The snowstorm didn’t stop us! The OMA lounge in Lerner was full of students and we dug into delicious hot food together as we waited for our alumni, who battled train delays and biting winds to join us.
Arame Mbodj of the Center for Career Education moderated the panel of international alumni comprised of Mihika Barua CC ‘15, Suchith Vasudevan SEAS ‘14 & ‘16, and Nicolau Civit GS ‘17, who shared their experiences navigating job searches in the US.
Advice for You from our International Alumni:
Be honest about what you really want to do
The panelists all spoke about the value of taking time to reflect, learn about options, and consider what feels rights for you. One panelist stressed himself out applying to everything at first and realized that he didn’t want half of the positions he was going for.
He recommended that students do their research, connect with CCE to talk through options, target 5-10 companies, and prepare quality applications.
Stay Open — you don’t know when the opportunity will arise
Suchith, who graduated with a BA and MA from SEAS landed his first internship through a project group in a research lab. His internship led to a full-time offer and he has stayed with the company, recently returning to NYC from Chicago.
Mihika, a political science major, was interested in marketing in the startup world. She found her first full-time job through AngelList, a U.S. website for startups, angel investors, and job-seekers looking to work at startups.
Nicolau found his job in consulting through on-campus recruiting at CCE.
They all encouraged students to take advantage of Columbia to try different fields.
Don’t let your visa status dictate your field of study or career. It can be a factor to consider but not the driving force.
Network & Build Communities. Yes, Even Though it Can Be hard
Suchith and Nicolau now serve on recruitment teams for their firms and shared their experience networking as students and now meeting students at career fairs.
As students, they along with Mihika, found networking to be hard yet very valuable to them, providing them with information and relationships that supported them along the way.
They encouraged students to build community by going to events and following up with alumni and other professionals. Do research on the people and companies you’ll be talking to so you can have quality conversations. Go early to career fairs! Recruiters will remember you better and be fresher and more eager to talk to you.
“Hello! Do you sponsor?”… is not an introduction
The alumni shared their stories of figuring out whether organizations sponsored.
Don’t start conversations with, “Do you sponsor?” The employer may believe you’re only interested in working for them because you want to stay in the country, which may be true, but it’s a turn-off.
Start by introducing yourself and sharing your interest in the company. Once you’ve established some rapport, you can let them know that you’re international and ask if they hire internationals.
Some companies have very structured recruitment processes and know whether they sponsor. For others, it’s on a case by case basis.
Know your visa status and get comfortable sharing it, e.g., — I’m authorized to work in the US for 12 months under OPT after graduation and require sponsorship after that time.
Find something you want to stick with for a few years
During the interview process, companies are interviewing you and you’re also interviewing them. Remember that you can still be picky and find the right thing for you. When you like the company it’s easier to go through the visa process with them and stay with them.
Nicolau said that one of the great things about the US is that you can work as an undergraduate to get a taste for the work culture here. He hasn’t ruled out going home to Spain to live and work there and encouraged students to stay open to working at home as visas can limit your flexibility in your career in the US.
Mihika recommended doing at least one internship at home to get a sense of what it’s like to work in your home country.
Suchith stayed on at SEAS to pursue a graduate degree and noted that he got entered into the H1B lottery twice with his Master’s degree. He added that you should only go to grad school if you want a graduate degree as it costs money, time, and effort.
Tap into Columbia’s resources
Career, academic, and ISSO advisers and faculty are resources that you can rely on even after you graduate.
“You have to get out of your comfort zone and go after what you need.”
Your peers and alumni are also wonderful resources. Reach out to alumni and other professionals on Linkedin; it never hurts to message people, even if only one or two respond. It can help open a conversation.
When you approach these conversations, have something in mind to discuss. Don’t go in blind — know what you want out of the conversation. It’s okay to have a concrete request at the end like, “Could you connect me with others in your field?” or “Would you highlight my application to the hiring team?”
The evening ended with small group conversations, more food, and lots more snow!