Career Tips for International Students

Q&As: Break into Tech as International Students

On September 19, 2020, I invited two guest speakers, Shanzman Khan and Aneri Desai, to join in on a conversation with me. They have direct experience searching for jobs as international students, and they are currently pursuing their dream jobs in a Big Four tech company and a Fortune 500 company.

Check out the webinar recording HERE and our answers to the questions we couldn’t cover LIVE below:

We’ve got lots of great questions from students! But we ran out of time to cover all of them LIVE. As promised, Aneri and I have put together our answers to the rest of the questions that students pre-submitted and asked us LIVE on Saturday, September 19.

Q1: I had my degree in marketing in 2016 and then did my MS in Data Analytics and completed it in 2018. I want to work in Tech Companies in the Data Area in the future. Currently, I do not have any experience in the tech area. I still feel I lack many technical experiences in Python & R. What should I do to be ready to switch to the tech industry? – Ismail, Baruch College

My recommendation is to 1) show interest, 2) identify gap, 3) bridge the gap, and 4) go for it! You can look for a job in the marketing field in the tech industry and grow from there. Next is to find a mentor in the Data Analytics field to coach you on tools and industry’s best practices. There is also formal education that you can get like R, Python courses from Michigan University, or MIT short courses. Also, please try an internship (paid/unpaid, doesn’t matter) to get real-time experience.

Kwan: I’m curious about what you’re doing at this moment since you’ve graduated in 2018. Your most recent experience also reflects your career brand. In addition to Aneri’s amazing input, I’d like to talk about career options as an international student. You need to find a role that’s difficult to fill. At the same time, you have skills and experience for it. If you have experience and passion in marketing and now knowledge in data analytics, combine both and position yourself as a marketing analytics specialist.

Q2: What is the one skill that would attract the recruiters looking for a business analyst in Amazon? – Sunitha, Hult International Business School

Kwan: I’ll let Aneri cover the one software skill for Business Analyst. For me, I’d like to emphasize the qualities that will set you apart once ten candidates have that same technical skill. For a business analyst, you will be a bridge between the technical teams and the business teams. You need to have excellent communication skills.

How can you showcase that in the resume? In your resume, you should have bullets to showcase your past experience communicating with people across functions, presenting key findings, making recommendations, etc. During the interview, that’s the time you need to showcase your stories. You can listen to my past interview with Angela Jiang, the managing director of one of the big 4 accounting firms, on job interview tips.

Aneri: SQL, SQL & SQL 🙂 I quickly scanned through 18 Business Analyst job openings at Amazon, and SQL is the common expectation in all of them. Besides job-specific skills, Amazon is big on their 14 leadership principles. Showcase how you have used those principles in your career. Many behavioral questions. “Tell me about the time when you did this or that”. Answer using these principles and STAR methodology.

Q3: How this program works in different areas of the US in career networking. – Pempa, The Catholic University of America

Kwan: I believe you are asking about the ICAway Talent Platform. Career networking applies to all industries and functions. I teach my students to build meaningful connections with target professionals. When you have a meaningful connection with someone, the relationship can turn into mentorship, learning opportunity, and job referral. My courses will help students define their target professionals, learn how to find them, and use a methodology that will make people like you.

As we were not born and raised in the US, cultural differences have been one of the most difficult barriers when international students build connections with US professionals. This is where I came in. Besides my understanding of our difficulties in breaking through all these barriers, I also build simple and systematic approaches to help international students see a clear roadmap on how to build professional relationships from zero.

Q4: How to secure a job as a product manager/project manager after master’s without any job experience ? – Kamasani, KLU

Aneri: I was in the same boat. I went for an entry-level Business Analyst role (that met H1B qualification criteria) and moved up the ladder from there. You can showcase your leadership skills in an entry-level role, job shadow PM, work as interim PM, and apply for internal or external roles. You may do internships as a Project/Product/Program manager to gain experience that can add value in your resume and then target for full-time roles. Engage in on-campus event planning coordinating activities. That is a good way to showcase leadership skills. And it could be a talking point in your interview.

Kwan: Aneri hit all amazing points. And please don’t wait until you complete your Master’s degree. Start now by getting an internship that you can get hands-on experience in product management. Don’t wait until the job is posted either. You can research a few startups that you really like their industry and reach out to the CEO or their management team to connect. Volunteer your time to help them with their product development project!

