Category Archives: Houston

Out-of-State Job Search & My Two Personal Stories

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!

Houston Impression

I moved down to Houston from Minneapolis about one year ago. I first heard about Houston because of NASA, and then the Rockets, for which Chinese native Yao Ming was playing. I didn’t know much about the city and the Oil & Gas industry until the company I have been working for acquired two companies based in Houston.

For the past two years after the acquisition, the office in Houston consistently delivered robust growth that dwarfed any other business unit in the company. I moved down in July 2014, so this was long before oil prices dropped to $50-$60/barrel when the US oil market got hit heavily. Under the influence of Sheryl Sandberg, as she wrote in her book Lean In, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat”, I applied and got the job to work for the “rocket ship” in the whole company. Though never setting foot in Houston prior to accepting the job and being warned that the city is quite industrial, I bid farewell to friends and the great state of Minnesota where I spent four years of college and two years of professional life and started the adventure in the bayou city.

After three months in the office, I knew I made the right move for myself professionally because: 1) I’ve learned a lot about the O&G industry, which is an area with challenging concepts that I have little knowledge about; 2) I have more responsibilities in the job because the local finance team is running very lean for an almost four billion dollar business; 3) The office culture is pretty laid back and I love the team. We have been joking that the culture was driven by the cowboy spirits.

In terms of living in Houston, I do find my friend’s warning of “Houston being industrial” quite true. The city is very commuter driven, consisting of circles of highways. All this concrete takes over the space for nature. Gone are the days when I could easily access parks, running/biking trails, and lakes. As a runner for more than two years now, I found my outdoor running trails somewhat limited. Memorial Park and the trail circling Rice University are my go-tos now, the latter of which is particularly appreciated due to the shade it provides in the summer.

Despite not being very walkable or nature friendly, Houston still has a lot to offer. Without a doubt, I love the pleasant sunny days three fourths of the year, skipping the three months of hot and humid summer. That’s certainly something to brag about when the northern US experiences snow storms in the winters! It took me a move out of the familiar Midwest to realize how important sunshine is to me, when I get to enjoy it more! What’s more, being the fourth most populated metro city in the country, Houston has a very diverse demographic. I love that people could simply order lunch in Spanish, or that I could easily find authentic Chinese dishes. Further, a lot of people in Houston are transplants just like me, continuously pumping new energy into the city and easing up the friends-making process.

Though people are generally open to meeting new people, I still need to make an effort to reach out. There is someone on my floor that works in a different group that I usually say hi to. One day I asked her out to lunch and found that she was relatively new to the city just like me. She also mentioned wanting to enjoy the Houston classical music scenes, but didn’t know anyone here to go with. By the end of the lunch, we agreed that we would go to Houston Symphony together next time! Now I wish I had initiated lunch earlier. One way I tried to meet people is to use The website hosts a substantial number of interest groups organized by enthusiastic volunteers. Had I still been in Minnesota, I would have hang out with friends from college and followed my usual pastime routine. The Meetup group usually organizes various events that are not necessarily considered “my routine”. But the goal of meeting people and making friends motivated me to try a lot of new activities, such as indoor rock climbing, topgolf, rollerblading, flag football, etc. I am getting used to trying new things now and not that afraid of failures or being judged, which I am quite proud of.

Within this past year, I have hosted two visitors. At a disadvantage of Houston not being a top destination city for leisure, for each visit, I planned fun events in Houston with diverse points of interests, such as science, art, nature, food, etc. Then it dawned on me that I am no longer new in town and could be just as informed as a local Houstonian. There are still many places on my to-explore list, so I can’t wait to see what else Houston has to offer!