Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Creating a Job Hunt and Career Building Strategy

Job readiness and career coaching sessions for current students and alumni are common in many colleges and universities across America. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend one of these events at the University of Utah Career & Professional Development Center recently. 

The day was divided into morning breakout sessions and afternoon networking. The three morning sessions offered participants choices of two different topics to explore every hour. For me, in all cases, choosing between which of the two to attend proved to be quite a challenge as all of the sessions were varied and all intriguing (to see the entire listing of sessions, scroll to the bottom of the post to see the day’s agenda). In this post, I will share highlights of the seminars I attended, hoping some of the lessons I learned can help you in your job search whether you are a recent graduate, new to the job market, or a seasoned professional. 

Session 1: Robot Resume Review: Writing Resumes for Applicant Tracking Systems 
For the first breakout session, we could choose between learning about Application Tracking Systems (ATS, here after) or Networking and Small Talk. Since I recently attended the Center’s session on small talk (see this post), I opted for learning about the complex world of ATS. I was more than satisfied with this session as it truly lived up to and surpassed the description on the seminar brochure (view the brochure at the end of this post). If you’re interested in the top three interesting tips I learned in this session, click here

Session 2: Navigating the U.S. Job Search 
I opted to choose this session due to my passion and interest in working with international students and expats with their career guidance. I was really looking forward to learning something new, and I did! While looking back, it seems quite simple. However, sometimes the simple things are often the most difficult ones to think of and apply. 

In this session, we learned how to counter objections prospective employers may have about employing international students and visa issues. To read more about this tip along with a helpful approach to starting this discussion, click here

Session 3: Negotiate for What You’re Worth 
Ann House, Director, from the University of Utah Personal Money Management Center co-facilitated this session with Career Coach, Francine Mahak from the Career & Professional Development Center . I found it utterly fascinating that the university has this department, which is separate and distinct from the Financial Aid Office. Ann shared a thick workbook with us on negotiation strategies and presented many helpful and practical tips. 

Sessions 4 & 5: Lunch Panel & Networking 
From 12-2, participants enjoyed learning from each other. From 12-1, participants ate lunch while a panel of recruiters fielded questions from the audience. From 1-2 and beyond, we interacted in a round robin of networking. I found this networking activity enlightening and fun. The audience was broken up into four groups. Each group had one of the recruiters from the panel. Each group was allowed to interact with a selected panelist for 15 minutes, then at the end of each 15 minute block, the group members would move on to a different panelist, sitting with him or her and ask questions. In many ways, I enjoyed this round robin much more than I thought I would and much more than the panel discussion the previous hour, as we got to talk to more people and learn about what bought people from various career levels to this conference. 

Overall, this was a well-planned and very informative day. I can’t say that at any point I was bored, sleepy or disinterested. The day’s pace was perfect and kept me interested all day long. I hope this was true for the rest of the attendees as well. 

Thank you again to the team at the University of Utah Career and Professional Development Center for letting me attend this amazing event! For prospective, current and past students, do not hesitate on accessing the center for your career development needs. They are awesome, resourceful, and ready to help! 

Read more about what I learned at this conference: 
3 Tips to beat the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) 
How to Counter Objections for Employment as an International Student in the U.S. 
Salary Negotiation Tips 

Monday, November 27, 2017

How to Counter Objections for Employment as an International Student in the U.S.

Hi. I am …. from… [country]. I am an international student here at [university name].
Hi. Do you hire international students?
Don't be the first to give away your
international student status when at job fairs.
If you are an international student, do NOT open your conversation with recruiters at job fairs using the above greetings. Recruiters most likely will not continue talking to students who start the conversation with this casual, unprofessional opening. It is not a way to make a good first impression.

Do not immediately give away the fact you are an international student. Don’t assume your dressing style, accent, or mannerisms will give that fact away because America is diverse and there are many people who are citizens with various accents, dressing styles and mannerisms as well. 

Instead, when going up to an employer, you can say:
Hello, I am [name] and I am completing a _______ degree in ____________ [at university name]. 
Let the conversation flow naturally. Normally, employers should not ask you directly if you are an international student, but let’s say they see your resume or make an assumption that you are an international student and say to you:
Sorry, we don’t hire international students.
How should you react? What should you do or say? Should you walk away? 

