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GTRI NEWS: NAVIGATING THE U.S. JOB MARKET AS AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT
Author: Nikita S. Petrovskiy
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“The American Dream is still alive, but it has evolved.”
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Theoretically, the whole “get good grades, go to college, get a solid job” system should still be perfectly intact given the 4.8% unemployment rate as of last January. What the Bureau of Labor Statistics cannot measure, though, is how much students stray from their areas of study to simply obtain entry-level employment. Even with STEM majors, the market has become so oversaturated that Master’s degrees have become the standard, and ENTRY-level jobs are beginning to require multiple years of prior work experience. As a result, the most abundant option for many graduates is to begin their professional career with a position in sales as this field hires continuously and is often not degree-specific.
Here is the problem: for as much time universities dedicate to studying complex, in-depth material, shockingly minimal effort is put towards coaching students through the art of the job search. Hunting your next professional venture should be a subject in and of itself as students can only master it through ample practical experience, trial and error, and stone cold patience. The American Dream is still alive, but it has evolved. No longer can we expect to waltz into the local PNC bank and ask to be a teller. Convenient online job boards are becoming flooded with prior applicants, forcing only resumes that hit on “buzz words” to be selected. I even remember not getting hired by McDonald’s in high school because I lacked “prior food service experience”. But still, this does not warrant settling for less or getting discouraged; you must adapt by changing your tactics.
I have heard the expression “it’s all about who you know” countless times throughout my career but stubbornly denied the idea of a biased American job market. In reality, the market is incredibly biased, but not necessarily in a bad way. People will be people, and friends will always help friends. Once you have earned someone’s trust, they will be willing to assist you exceedingly more than another individual even if they have more impressive credentials. But that begs the rebuttals, “I can’t just magically become friends with the CEO of McDonald’s,” or “How am I supposed to get ahold of Joe Jones from that Ford plant in Kansas?” You’d be surprised what you can find on the internet. You can literally look at yourself, reading this article, from the lens of a space satellite, using the internet. So, what’s stopping you from sending Joe Jones an e-mail of interest, or looking up his other contact information on the company website? Always strive to add a personal touch and an element of humanity. Shoot them an essay you wrote in college relating to the person’s field. Ask the person a professional question, or seek their advice on how to break into that particular field. Talk to as many individuals as you possibly can because, believe it or not, most people have a career and started it in their own unique way. In other words, there is always a lesson to learn from somebody more experienced.
On the other hand, we can’t discount the traditional importance of a bang-up resume. The key attributes of such a resume, aside from obvious experience, are concision and, most importantly, relativity. That is, a candidate must tailor-fit their resume to each specific job. You can think of a resume as a more technical form of a persuasive statement. For example, “manager at IHOP” will not gain much traction for a career in medicine. Instead, address those hypothetical managerial experiences to similar aspects found at hospitals: here, customer service experience can be applied to patient relationships, management of personnel can show the same type of leadership found in medical shift supervisors, and the art of multitasking is just as important in medicine as it is in the restaurant industry. Draw these parallels and you may have a decent chance at getting an interview when taking all other qualities into account. Accordingly, keep your document under two pages, roughly five bullet points per job, and avoid lengthy sentences; employers spend an average of six seconds reading these, so make each word count.
On a more individualistic level, a point must be made about personal mindset and professional drive. Job seekers also have to take into account that chasing “dream jobs” is unhealthy and one will likely face a certain degree of tribulation and compromise along the path to their own definition of success. Rather than pinpointing an ideal position, narrow down a handful of more general goals such as having a leadership role in the engineering sector, helping those less fortunate, mastering a type of medical practice, or opening a business. With these aspirations in mind, focus on the smaller steps necessary to build credentials in that direction, and your idea of a satisfying job will evolve. Throughout this journey, keep a strong base of social support for motivation and make time for physical activity to maintain confidence. Remember, job hunting is itself, a full-time job.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge some very real impediments that could have lasting socioeconomic consequences. The present wave of immigration restrictions and pressure on H1-B Visa holders have made some international students visibly nervous: “I knew this administration would have an impact on my livelihood in some capacity, whether it be through my background or my daily experience, but this is just not something that I had anticipated,” says a Somali immigrant at Michigan State University. Still, international students are not powerless, and should stay up-to-date on current regulations in relation to their professional or educational activities. It is important to note that the United States is a proud immigrant democracy, and many organizations, businesses, and individuals are putting forth a significant effort to keep our country inclusive. At the moment, the most productive course of action is to continue prioritizing education and career prospects, while also developing alternative plans that can still maximize your chances of success should the status quo change.