The Job Search Journey of an Immigrant in the US

Tips, tricks and a breakdown of my job search journey as an international student in the US. This post is meant to provide guidance on how you can position yourself and deploy some very basic strategies especially if you are new to the job search process or are confused about what type of role you want to pursue.

Finding a job in the US when you’re not a citizen is not an easy journey, to say the least. Most companies refuse to even accept your resume — really limiting the pool you can play in. I had moved to US a couple years ago for my Masters and was about to graduate in a fairly new field, not very well known even in a city like San Francisco.

I was very, very new to the whole idea of looking for a job. Coming from a close knit industry like Pakistan’s, and having run my own startup for a few years, I had never had to look for a job in my life before — let alone look for one in a new country! Aside from my lack of experience in looking for a job, in a foreign country, in a field barely anyone knew about, I had also heard too many grueling stories from other immigrant friends and alumni about their strenuous job searches. I knew this wasn’t something to be taken lightly so I decided to get my game together in my last semester and get ready for a job hunt.

I started by shooting in the dark, with no real plan or strategy. Within a few days it was clear to me that if I wanted to play this game, I needed a plan of action and had to document my process in order to understand this market, and system better. Now that I look back, while this may not be a phenomenal success story, my game plan helped me understand what I was really looking for, gave me a sense of control over my journey, drove me to make meaningful iterations, and landed me a job I couldn’t have conjured up myself.

Phase I: Planning

Identifying what you can do, and want to do:

Based on your skillset, list the different roles you have had in your past and those you may now want to pursue. Then assign scores out of 10 to determine the balance between which skillsets you have, vs. what you really want to do. Here’s what that looked like for me:

  • Design Strategist (Can do: 9.0 | Want to: 9.5)
  • Product Manager (Can do: 7.0 | Want to: 9.0)
  • UX Designer (Can do: 7.5 | Want to: 6.0)
  • Researcher (Can do: 7.0 | Want to: 6.0)
  • Project Manager (Can do: 10.0 | Want to: 3.0)
  • UI Designer (Can do: 8.5 | Want to: 2.0)

Apart from the type of role, make sure to list your additional criterion. For me, it looked something like this:

  • Company structure: Consulting structure (I enjoy the changing project variety)
  • Company Culture: I really value an open and flat organizational structure, an innovative organizational vision and the freedom to be my own person.
  • Company size: This was a little tricky to decide. I love the flexibility of a small startup but I was very intrigued by big organizations because I didn’t have that experience. I decided I didn’t want to be in a very big company (even though they may pay well but learning can be limited compared to the freedom and pace of a small team).
  • Type of company: No NGO’s or fashion industry, I didn’t even apply to those. Working with startups would be a plus (I love working with startups!)
  • Job type: I was looking for a full-time job but I decided I would be open to contract positions only if I get desperate (my desperate time was to start three months after graduation)
  • Work-visa: Being an international student, I needed my company to sponsor my visa (this was a difficult one but a nice-to-have)
  • Relocation: I was living in San Francisco at the time and decided that I would relocate only if my visa was being sponsored.

Phase II: Scoping

Prioritizing top roles:

Based on the scoring exercise in Phase 1, I knew what my top 3 desired roles were. Moving forward, that’s all I focused on.

  1. Design Strategist
  2. Product Manager
  3. UX Designer

Action items:

  1. Find 5–10 job descriptions for each of your top 3 roles and identify keywords and patterns in order to create a persona for each role.

2. Create a resume and cover letter for each role.

3. Update your Linkedin profile and personal website to reflect the power person you are by skillfully combining the various strengths from the 3 roles.

Phase III: Executing

  1. Apply to 10 jobs everyday. Linkedin and Glassdoor are great platforms — I mostly used Linkedin.
  2. ALWAYS add a cover letter — mine was quite basic but here’s a sample:

Dear Hiring Manager,

I have a X+ years experience in product design and management along with research and strategy. I have worked on multiple award-winning creative solutions for 10+ million users. Over the course of my career I have lead teams of 20+ through entire product lifecycles including discovery, research, ideation, prototyping, design, launch, and iterations.

I am passionate about uncovering user needs and turning them into innovative products which explore a blend of design, technology and business. I love gathering quantitative and qualitative data, identifying patterns, and creating actionable strategies. I thrive in a challenging environment, and enjoy working with interdisciplinary teams.