This can be very intimidating and scary, no doubt. It’s hard to respond to something like this without some foresight, thought and practice. According to Anna Renzetti, one of the career coaches facilitating this session, international students can keep the conversation going by trying to educate the employer.

Keep in mind that if your job hunt as an international student is confined to global companies that already have international students or expat employees, this dialogue wouldn’t be required. This dialogue is only required if and when there are objections made by smaller companies; as smaller companies may have little or no experience hiring non-citizens in comparison to larger multinational companies (MNCs). This means that these companies, and the recruiters who represent them would not be aware of all the different kinds of student visas and the worlds of CPT and OPT that you have been living in and educating yourself about for the last few years.

Keep in mind, that the script below is not meant to be memorized and used word for word, but as a basis point for creating your own dialogue in your own words about this in natural, conversational English. It will feel odd, and it may feel uncomfortable, but with practice, I hope you will be able to utilize this to your advantage. 

The proposed dialogue can continue as follows: 
Employer: Unfortunately, we do not hire international students. 
Student: I have [specifics of visa/work authorization] which allows me to work in the U.S. for up to a year or more without any cost to you as the employer. I see that [company name] does interesting work in ____________, and I have skills in [name skills] that align with your hiring needs. Has your company worked with international students before? 
Employer: No, we have never hired international students. 
Student: I know this process can be confusing, but I would be more than happy to explain it to you. Would you be willing to work together to see if there are any opportunities that would be a good fit for me within [company name]? 

[End of sample dialogue provided by the Career and Professional Center at the University of Utah.] 

One thing I liked about this sample dialogue is that each bit said by the student ends with a question. Ending with a question typically forces the other person to respond to you, keeping the conversation going. However, don’t overuse this technique because it can feel like you are begging. Don’t forget also, in job fairs, to collect business cards of those you talk with and follow up with them a few days or a week after the event is over. 

If you are currently an international student in the U.S. reading this, I suggest to share this post with your advisors or career coach at your university’s career center so they can help you practice this and other good tips that will give you an advantage in your job search in the U.S. Also, do not forget to attend all possible immigration and visa workshops through your college’s international student office to educate yourself on the ever changing student visa and work permit scenarios. 

Thank you to Anna Renzetti, Career Coach and the team at the Career & Professional Development Center at the University of Utah for arranging this seminar (and sample scripts in this post) which was part of a day long career conference held on November 10, 2017. 

More Resources: 
Employment Visa – University at Buffalo FAQ
International Student Job Search Guide Advice  
Tips to Americanize Your Resume 

Read More About the Career Conference: 
General Overview 
Tips to Beat the Applicant Tracking System 
Tips to Negotiate Salary for your First Job

3 Tips to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

When 95% of large companies and 50% of midsize companies use a filtering software to select applicants before a human even sees the resume, it becomes important to learn how to write resumes that get selected by these filtering software programs, called Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS.

Recently, I attended a very useful seminar on tips to make it through the ATS at the Career Conference hosted by the University of Utah Career and Professional Development Center. I'd like to share a few of highlights that can also help you to ready your resume to make it through the ATS to the recruiter so you can get the call for that much anticipated job interview.  

Before sharing the tips, I think sharing a screen shot of an example ATS system can enlighten us on how keywords impact recruitment. In the image below, focus in on the third column, entitled 'Score.' This screen seems to have been sorted based on keyword compatibility from lowest to highest score. Do click on the image to see a larger size to study the screenshot and see all the different criteria a recruiter or interviewer may collect on applicants. 

Tip #1 to beat ATS: Scan Resume and Job Description to Check for Keyword Compatibility
Copy paste the job description and resume into a site such as jobscan.co to see how well your resume is tailored to the job description and the keyword match rate. (Note: When I used this site, the first use was free, then it was asking me to buy a subscription.)

You can see how it works in the video below or by clicking here.

Tip #2 to beat ATS: Always tailor the resume for the keywords in a job description. 
We can copy and paste the job description into a word cloud generator to see the frequently used words. The larger the words appear in a word cloud, the more relevant it is to the job and must appear in the resume. This is narrated in the video below.

