Is “Follow Your Bliss” B.S.?

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

I don’t have a “passion” or “bliss” to follow. I just don’t. I really enjoy a lot of things—photography, writing, listening to music, design, real estate, and documentary—but do I love them enough to sacrifice everything to pursue one of them professionally? Nope. Maybe my passion is routine, security, and a little artsy fartsy on the side? Jeez…that sounds lame.

As a career adviser who doesn’t necessarily believe in bliss or passion, I feel like a traitor to my vocation—like I need to keep my views on this topic “in the closet.” Does anyone else feel this way? I think some of you do. I know some of my students do. I’ve had countless students, literally whisper to me in sessions, “Ross…I don’t think I have a passion. Is that okay? What do I do if I don’t have a passion? How can I find one? How can I choose a major or career if I don’t have a passion?!”

It appears to me the “passionless” are really stressed out…and I totally get it! Most of what we hear about on the news, television, music, and literature is the only way to be happy and successful is to follow your passion. But I’ve got to ask…is this a healthy and realistic philosophy? Does it cause more harm than good?

I became a victim to this one size fits all philosophy, and for years it caused me a lot a grief. I was trying to find my passion, but was trying to fit it in to what I thought it was supposed to be—based on what others (e.g., media, peers, family) told me it should be. It was pretty miserable. I think some of our students are feeling the same way. Now, in my 30s, I’m finally feeling comfortable with my own career philosophy. It took me a long time to piece it together, and seems rather simple. Hunter S. Thompson said it best: pick the kind of life you want and build everything else around it.

What do I do when a student “comes out” to me that s/he has no burning passion to pursue? I reply, “I don’t have a passion either. In fact, most of the students I meet with don’t, but they feel like they are supposed to. Being passionless is ok.”

Students seem shocked and relieved to hear me say this. Next, I normally say “Let’s forget about passion and career, and talk about the kind of life you want. Tell me about that.” This tends to get them talking…it is more nuts and bolts, and basic values, but it gives us a starting point. I know this doesn’t seem like an innovative or energizing type of session, but I think it is really important. Students need to be able to be released from this passion myth, so they can start thinking about a real life, rather than trying to live up to some (nearly impossible) cultural standard. They need to know, and be taught by us, that they can create their own career philosophy—that’s what I wish someone had taught me.

Don’t get me wrong, some folks really do have a passion, and they by all means should pursue it—but that standard or philosophy shouldn’t be universal. Let’s empower our passionless!

A Career Counselor’s Story: Law and Order, a Documentary, Three States, Four Coffee Shops, Two Record Stores, and 10 Years Is All it Takes.

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

I’m a ham. I admit it. I always have been. Remember the kid in high school that sat in the back of the class, cracked jokes, and mimicked the teacher for laughs? That was me. From an early age I was told I was funny and clever and that I should be an actor. That became my identity, and most of my decisions regarding college and career were based on that identity. In college I had seven different majors, but most of my time I spent in the theater department. My sophomore year I auditioned, and got into, the B.F.A. acting program, and for about three years, I spent almost every day with the same 11 students (who are now dear friends). I loved it. My senior year, I got cold feet after hearing “What kind of ‘real job’ are you going to get with a B.F.A. in acting?” too many times to count. My solution? I changed my major, one final time, to communications, with a “media performance” concentration. Almost all of my theater classes transferred over, and I only had to take five communications classes my senior year to graduate with a B.S. in communications.

My first “real job” after graduation? Working at the downtown coffee shop…walking distance from the theatre department. I had no idea what to do with my life. One day a friend visited the coffee shop and asked me if I wanted to move to Chicago. I said, “Sure.”

A week later we were packed in her brother’s van heading to the Windy City. My first job in Chicago? Working at a coffee shop. When not slinging coffee or working at a record and video store (I needed two jobs to pay the rent) I was trying to act in student films. While I enjoyed Chicago as best I could, I was mostly lonely and anxious. Friends were hard to make, and I was in bit of an existential crisis trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. After a year in Chicago, a friend in New York City called and asked if I wanted to move to NYC to sublet his room for a year. I said, “Sure.”