Q5: How to not lose hope when you apply for 500+ applications but yet do not land an offer? – Sanjay, University at Buffalo

Kwan: Change your approach if what you’re doing didn’t yield results. You can also find a community that helps you see that you’re not alone in this job search game. Get involved in a program where you can ask questions when you’re feeling like you’re hitting the wall. Doing a search on your own is not easy. And for the job search strategy, please don’t treat your job search as a number’s game.

Be more strategic on the job/roles you’d like to target and what you have to offer. Applying online without a strategy is like shooting your resume in the dark. Please spend only 10% of your time a week for a strategic online application and 90% a week on connecting with your target professionals.

Aneri: Self-reflect. If you are not landing an offer, try to identify if there are any gaps. Connect with coaches like Kwan to see how you can tweak your job search strategy. See the big picture. This is temporary and leading closure to your goal. One day you are going to get that job and going to grow from there. Consider rejection as a learning opportunity to get better for the next application.

Q6: I’ve tried to contact employees for referrals, and I was told that the position I applied to was already earmarked. So many times and in different companies within the Big 5. In other opportunities, I was told there is a special referral link to apply with preference. How can you get the recruiters’ attention? How do you make your application stand out? Thank you! – Betania, Harvard University

Aneri: Many times job boards show openings when a position has been internally filled. Sometimes companies open job postings and interview a few external candidates just for record keeping when they have already decided to promote an internal candidate to that position. That’s why you need an ally or a trusted guide in that company to refer you for the position. Apply within two days of the job opening date.

For your question about the referral process: when you tap into your network to get a referral, he or she refers you from the companies’ portal. It generates a special link that is emailed to you. You apply using that link. This may help you to get noticed because you came through referral. Many times people who referred you can also connect with a hiring manager to get you an interview opportunity. Every company has a different referral policy. But in my observation, it will at least elevate your application.

Kwan: Great to see an international student from Harvard joining us here! Yes, jobs posted online may not be existing. Especially during the H-1B filing season, employers need to post jobs out there to comply with the USCIS requirements. But they already have a candidate that they have been working with for some time. For a referral, as Shazman said in the LIVE session, people at Amazon refer candidates as they get some cash reward out of it. But there’s a huge pipeline of job referrals through the company application portal. Unfortunately, your resume can be lost in the pile of resumes.

Depending on your timeline to graduation, if you’re still attending school, I’d recommend that you start working on a challenging project with a startup to build your brand and experience while connecting with people inside those target companies (Big 4, Big 5). When you have a clear brand, backup experience and a mentor inside those target companies, you can leverage these to help you get jobs before the job is even posted. This is what we call tapping into a hidden job market.

Q7: How can we get an internship in the bay area during MS? – Shweta, San Jose State University

Aneri: Join networking groups with your university alumni. Build rapport with current employees. Get a referral. Do informational interviews with people in your network to learn more about their company’s culture and to demonstrate your passion for a particular intern role in their organization. Attend networking events such as the Grace Hopper Conference. Lean on your university’s tie-ups.

Kwan: That’s right! Network, network, network!

Q8: Does the Management Information System degree have a more career prospective than Business Analyst degree? – Saikat, Texas University Arlington

Aneri: Hi, Saikat. Good to see you here! MIS is a versatile program. It is a combination of technical and management coursework. Depending on universities, the concentration on these two buckets vary. In general, this program opens doors for BA, QA, Data Analyst, Project Manager, Product Manager roles. Depending on what electives you choose, you can navigate your career.

Kwan: Agree with Aneri! I’ve seen ICAway students with both degrees land jobs as BA in many great organizations. Skills and experience matter more than the degree. If you get a chance to earn certifications and practice Project Management, Data Analytics tools on a real project, any degree would be attractive for employers.

Q9: Which type of certification do you recommend? And What can one do to differentiate from other candidates apart from certifications? -Affoue and Chriss

Aneri: It depends on what roles you are targeting.

Kwan: Yes, I agree with Aneri. You can start by downloading a few job descriptions of your target job (4-5 JDs) and see if they are asking for any specific certifications or software skills. That’s how you plan your certification. If you want to pursue a job in IT, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect and Project Management Professional (PMP) are some of the top highest-paying IT Certifications.

Q10: I’m planning to pursue an MIS program from ASU. Without any job experience, how could students land up getting a job as a product manager/consulting/project management and all business roles? -Harshitha

Aneri: Try to get internships or externships for those roles. Volunteer!

Kwan: Follow all the strategies we shared above and please keep us posted! We are rooting for you!

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