personal observations and stories, hoping it could make up for my absence. I will resume my “Ace the Recruiting Season – Part B” in the next two weeks.
If you are an international student struggling to find local employers to hire you due to work visa constraints, I strongly encourage you to look for opportunities out of state, especially in major metropolitan cities (i.e. NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, etc.). After moving to Houston due to an internal transfer, I was amazed at the sheer volume of international graduates working in Big Four accounting firms in Houston. Thinking about my accounting friends in Minnesota with equally impressive resume, I concluded they have a tough time because they only looked at local opportunities. In this article, I will quickly highlight “why major metros?”, share two personal stories on how I end up in Houston, and conclude with two tips on out-of-state job search.
The biggest advantage major metropolitan cities have is the mass scale of opportunities. Take Big Four accounting firms as an example, the new hire class in the Houston office could have 100 people each year, while the smaller regional office might only have 30-40. The numbers are made up, yet the contrast in sizes exists. What’s more, many firms in internationally-known cities have global operations. As a result, the ability to work in multicultural environment is more sought after and could be easier to demonstrate by candidates with international background. Overall, employers in these cities usually have a great record of hiring international graduates, are more familiar with the work visa application process, and show a deeper appreciation of hires with international experience.
At this point, you should be convinced that metro cities have more opportunities, but could be questioning what advantages you have as an out-of-state candidate. The general answer is that you may not have any. However, if you would like to stay in the US after graduation and if you are out of luck with local companies, relocating and committing to the job search is the only solution. Moreover, once you have established great connections with alumni in those cities that they would like to refer you, you are on the same level playing field.
I did not heavily search for jobs outside Minnesota in college. However, I am working in Houston thanks to the connections I have made in college and the office. They first led me to an internship with my current employer, then to a job in Houston.
When I was interviewing for internship with my current company, I reached out to someone I knew on the recruiting team. He and I used to serve on the executive board of a student organization together, so he knew my strong work ethics and leadership. He offered time to answer my questions about the company, shared insider tips, and even informed me the interview styles of my interviewers. At the company’s on-campus info session, I met my Houston manager who was also on the recruiting team. I stayed in touch with him during my internship and invited him to the intern project presentation. Two years later as I was applying for the internal transfer in Houston, he turned out to be my interviewer! I am sure the quality of my work and the relationship we have formed since the on-campus info session give him confidence that I will be successful on the job. Both personal stories have illustrated the importance of building a good brand to convince others to either recommend you or hire you.
The two anecdotes described the relationships I have developed in a period of time. How could you, as out-of-state candidates, establish trust with alumni that you might have never met before? I consider email communications and preparedness for the informational interviews as critical evaluation points. If I were to break down the networking process into several stages, the points listed are things to consider:
- Stage 1: Initial Email
In a couple of paragraphs, could you explain who you are, why you are interested in the company and the geographic location, and ask to schedule a time to talk? Brief emails save alumni reading time and the “why”s reveals how serious your interests are.
- Stage 2: Follow up
If the alumni ask you to check back a couple of weeks later, are you able to follow up? I see it happening quite often that not many students actually follow up.
- Stage 3: Phone Conversation
Have you done enough research on the company and what the alumni do? Have you browsed through the company’s website and even checked out his/her Linkedin page? I have also written about asking good questions in this post.
- Stage 4: Thank You, Ask and Stay in Touch
In the conversation or thank you email, have you asked about potential opportunities in the firm? I didn’t do a good job myself when I was a student, but I learned from the students who reached out to me. They usually followed up with their resumes, a short summary of the phone conversation, and something along the lines of “should your company has an opening, I would love to be considered”. Personally I am not turned off by the ask, because I know exactly their level of interests in employment.
Apart from the tip of maintaining relationships through email and phone communications, the other tip is to visit the alumni in his/her city if possible. Nothing strengthens the bond more than a face-to-face meeting. Before you travel to the city, it will be much more convenient if you know how to drive, because some of the major cities are not public transport friendly, i.e. Los Angeles and Houston. Can you imagine telling the alumni that you can’t meet in a certain location because it is not on the bus route? I’ve written similar point in this post.
Although out-of-state job search is more challenging, it may be your best and only option. When there is a will, there is a way. If you are fully committed, build relationships with others by consistently showing outstanding performance and keeping good communications, eventually people will not hesitate to recommend you to their employers.
Best of luck!