In NYC, I was able to get an internship with a documentary filmmaker and her crew. We spent the summer of 2001 in a small Rhode Island town shooting a film about a wealthy, highly educated, family that learns their wealth came from the slave trade. The film documented the family’s journey from Rhode Island, to Cuba, to Ghana, traveling the route of the slaves their family members bought generations before. I became close to this family and the crew, I loved the tight-knit feeling of working on a small project for a big cause and becoming a part of a community. I liked documentary more than acting, it certainly felt more meaningful to me, but still, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend so much time on location (traveling and away from home) and spending hours and hours researching grants for funding.

I was in Tribeca, about 11 blocks north from the World Trade Center, when the city was attacked on 9/11. I, and thankfully my friends, was uninjured…just terrified, heartbroken, and confused. Most filming in the city was shut down, and in order to make ends meet, I started waiting tables at the World Wrestling Federation restaurant in Times Square (that experience could be its own blog post – ha!). Later I was able to do some freelance work as a production assistant with the show Law and Order, but really, after such a tough year, I wanted to be home with my friends and family. So, that’s what I did. I landed a job back home working in digital media as a production assistant (and then producer) for a small company. We worked very hard, and many long hours, and as a result became extremely close. One day, an intern I worked with told me I should consider being a college career counselor.

“Colleges have career counselors?” As an undergrad, my world was theater 24/7 and I had no idea there were student affairs professionals, like career counselors, that got paid to help students. Crazy! I did some research on careers in student affairs, decided to pursue career counseling, earned my graduate degree, and then landed my first career counseling gig for a school of communications. Finally, I found a job that satisfies my desire for building meaningful relationships, provides community, allows me to help others every day, AND I get to perform (and be a big ole ham!) doing workshops and presentations. It only took me three states, four coffee shops, three record stores, one documentary, a television show, and 10 years to get here!

So you are probably asking yourself by now, “Why is Ross telling this long story. What is the point?” Good questions. I shared my story to highlight a few points that may be helpful to you as you work with your students as they consider “What should I do with my life?”

Identity – it’s about you, not other’s perceptions of you.

Feedback is important, but I frequently tell students not let anyone tell them who they are or what they should do with their lives. Many students get feedback from friends and (especially) family on what to do career wise. Feedback from these folks, while well intentioned, can be based on issues about themselves and their own experiences…not necessarily about the student. I normally ask students to investigate common denominators from past experiences that can shed light on possible career options. For me, though, I love to perform—community and a sense of helping others—is most important in my career. I found evidence of this time and time again as I reflected on why I love theatre, film, and the arts. The art part is fun, but I most valued working hard, as part of a community, towards a common goal.

Just say “sure” and trust your gut – it’s leading you someplace good.

I find myself saying this to students a lot—“If you don’t know what to do, just do something, anything, and that will inform the next thing.” Every time I tell someone my career story, they say “Wow, you’ve landed the perfect job for yourself!” And as I look back, I agree with them. At the time it seemed that my career was chaotic and directionless. But if I had not made that drive to Chicago, then taken that room in New York, and then come back home, I never would be enjoying my job as a career adviser for media, arts, and entertainment students. I was building an incredible resume and didn’t even know it!

Share your story.

Your students need to hear your career story. Pursuing a career is daunting no matter what industry or major. Disclosing some of your accomplishments and failures (yes, I used the “F” word) normalizes fears and confusion, and provides insight students can use as they pursue their goals. When I tell my students I had seven majors, or took a risk and moved to a big city where I really didn’t know anyone, or had to work at a wrestling themed restaurant to pay the bills until I landed another film or TV gig, and was still able to mange to find a career I love it gives them hope (and ideas!). A couple of summers ago, at the career center where I work, the staff did audio recordings of stories reflecting that in which they believe. These personally told career stories are posted on our “staff” web page and available for students to listen to. Our students love this! I’ve had quite a few students make appointments with me specifically because of the story I share about my career journey.