While writing this blog, I realized we can use this method to also do a keyword search somewhat similar to Jobscan (mentioned above). The word clouds below were created with worditout.com. The one on the left is the word cloud for the job description, and the other is for the resume used to apply for this job.

Word cloud for job description.

Word cloud for resume for the
same job description.
Click on the image to see a larger size.

Tip #3 to beat ATS: Rewrite Resume to Keywords Used in the Industry/ Job Description/ Company
Not all industries use the same terms or words to describe the same thing. While it is important to change terms like "classes" to "corporate training programs," we may want to avoid the use of corporate jargon or buzzwords

For instance, if the job is for corporate training, but you were teaching, it may be possible to adapt your bullet point terminology for the industry. (Say, “Trained over 3,000 professionals in a year.” Instead of, “Taught over 3,000 students in one year.) Note that I am grossly oversimplifying what would need to be done on an actual resume.

BONUS Tip #4 to beat ATS: Use Simple Resume Formatting
Forget fancy formatting as ATS can’t scan this as easily as plain[er] text resumes. Some things to keep in mind include: 

1. No tables or charts 
2. No graphics or logos 
3. Avoid creative layouts 
4. No fancy fonts: Use Times New Roman or Arial. 
5. Do not use acronyms 
6. Black and white only, no color 
7. Do not put any information in the header or footer, adjust the margins so that all text goes into the body. 
8. Do not send PDFs (unless you know the PDF has been saved in a way that can be ready by ATS). Instead, do send it as a .doc file format. (Read more about dos and don'ts for resume attachments.)
9. Do not overuse keywords or stick them in strange places in your resume (as pictured, right). The resume should still read like proper English.

Utilizing these tips should help you avoid getting turned down by recruiters in the initial screening stages using the Application Tracking Systems. Learning how to tailor your resume may not only help you get past Human Resources to the interviewer, but it may help train your mind to talk in the language the interviewer wants to hear when you get into the actual interview (as you know all the lingo already!). Good luck with your resume writing and interviewing! May you find a job soon! 

Read More About the Career Conference: 
General Overview 
Tips to Negotiate Salary for your First Job
How to Counter Objections for Employment as an International Student in the U.S.  

Related Posts: 
How to make a good first impression 
Business Dress Code Dilemmas

Image credits:
ATS screenshot: http://wastery.us
Word clouds: worditout.com
Resume with keywords: unknown

Tips to Negotiate Salary For Your First Job

Don't leave money on the table.
Learn to negotiate.
Negotiating is something that makes most professionals of all skill levels shudder. Most people avoid it. But, did you know if you avoid it you stand to loose tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your career?

To build our knowledge and confidence in negotiating job offers, Ann House, Director, from the University of Utah Personal Money Management Center and Career Coach, Francine Mahak from the Career & Professional Development Center advised students and alumni  during the Career Conference that happened in November 2017 on the University of Utah campus. Check out the tips below to learn more: 
  1. Never be the first to give a number or range.
    If the job you are applying for will have multiple interviews, it’s best not to talk about salary at all until the last round of interviews. Typically, whoever gives the number first has less bargaining power. Try to deflect (Let’s talk more about how my experience adds value to this job.) or reflect (What do you think I am worth?). Do not accept the first thing they say to you.

    When it is time to negotiate, do listen to the entire offer and package they are offering. If it makes sense, ask for a day to sleep on it (think about it and get back to them). Typically one or two business day is a good window of time to consider the offer and respond. Do ask the interviewer how you can contact him or her when you are ready to answer.
  2. Salary is not the only variable to negotiate on.
    While it is critical that you can identify your base salary needs (see next tip), don’t forget that there are other elements of a salary package in addition to money; some of which vary from job to job. Some other elements of a salary package people mentioned negotiating on include: vacation time, laptops or electronics, work from home days or flexi time, travel allowance, child care, and others.
  3. Always, always, always research the market rate for the job you are applying for.
    Many sites such as Glassdoor and Salary.com can help with this. Market rates can vary on experience level, company salary ranges and cost of living in that area. Check a few different sites such as Nerdwallet or bankrate.com can help you with the research on that. Once you finish your research, practice negotiation role plays with career coaches or anyone willing. 
If you are a current student looking for your first job, you still do have some power to negotiate. Visit your college career center to ask for tips, advice and suggestions on how you could apply these tips to your job search. 

