Dear Coach Kwan,
I am an incoming international student who is trying to decide what career path to take. A lot of my friends are going down the track of “data professional”, and they claim that this is a sure way for them to land a job after graduation. Is this true? Should I pursue this path as well?
An undecided-and-soon-to-be freshman
Having a career as a “Data Professional” is highly desired by a large number of international students. One of the reasons behind this is that demand is high. According to a study titled “Workforce Overview: Data Professionals” conducted by Bellevue University, there are about 8,000 job openings annually. However, as the demand increases, so does the supply. In fact, according to the same study, from 2013 to 2017, the number of people working as data professionals grew by 8.6% and that number is still growing.
This means that just the degree will not hand you the job. You need to stand out within this consistently growing pool of people. There are key competencies required from data professionals, and this includes not only technical skills but soft skills as well. Follow these 3 steps to position yourself as the right talent—the talent the hiring manager is looking for.
1) Enhance your communication skills
56% of Data Professional recruiters are looking for candidates who have strong communications skills, according to the study by Bellevue University.
You can start working on this by socializing with people to practice your language skills with on a daily basis. Next is to not be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone. Take advantage of every opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new, to break the ice with a complete stranger, and engaged in as many meetings as possible, be it over the phone, over coffee or during a committee meeting. Do not hesitate to share your own thoughts and never be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something. Do not worry about having an accent – your accent can be an attractive quality! Plus, what you say matters more. You can also join clubs that help you improve your communication skills, such as Toastmasters.
Remember: practice makes perfect. Keep on trying, and you will become a master communicator!
2) Participate in challenging projects and practice other desirable skills
On your resume and during a job interview, if you can present yourself as a reliable team member, a problem solver, and as someone with amazing teamwork skills, this data professional job of your dreams will be closer to you!
Following communication skills, the most desired skills are self-management, problem solving and collaboration. While in school, there are plenty of opportunities for you to practice these skills. The possibilities to find a project are endless. Courses, school or business competitions, internships, co-ops, experiential learning opportunities and volunteering roles. Take advantage of these options and you will be one step closer to becoming the perfect candidate for the perfect job.
3) Build your network of data professionals in the field that you love
There are a lot of both local and national professional associations out there. You can start exploring by inviting your Data Analytics professor for a cup of coffee and ask for their advice on which professional associations you should join. Find out if there are any upcoming conferences in your area. Participating in professional associations will not only help you build your job referral pipeline for the future, but will also provide you with opportunities to learn new skills and technologies from real cases. Furthermore, you will be inspired by many successful professionals in the field!
From our latest survey with 31 students from 8 institutions around the U.S., we found that the number one reason that international students choose to avoid attending local or national conferences and be a part of professional affiliations is that they felt that they could not afford a membership or conference fee.
I understand that being on a budget presents new challenges. However, if you cannot afford certain options due to financial reasons, explore free opportunities or organizations that partner with your school. Sometimes they give free tickets or discounts exclusive to students from partner institutions. Don’t stop dreaming and exploring just because you don’t think you can afford it! When there is a will, there is a way!
As the demand for data professionals rises, so does the supply. Amongst that rising number of candidates, you need to ensure that you stand out. Brush up on not only the technical skills required but also the soft skills that the recruiters are looking for. Work at being a better communicator, better team player and better networker and the ideal opportunities will present themselves to you!
About Coach Kwan
Kwan is an experienced human-capital consultant. Her past corporate experience includes global organizations like Deloitte, Accenture, and BMW.
Kwan moved to the U.S. in 2014, earned her Senior Professional HR certification from HRIC. She joined one of the world’s most prestigious consulting firms as a Senior Consultant of Human Capital Consulting Practice and managed multiple projects for Fortune 500 clients.
Today, Kwan is the CEO and Founder of ICAway, an educational consulting firm based out of Chicago. Our mission is to be an empowering community for international students and light the way for students to find jobs in the U.S.