What is your career story? Leave a comment and let me know – I’d love to read it (and I bet others would too)!

The Dreaded LinkedIn Summary…Some Tips for Students

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Students understand more and more the power of LinkedIn, and the importance of not only being on LinkedIn, but also actually using it to successfully market themselves and connect with professionals. I feel like I’ve worked with a gazillion students on how to create an effective LinkedIn profile, and the one section that causes my students the most problems is that dang summary section! In advising sessions the following questions always come up: “Do I use first or third person?” “How long should it be?” “Should I discuss my passion for baking?” “Should I list skills…isn’t that redundant since there is that ‘Skills & Endorsements’ section already in my profile?” “Do I really even need a summary?”

Yes! Students should totally take advantage of the summary section!

Earlier this year I was talking to an employer representing an international management consulting firm, and I asked him on what criteria he selected students for on-campus interviews. He said something like, “Well…most of the resumes looked exactly the same—the same GPA’s, classes and projects, extracurricular activities, and degrees. So, I looked for athletes.”

Really? That was the deciding factor? It kind of blew my mind, as a non-athlete (I’ve always been a “husky” fella…and I was always kind of artsy) I knew, if I had been in the resume pool as an undergrad, I would have been out of the race. What I took from that conversation is that students need to leverage their “real life” and interests in the job search as well, and include them in their self-marketing documents and strategies (like their LinkedIn summary).

So, I’ve been trying to come up with a formula to help students construct their LinkedIn summaries (I work with a lot of engineers…and they LOVE formulas). My formula is basically strengths/skills + interests + tie-in to industry = a good LinkedIn summary. This technique allows students to show they have the skills required for an industry in a personalized way, making them unique from other candidates (like how the athletes were stand-outs for that management consulting employer). I also ask students to only write one sentence per topic (e.g., interests), to keep their summary concise.

I’ll use myself as an example. Currently I work with STEM students, but don’t have an ounce of STEM professional experience. My background is in documentary, TV, digital media, strategic communications…and counseling. How would this background inspire confidence in my STEM students? How could I leverage my past experience and skills to suit the career needs of STEM students? Let’s break it down with my formula, shall we?

Strengths/skills (hard and soft skills/strengths) – marketing, advertising, media, social media, telling stories, design, presenting, breaking down difficult information into digestible and understandable bits, advising/counseling, student development, motivating, inspiring, humor, strategic, empathic, activator. (Are you recognizing some of these StrengthsFinder terms? I love this assessment!)

Interests – design, music, photography, the history of my hometown (Durham, NC), Sci-Fi (Yes, I’m a nerd.), acting, documentary and hearing the stories of others, social justice, equality, anything vintage, learning/education, learning about other cultures.

Tie-in to industry (STEM students) – Storytelling is the underlying theme…teaching students to successfully tell their professional stories to employers. Education and social justice is another theme…especially in my work with international students and helping them find work in the United States.

Summary (with “Specialties”) – Storytelling is the heart of my career development and employer relations philosophy. Using my background in strategic communications and documentary, along with my experience in career services, I share the professional stories of my students with employers to create and grow meaningful relationships. I teach my students how to understand and share their stories with employers successfully to find careers they care about. I work with students from all over the world to help them better understand who they are, how they want to change the world, and how to create a strategy to make it happen. 

Specialties: Social media and job-search strategies, professional relationship development and maintenance, resume and cover letter writing, networking, job interview preparation, professional development, assessment application and review (StrengthsQuest, Strong Interest Inventory, MBTI), workshop facilitation, and assisting international students in navigating the American job-search process

See how that works? I maximize that non-traditional media/storytelling background to help me stand out from other career counselors.

My typical answers to student questions about the LinkedIn summary:

  • First or third person? Either one is fine. Students should decide based on what professionals in their chosen field are doing. A creative writing student’s summary will more than likely be written in the first person and more conversational, whereas the summary of a finance student may be in the third person and much more professional.
  • How long should the summary be? Not too long. I suggest four to six sentences (or fewer).
  • Discuss an outside passion (e.g., baking)? Sure, if your student can somehow tie it in to their chosen industry and prove it gives them a unique point of view, lens, or ability to do their job in an innovative way.
  • List specialties in the summary? Sure. Your students’ profiles are basically word banks, and we want to make sure it is peppered with as many industry key words as possible…we want employers to find our students as they search LinkedIn for talent.

