The Job Search: Jiabao Feng
The Job Search is a series for international graduate students in professional programs.
We can all remember our first job search. It probably involved sustained effort, rounds of disappointment and a bit of luck. For an international graduate student, in short supply of an extensive network, and the know-how of cultural differences, it can be an added challenge to navigate a system.
And for many, like Jiabao Feng, a graduate student from Jiaxing, China, this process is bifurcated – she searches both here and in her home country. Though she graduates in December with a Master’s degree in Accounting, she has been on the job hunt since the winter. Driven by both excitement and anxiety, she began by consulting with her career center, talking to colleagues, and educating herself.
Jiabao’s academic approach has been a door to discovery and learning. “It is hard to know what to focus on and who is right, because everyone offers somewhat different advice,” says Feng, “and so much of finding a job here depends on a referral by someone else. Why should a company hire me simply based on my resume? It’s risk for them, and I understand that.”
This is why networking is a necessity. China has its own version, called guanxi. It has cultural origins and expectations, much in the same way that our version of networking does. Jiabao Feng is learning how to apply these skills in a new cultural context. This process is complex, and has required her to reorder her thinking and be adaptable in learning new cultural conventions.
We asked Jiabao to share what is going through her mind these days, as a guidepost for other international graduate students.
Now that you are looking toward graduation and seeking a job, how are you finding it so far? What is the most important thing you look for in a job and a career?
I have had some interviews but no job offers in the States - yet. It is complicated because an employer has to sponsor me for an H-1B visa, and that can be an impediment for some places. I am looking for a position that will allow me to grow, because I am a person who always wants to learn.
InterviewSuccessFomula.com, found a couple of years ago, that in the United States, "The average number of people who apply for any given job is 118. Twenty-percent of those applicants get an interview." Does this give you a perspective on your job search?
It means I need to apply for more positions and connect with more people.
What do you think an internationally educated student brings to a job in the United States or China?
Studying abroad is evidence of the fact that I have worked with people of different backgrounds and have a command of the English language. I think that’s globally important. For any company, I can offer hard work, a diverse perspective, and gratitude. Students like me who make every effort to find a job in the U.S. cherish the chance to accomplish something very positive in the work place. We have no safety net so we have to create a life here ourselves, in absence of our families. We may not understand every joke told on YouTube, but we can have an impact like every other professional does.
How does the U.S. job search compare with that in China?
Essentially it is very similar. Companies recruit at university campuses and through social media, like WeChat. Graduates are matched up according to their level of job experience – those who have prior work history and those who do not. Generally, companies look for prior internship and work experience. Some have strict hierarchical structures, such as administrative organizations, while others do not. Like here, corporations and institutions all have their own work cultures so they look for employees who best fit their work environment. Some companies, especially with international ties, require letters of reference while others do not.
What has been good advice on the U.S. job search so far?
The idea of networking. In theory, it works, but it is not easy to make it happen. I have connected to some people through various means. But strangers cannot risk their reputations to refer you. I am continuing to work on this – and I feel like, if anything, this is the key to finding work here. Volunteering with the IRS’s VITA program was really helpful. I need to and plan to do more of that before I graduate. Also, an American colleague offered to review my resume, line by line – checking for grammar, syntax and formatting. They caught errors I had not seen. They told me my resume has to be perfect – otherwise, I won’t even get past the application point.
From the few interviews you have had so far, what have you learned?
Different companies have different needs. One smaller firm, for example, was focused on my knowledge of Quickbooks. While other companies ask more behavioral questions, or about communication skills – and relying on my resume for practical things. Interviews are mostly teaching me about what type of questions people may ask me – which then help me better prepare for the next interview. Even if I do not necessarily get a particular job, I think an interview is very good feedback and practice.
What would you advise an international student preparing for a job search?
Especially if you intended to work in the U.S. after graduation, prepare from the first day you enter a university. You have to work on building a network through connecting with people – on campus and off. Volunteer or do internships – build your resume and also get to know others.
More information about Jiabao Feng can be found here. Update (October 2017): Jiabao Feng found a part-time position as an Accounting Analyst at Broadview Advisors and Company, in Silver Spring, MD. She will be working with clients on financial statements and tax preparation.