Note that the tips in this blog were presented presented to alumni and current students during the Career Conference hosted by the University of Utah Career & Professional Development Center in November 2017.  

More Resources: 
University of Utah Personal Money Management Center  
Negotiating Salary for your First Job – at Payscale.com 

Read More About the Career Conference: 
General Overview 
Tips to Beat the Applicant Tracking System 
How to Counter Objections for Employment as an International Student in the U.S.  

Photo credit: Steve Smith @flickr used under creative commons

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How To Land A Job When in College

University Career Centers are offering a wide range of innovative programs to help students land their first job or internship. Being in India the last 6 years, I have read about these inspiring programs from abroad. Finally, recently, I was able to attend one of these events on the University of Utah Campus hosted by the Career and Professional Development Center.  

Networking Sucks: But You Don’t Have To! 
Building the confidence of students to get out, make small talk and introduce themselves to employers at job fairs was the focus and main goal of this two hour session. And, it was executed brilliantly. 
The food section! I forgot to mention- hummus!!

Coming from a background of corporate training, I was impressed by the instructional design of the program- everything from the information sharing to small talk interaction to mock employer meetings was amazing. But, more than that, since it was a college event, the free food, which is a staple of such events was integrated in a way that was natural to the professional meet and greet scenario. Pizza was not part of the menu, but more ‘grown up’ foods such as antipasti, quinoa salad, wraps and mocktails. They even set up the mocktail section like a bar where students could order their mocktail, and the staff made it fresh with fruits, juices and sodas. While I feel the mocktails were a hit, I feel the college students were not yet ready for the grown-up foods because I feel they were barely touched. But, this is a good context building experience for them to understand what kind of foods would be served at professional networking sessions. And, it’s rarely pizza!   

Making Small Talk   
The room was set up with several tables with topics like “Football and Soccer,” “Game of Thrones” and a few others I can’t remember. I actually ended up sitting at the “Football and Soccer” table in hopes of challenging myself to talk about a topic I knew nothing about (knowing how difficult this is for most of the people I have worked with in the past, I can relate). It turned out that the few other international students and domestic students who decided to sit here at this table also had no clue about [American] football, though some did know about [international football] soccer. Though we briefly talked about that, we talked about a range of other related topics. I feel the Game of Thrones table had a lively conversation about the actual topic, though I did not visit that table. 

Myths of Networking   
After 30 minutes of small talk, the facilitators shared information with us on the myths of networking and tips to introduce ourselves to potential employers. This section was lecture heavy, but short, sweet and to the point.   

Some of they myths discussed include: 
  • The purpose of networking is to get a job
  • Networking only takes place in professional settings
  • People who network are extroverts
  • Networking is awkward and unnatural 
While most of us in the audience agreed that networking felt unnatural, when we started to think of it more as a conversation, some of us eased up.  

I would like to add a myth that may have been discussed, but maybe not directly: Networking is not always a one time event.  

In my experience, since networking is nothing but creating, building and nurturing relationships over a period of time, networking with anyone can be looked at as being on a continuum. Just like some friendships, they can go on steady for many years or, in other cases, go on for a time, go on a break, and start back up sometime in the future. I guess this comes more from experience, networking over a long period of time (a few decades, in my case).   

Initiating Conversation with Recruiters 
The facilitators shared a script on how to introduce ourselves to recruiters at job fairs. While they said, this is a helpful guide, they did stress not to stick strictly to the script, but to practice and personalize it to one’s conversational style and situation. This all comes with a lot of practice, of course. So, in this part of the session, the facilitators had the participants download the career fair app that listed the employers for upcoming career fairs on campus to research a few employers. The six tables that were used for small talk topics were converted into ‘employer tables.’ Students crafted their introductions and practiced them with student volunteers who role played the employer. I felt the student volunteers that I had the pleasure to interact with were very insightful and skilled in these interactions and gave some good tips and advice to the students practicing the mock recruiter interactions.  

I attended this event as a community partner/volunteer. It was really fun and enlightening to interact with such ambitious students. I hope to get more chances to participate in such programs in the near future. May all the students who had the chance to participate in this event have much success!   