What ideas do you have for creating killer LinkedIn summaries? Share your summary and expertise with us!

For more information on using social media in the job search, see the Social Media Guides on NACEWeb.

 

Online Portfolios…Don’t Be Left Dazed and Confused

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Creating an online portfolio can be daunting. Traditionally photographers, designers, film/video editors, and other creative types have used portfolios, but I think everyone should have some kind of online portfolio.  Now don’t freak out – ha! Your industry and career goals determine the kind of portfolio you will have and the tools you will use, which leads me to an important point: Not all online portfolios should be the same.

Some answers and ideas to some common portfolio questions:

Do I need a portfolio?

The short answer is…Yes! Whether you are a recruiter, career adviser, event planner, PR specialist, or biomedical engineer, you should consider an online portfolio or some kind of online presence reflecting your work. After all, isn’t an “online presence” a kind of professional portfolio anyway? There are a bazillion different platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Behance, Instagram, Weebly) to choose from, so you must think strategically (Who is your audience, and what do they need/want?) as to which type is best for you. Portfolios are a no-brainer for some industries and they’re a professional standard. For example, a graphic designer needs a platform that will allow them to show their work in a very dynamic and visual way, while also allowing them to share their work with others. Therefore, Behance or Carbonmade, platforms specifically for visual arts and networking, are a couple of strong platforms worth consideration.  But what about non-artsy-fartsy careers…like, say…a career adviser?

As a career adviser, I have an online portfolio/presence, and yes, there are some visual and artistic pieces, but when determining what platforms to use, I had to consider my audience (students, peer career advisers, employers) and their needs/wants (tools for learning, inspiration for the job/intern search, paths of communication for sharing talent and opportunities). LinkedIn, for me, is a must, as it allows me to share my experience chronologically and visually. My LinkedIn profile is, by all intents and purposes, a virtual resume, but I’m also able to share writing, presentations, and design. I see many of my students and clients not maximizing LinkedIn by adding examples of their work, and I feel like they are selling themselves short. My social media platforms are added to my LinkedIn profile, but in addition, I use About.me as a fun and creative hub for sharing all of my social media. You may be thinking… “Are social media skills portfolio worthy?”…YES! Social media skills (e.g. strategy, writing, curating content) are highly valuable, and should absolutely be a part of your portfolio.

What should I put in my portfolio?

As I mentioned before, think strategically. Who is your audience, and what do they need/want? Portfolios should contain your best work—not all of your work—and be sorted by skill. Spend some time thinking about and writing down all that you do professionally, and then sort by skill and the level of importance to your audience; or try re-organizing your resume by skill. These two exercises will not only clarify the more obvious skills you use, but will also bring to light other skills that you may not have considered before. Even a photographer can breakdown his skills so they are more apparent to his audience. Photography is more than “point and click”—different styles require different skills. The portfolio of a photographer could be sorted into many skills/styles including: journalistic, portraits, landscapes, fashion, and black and white.

Writing, career development programming, poster/flyer design, social media, and presentations are the skills I reflect in my portfolio/online presence. I use LinkedIn to share my presentations and design; WordPress for my writing; Twitter and LinkedIn for content curation; and I bring it all together in one package on my About.me profile.

One tip for reflecting programming or events in portfolios is to have a picture of the event/program and discuss it using a variation of the good old STAR method—challenge, action, result.

Always make sure that you or your student get employer consent prior to posting anything from a past internship or job.

What are some resources for creating an online portfolio?

Don’t recreate the wheel by trying to build your own website from scratch (unless you are a web developer). We want viewers to see your skills and work, and not get sidetracked by a poorly designed and constructed site. There are many free and intuitive resources out there to choose from. Weebly and Wix are good drop and drag resources with templates for creating websites. Carbonmade and Behance are great for design/branding/photography/fashion portfolios. And of course as a recruiter, career adviser, or financial analyst, LinkedIn may be all that you need.