I am very excited about the role of ______ at ______ because I believe my diverse background in strategy, design and management completely aligns with this role.

I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.

[Your Name + Website]

3. Get Linkedin Premium. It’s $30/mo — seemed really expensive at the time but hey it’s more worth it than what you’d spend at one night out. Linkedin Premium puts your resume on top of the pile for any recruiter. Plus, you’re able to send a direct message as an InMail to anyone.

4. Send In-mails to recruiters. Most job descriptions have the recruiter profile linked. If you really like the job, send a private message to them with a short version of your cover letter, with something like “hey, I just applied for this xyz job and thought I’d drop you a message too. This is how I believe I am qualified blah blah”. Remember that there are limited number of in-mail connects each month. Use them wisely.

5. Leverage mutual connections. If you already have someone in your network at the company you just applied at (Linkedin will tell you that) make sure to drop them a message but don’t just ask them to recommend you. Let’s not look too desperate here, shall we? You can say something like, “hey’ I just applied for this job at your company and I was wondering if you could give me any guidance, or have more insights about the job. etc.”

6. Download Shapr. It’s Tinder for Networking. Your profile would have your bio and your criteria: looking for a job, co-founder, new hires, networking, etc. Meet random people for coffee and see how you guys can help each other. You’ll be surprised how effective a coffee chat even with a random stranger can be.

7. Send cold emails. Hunter allows you search for email addresses of people from any company. You may not always find what you are looking for, but they have a decent database. Once you have an email of a relevant recruiter or product manager — send them a direct email. Make sure to not sound marketing-ish or desperate, or they might not respond.

8. Network, network, network. Go to networking events and connect with people. Reach out to your network and ask if they are aware of any job opening or can connect you with people. A friend of mine has a great way of leveraging her network. She says, “I recommend starting with a wishlist of 50 companies. It doesn’t matter if you have no leads today — people want to help. Here’s a sample spreadsheet that makes it really easy for people to know how to help you.” When you meet people for coffee, try not to seem desperate and ask for a job upfront. Understand their needs and point out how you can add value. According to research, 80% jobs are never even advertised and work out through networking.

9. Signup with a recruiter. This didn’t work for me even though I did get a bunch of interviews. I soon realized that I wasn’t getting opportunities catered to my skillset and needs. Therefore, trusting an outside recruiter with this big decision, knowing that they don’t really care about me and I’m just another customer, didn’t sit well with me. However, it did give me an opportunity to practice interviewing again (reminder, I had never job hunted in my life before). This one has worked great for a lot of other people though.

Note: You could start with all of these, but within some time you’ll be able to tell what is working for you, and you can funnel the rest out with time.

Phase IV: Tracking

I am a little obsessed with data so I kept a spreadsheet to track the jobs I had applied to; company name, date applied, a link to the job role, status, etc. You don’t have to be psychotic like me and create spreadsheets — as long as you able to track your progress and iterate in a meaningful manner. My spreadsheet was essentially a funnel to track my conversion:

no. of jobs applied → calls received → in-person interviews → offers

Phase V: Iterating

Always be iterating:

In my field of work, I had to present a portfolio and I would end up tweaking my portfolio/website/resume almost everyday. If this is relevant for you, do it.

  • If it helps, write a script for how you would present yourself and/or your portfolio pieces. Tie it all to the job you are interviewing for.
  • ALWAYS ask for feedback from recruiters if you get a rejection (most people won’t respond or will give a generic answer, but some might actually give you good insights)
  • Manage your expectations. Sometimes the process can take really long. One of my offers came in 3 months from the day I applied.
  • Interviewers can be really nice and promising to your face, and yet reject you. Don’t fall for it. Learn from it, but take it personally. Keep your emotions in check.
  • It is always helpful to compare notes, but don’t compare your journey and effort with other job seekers. That can discourage you really fast. I knew that being an immigrant, I had to try twice or thrice as hard as others.
  • Remember that it is about selling the VALUE you can add to the company, not just your skillset.

In the end, as crazy and unnecessary as this process may seem when I look back now, I would not have gained the insights if I was shooting in the dark without a strategy. I was able to make meaningful iterations with each application, understand the job market in a foreign country, and land a job that fit all of my criterion.

Godspeed!

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Design Strategist | Anime Fanatic — People & Stories Make My Day!

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Rumaisa Mughal

Rumaisa Mughal

Design Strategist | Anime Fanatic — People & Stories Make My Day!

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