Related Posts: 
15 Out of the Box Networking Strategies   
Three tips to Americanize your resume
Sports Idioms that can be used in business conversations 
Comparison of some student visa types noticed on US campuses

Thursday, March 30, 2017

F-1, J-1, H1B - a Comparison of Visas on College Campuses in the U.S.

There are several categories of student visas. While this post doesn't cover all categories of student visas, we will look at F-1 (students), J-1 (scholars), H1B (employees). 

The information in this post comes from various U.S. university websites and immigration lawyer websites. I have created PDFs of the current (March 2017) pages, with a link to the page. As visa regulations can change from time to time, feel free to click the links into that university's page to see if they have updated their information. 

Comparing F-1 and J-1 
Let's take a look at some salient differences between the F-1 student visa and J-1 scholar visas as documented by the University of Michigan International Center.

See the original site here for updates since March 2017.

Differences between J-1 and H1B

While the J-1 visa is meant for short term scholars, the H1B visa is meant for employment. Let's look how these two visas stack up against each other.

See the current information posted at the
International Student and Scholars Office page, Temple University.

J-1 vs. H1B
While Temple University shares the information from the perspective of a campus community, the below page is maintained by an immigration law firm. Study the pros and cons of these visas below.

See the most current legal precedents at the Peng & Weber site.

I hope these resources have been a helpful guide in understanding the salient features of various visas sponsored by college and university campuses in the U.S. 

Learn more at Study in the States.
Avoid Immigration Scams in America 
The J-1 Student Visa Program

Monday, March 13, 2017

Assimilating to the U.S. Culture as an International Student

Did you know that international students come to the U.S. to play sports? That's exactly what Charith Kapukotuwa from Sri Lanka has done. First, he was recruited by a college in Kansas to be a shotputter on a track and field team. From there, he was picked up by a recruiter from Chadron State College in a small town in Nebraska. 

In the video below Charith talks about his experience coming from Sri Lanka to the U.S., his struggles adjusting to life in the U.S. and thoughts on international student integration.

Just like many other foreigners who come to live in the U.S., Charith believes in the American Dream and says he would like to do 'everything any other American can.' At the same time, he realizes the cultural identity crisis when he says, "I don't think I can live here as a Sri Lankan." 

Charith's unique experience coming to live and study in a very small, rural college in the U.S. may be unlike many other Sri Lankan or South Asians who study in universities that have Indian Student Organizations or India culture clubs out in the larger community. Charith did not have the community resources many other South Asians have in larger cities and metro areas take for granted, including ethnic grocers and restaurants. While South Asians who study in larger colleges may be surrounded by foreign-born students and professors lack the opportunity to learn American culture or American small talk, Charith's presentation skill and grasp of Americanisms in his English and mannerisms is evident. I applaud him for taking the road less traveled. 

On a personal note, I have been following Chadron State College on social media and am impressed about their international student body and activities. I really like how they integrate international student interaction into the larger community as noted in the events advertised below. If you are interested in learning more about Chadron State - see their international student admissions page or Facebook page

Related Posts: 
Chadron State on Facebook 
Chadron State International Student Admissions 
Do International Students Learn American Culture (with video commentary) 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How You Can Learn about Admissions into US Universities

Are you living outside of the U.S.? Do you want to apply to college in the United States? There are some simple ways you can learn about the admissions procedures at schools of your interest without contacting an agent. 

In the American education system, American students do not use an agent. It is considered completely acceptable and respectful to research information on one's own and directly get in touch with the concerned person at the college.

Let's see how to do this. 

Step 1: Search for websites on admissions for the school, program, or level

(Click on any of the links below to see a sample Google search using information from SUNY Buffalo for these search terms.)

If you know the name of the college you want to go to, but not your major, you can use these search terms:

If you know the name of the college AND your major:

If you know the name of the college and the name of the school: 

Step 2: Find the contact page or email ID Find the contact name and email ID on the page you are directed to. Try to review the information to your best understanding before contacting the concerned person. 

Keep in mind depending on the size of the school or the search you do, you may be contacting the admissions representative for the entire college, a person in the academic department, a person who works in the international student office, or another college staff. Look for their name and title to know who you are reaching out. 