How do I share my portfolio?

There are some basic and more advanced ways of sharing your portfolio and professional work. A couple of basic ways are adding your portfolio link to your email signature, business card, resume header, and LinkedIn profile. More advanced methods include engaging with other professionals through social media. For example, writing a blog post and tweeting it or posting photography on Instagram with strategic tags to draw a greater audience. I’ve had students create portfolios and ask for feedback from professionals through LinkedIn groups or Behance.

A few other thoughts.

Academic portfolios are different than professional portfolios. I understand some universities have, or are in the process of considering, creating a required academic portfolio piece for students. The purpose of this requirement is to assess students’ learning over the course of their college careers. These academic portfolios may include reflections on experiences (e.g. study abroad, service), graded writing from first year through senior year, general professor feedback on assignments, and more. As I mentioned earlier, a professional portfolio reflects your best work (meeting the needs and standards of an industry/employer) while the purpose of an academic portfolio is to show growth of skill and learning within an academic context.

Could academic portfolios be repurposed into professional portfolios? I don’t see why not—in fact I love the idea! I think it would be a wonderful learning experience for students, as they would directly see how their academic and developmental experiences translate to professional skills—connecting college to career. This could also be a great partnership between employers and career services offices and career advisers and faculty.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Employers (from all industries) – what do you think about portfolios? What would you like to see in them?

NACE members can pick up a student-directed article on online portfolios by Ross Wade from the Grab & Go section of NACEWeb.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: The “S Word” (Sponsorship)…and Keeping Students Motivated (Post 4)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

The whole sponsorship process can seem overwhelming, confusing, and daunting. I’ve seen many a career adviser’s face go blank (with a slight hint of “YIKES!”) when asked about this process from an international student seeking work in the United States. Here is the good news: you don’t have to know everything! As a career adviser, you simply need to understand the sponsorship basics, connect the student to the correct resource/office, discuss strategies and resources for the career search, and provide hope (and not just the mushy “you can do it!” stuff…I mean concrete hope in the form of proof through past successes). Not too scary, right?

Step one. Find the visa services office at your institution. Check out their website, and find a contact you can use to connect with students, to answer occasional questions. Your institution’s visa services office will have information on a variety of issues, including optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT), along with other links, and instructions for various processes. If your institution (or company) does not have a specific office or website for this, Duke University’s website is very helpful. Every year or so, my office has our visa services contact visit during a staff meeting to review the sponsorship process and current trends or changes, and answer questions.

Step two. Find resources you can provide international students with to help them with the U.S. job/internship search. I mentioned a few books and other resources that are very helpful in my first post in this series. I have two additional online resources that I find super beneficial…and my students LOVE them too.

GoinGlobal—This is a paid service that some of you may not have (don’t worry, I have a free resource below that is also very helpful), that provides tons of great information including companies that have petitioned for H1-B’s in the past (clues to international student friendly companies); country guides with employment and internship job sites, cultural job search information, top companies, and industry and employment trends.

MyVisaJobs—This is a free resource with information on work authorization (e.g., H-1B and student visas); links to attorneys categorized by state; and databases for finding companies that have petitioned for H-1B’s each year—you can search by employer, city, state, industry, job title, or by if the petition was certified, withdrawn, or denied. Great stuff!

Now, to the third and final step. Provide hope to your student. The information students can garner from the above links gets them motivated, but connecting them to others that have found work in the United States successfully provides great hope. Not only does this type of connection/networking provide hope, but it also provides instruction, direction, and the potential for a wonderful mentorship opportunity. Creating a database of international alums working in the United States, will be highly beneficial to you as you’ll be able to connect these alums to current students and invite them to panels or other special events. These alums can also be a great resource to you, and entry into a stronger relationship with their employer. If you don’t have a spreadsheet or database, you can certainly use LinkedIn (I especially like the “Find Alumni” trick I wrote about in my second post under “Ideas and Resources”).

I hope my posts on assisting international students with the US job search have been helpful to you. I’d love to hear about other strategies and resources that have worked for you—if you have any, please share the love by leaving a comment!

Find Ross Wade’s other blogs on working with international students. Part 1, part 2, part 3. Get Quick Tips for Assisting International Students on NACEWeb.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: Confusion and Anxiety Regarding Networking and Building Professional Relationships (Post 3)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

A couple of days ago I had a career advising session with an international student. He was very anxious and was “losing a lot of sleep” over the fact that he had graduated a month ago, had not found a job, and was worried he would not find anything in the United States by the time his optional practical training (OPT) started in the next few weeks. I had seen this student several times before, and his resume was strong, and he had substantial experience that would make him a strong candidate for various opportunities in environmental engineering. I asked him to tell me about his job search.

“I spend hours looking and applying to jobs online,” he said. “I’ve applied to over 50 jobs in the past month, and I’ve heard nothing back. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Will you look at my resume again?”

I reviewed his resume again. Yep…it still looked good. I asked him if he had done any networking.

“Oh yes, I’ve used LinkedIn and the alumni database to find contacts at companies with open jobs,” he said. “I reach out to them. In my e-mails I introduce myself and ask them to refer me for the position or tell me about any other opportunities.”

I hear this all of the time. In my experience many international students feel very uncomfortable networking for various reasons:

1. They lack confidence in their English language skills;

2. The job search in their home country does not necessitate “networking”—in fact employers may reach out to them to offer positions;

3. They are unaware of resources to use to find alumni or networking leads;

4. They don’t understand the nuts and bolts of networking, and that it is a long-term process with the goal of developing relationships that later lead to jobs. (And this isn’t just an issue with international students; it is an issue for ALL students.)

In order to motivate international students to start networking early (and not view networking as a last-minute, short-term thing), I try to reframe what networking is to them. I tell them that networking is about learning and serving through creating and sustaining professional relationships. I also use a bank analogy that seems to resonate with them. I tell them, “Networking is like creating a bank account, you must make deposits before you can make a withdrawal. Bank accounts, like professional relationships, grow with time and investment.”

Instead of “networking” I use the phrase “information gathering” with students, highlighting how to begin a professional relationship by learning from someone else (e.g., alumni, professionals) via informational interviews. I talk with them about asking the interviewee questions that will create future opportunities to serve them (i.e., sending the interviewee relevant articles or updates on how their feedback has helped).

Now…I know most of you reading this post are, like, “Duh…Ross. I already understand what networking is. Give me some tips I can use!”

I hear ya! Check out some ideas I’ve tried with some success below.

Networking Workshop Activity:

Have students search for a company of interest via an alumni database or LinkedIn, read about the company, find alumni working there, and create a list of questions (not only about the company, but the contact as well) to ask at an informational interview. Then pair the students up, and have them critique each other’s questions.

Next, bring everyone back into a large group and debrief and review some of the questions. Use prompts like: Which questions are the best? Are the questions open-ended, allowing the interviewee to provide plenty of information in her/his response? What questions best create space to serve the interviewee later?

After the question activity, have the students (individually) draft their own informational interview e-mail request. Ask them to pair up and share and critique. Next, bring everyone back into a large group to discuss.

Finally, ask students to create a basic timeline (by month), of when and how to follow up. This will be a very loose timeline as they don’t have an actual “real person” to create the timeline for at this point.

Students will leave feeling more confident now that they have tools, and an action plan to begin networking. I’ve also found adding a small panel of senior international students, that have successfully networked before, answer questions and serve as facilitators during discussions is very helpful (and proves that networking works!).

 Employer Relations Program Idea:

In my experience, most international students really dislike the “cattle call” style career fairs. They don’t feel comfortable with small talk, and feel that talking about themeselves is actually bragging. Overall they feel like they don’t get a chance to really show employers their skills in a meaningful and authentic way. In an effort to help international students connect with employers better (and with incredible support from my manager and colleagues), I tried a different type of employer engagement program, based on the good old science fair (yep—I went old skool, y’all!).