If you do a search and are wondering about how to contact the concerned person and what to say, get in touch with me. I will guide you if you come to me after doing some research! Contact me by leaving a comment to this blog, or leaving a message on the Facebook page

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unique Aspects of Indian Academic and Social Culture

Missouri State has created a very useful and succinct guide to walk advisors through the basics of interacting with international students, the expectations of international students and some of the cultural differences of the major student groups on campus (Chinese, Indian, Saudis).

The Guide for Advising International Students is found here.

I would like to share some of my personal feedback on the Indian cultural section as I have almost 10 years living, studying and working in India. I had spent about 2.5 years living in Chennai where I earned my Master's in Social Work from Madras Christian College (as the only direct-enroll American student). Also, I have been living in Kochi, India running my own business since 2011.

I would like to highlight a few points from pages 14 & 15 of the guide I found interesting or different than I experienced.
  • Note: Though Hindi is one of the national languages of India, it is not known by everyone in the country. Hindi and variants of Hindi are most commonly spoken in North India. However, North East Indians and many South Indians may not always be fluent in Hindi (speaking, reading or writing). Also, some may be able to speak a language, but not read or write it, or vise versa. I have experience living in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states in South India where many may not speak Hindi as the languages of those states are Tamil and Malayalam (respectively). It is often the case that the state a person comes from in India dictates the Indian national language they speak.
  • Batchmates: I also experienced what it says in this guide. I was in the same class with my batch 8-10 hours a day for 5-6 days a week for two years. We did not mingle with our juniors or seniors in class; nor did we happen to change rooms for classes. Students were to sit in the same seat all day, everyday, only the teacher changed. It was quite a shock for me coming from a very diverse schedule of classes in different buildings and different campus at SUNY Buffalo. 
  • Preset curriculum: I never had to talk to an advisor when studying in India to set a schedule. Everything was predetermined and set in advance. In the case of studying a Master's in Social Work, each student was assigned an 'advisor' to guide them in writing their thesis, but not for selecting their class or setting their schedules.
  • It says, "In India students cannot address professors by their names, wear hats in class,or chew gum (in some cases)." It's true. Actually, I always called my professors in India 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'. Hats were not a common accessory when I studied in India. Chewing gum was not common where I lived and studied in India. Additionally, students MUST stand when the teacher enters the room. Students were not allowed to eat or drink while class was in session (no one was seen bringing coffee cups to class, for instance). And, students were to wait until the teacher enters, regardless of how late the teacher may enter the room (In the college I went to in the U.S., there was an unwritten rule that if the teacher was more than 15 minutes late the class was cancelled. This is unheard of in India.) 
  • Not only can all students in a group hand in the same exact assignment, but tests must, in many cases, read word for word from what was given in class by the teacher or the book. One must not question the teacher or the book (I found out the hard way!). 
  • Because people do define themselves by their group- groupism is very strong in India. This coupled with the fact you are with your classmates for so many hours in a week, month, and year, you really bond with each other and know each other very well. I had never experienced anything like this studying in the U.S. This kind of behavior is also translated into many workplaces in India, as well. 
  • It is true that shaking hands is done frequently in India. In many offices I had worked in in India (I have worked as a consultant in more than 40 different companies in India), people may shake hands in the morning to say hi, and in the evening to say good bye. I do not remember so much handshaking on campus among students, though. 
  • In larger companies, handshakes can be done between women and men. I personally  have not seen any hesitation in this in larger cities like Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta, and Hyderabad. However, if in doubt, it's ok to hesitate to shake hands with an Indian woman (if you are a foreign man) and see if she extends her hand first. 
  • Regarding the section on gift giving etiquette, I feel the only entry that can be applied to many parts of India is in relation to the giving of gifts to Muslims. Indian customs vary so widely from state to state, area to area and based on a person's religion or family custom that it is very hard to generalize. For instance, in these tips, it says not to give anything made of leather to a Hindu. While Hindus in most parts of India do not eat beef (Kerala is an exception), leather products are not typically taboo. Many Indian Hindu friends I have carry leather purses or wallets, for example. In my experience, the safest gifts to give are a box of local Indian sweets or some trinket or toy from your country to any children of the house. 

I'd be curious to see what your impressions or feedback is after reviewing the guide. Thank you for reading.

Learn more about the International Students Services at Missouri State.