I targeted electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students, and sent them an e-mail about an opportunity to share their most exciting class projects with employers. Students had to sign up, send an abstract about their project, send their resume or LinkedIn URL, and show up the day of the event ready (with their project or poster) to engage with employers and talk about their work.

I also facilitated a networking lunch with the students, employers, faculty, and staff. I scheduled the event, the “Electrical and Computer Engineering Showcase”, the day before the spring career fair to maximize employer attendance. I sent a personal invite to ECE employers (those that had already registered for the career fair AND local companies) to attend this event at no charge to them, and told them to feel free to bring along any alumni working at their company.

The employers loved the idea, and many signed up to attend. The day of the event employers visited every student table to talk about the student projects. I collected feedback from the employers on the students’ conversational skills and projects and asked if, based on the students’ projects, if they’d ever consider hiring one of these new grads (and more than 70 percent said they would!). The employers and students both really enjoyed the event. One student said, “I really had a chance to shine today. We are doing this again next year, right?!”

Share your ideas and strategies for helping international students better understand networking.

This is part three of a series. Don’t miss parts one and two.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: Lack of Understanding the U.S. Job Search (Post 2)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke Engineering/Professional Master’s Programs
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Greetings career professionals! I wanted to focus this post (and the next couple of posts) on common challenges I assist my international students with, and provide some strategies and ideas that you can use in your practice.  I’ve even added a couple of ideas that could be a part of your office’s employer outreach strategy.

 CHALLENGE: Lack of understanding the U.S. job search.

I see it over and over again. Students from across the globe begin their U.S. college experience thinking that the job-search process will be just like it is in their home country. Most of the time that process is something like: make great grades, study hard for the final test, and the higher your test score (and grades), the better job you get. And the employers will come to you! It is all about grades, and working toward being top of your class. There is little to no focus on networking or getting hands-on experience (though many of my Chinese students acquire a one month “internship,” which is more like an observational externship experience). Many international students have no idea about the U.S. job search, and that it is focused more on professional experience and relationships than grades.

Sharing this, and having students understand this, is your first and most difficult step. Some students will feel uncomfortable approaching or cold calling professionals to connect, thinking that it is rude or disrespectful; aligning these students with others from their home country that have successfully found careers in the United States normalizes networking…and they can get the scoop on the step-by-step of networking and how their peer or “senior” successfully did this without feeling like they were being disrespectful.

 IDEAS & RESOURCES

  • Create a book club or U.S. job-search working/accountability group for international students that meets every couple of weeks. Daniel Beaudry, has written a wonderful book about the U.S. job search for international students called “Power Ties.” He does a fantastic job of explaining the process of the U.S. job search and networking, while explaining the visa process and all of the “players” such as hiring managers, HR, etc.
  • Teach students how to connect with international alums that were able to find jobs in the United States. Most institutions have an alumni database, but did you know the LinkedIn “Find Alumni” tool is FANTASTIC for this?! I work with graduate students, and have them access the tool (LinkedIn > Network > Find Alumni), and search for alumni of their undergraduate institution (back in their home country), click on who is living in the United States, and sort by industry. Not only does this give them a list of alums they can connect with, but shows the companies and industries most likely to hire international talent. If you are working with undergraduates, have them search under popular universities in their home country (they’ll still be able to access the alums!).
  • A lot of my international students are obsessed with all the big-brand companies (e.g. Deloitte, Google, Exxon), and don’t consider smaller companies. I remind my students that pursuing a big brand company is fine, but don’t forget that a gazillion other international students will be doing the same thing. Smaller companies may have less competition and be less rigid in considering hiring international talent, and accessing hiring managers may be easier. Consider this idea which incorporates educating students and employers (here’s the employer outreach idea I mentioned earlier); do a webinar or panel with employers (that have successfully hired international talent in the past), an immigration lawyer, visa services, and international alums working in the United States to share their insights and experiences from the employer and student point of view. You could invite international students and smaller companies/employers in your area to learn more about this process (a great professional development opportunity for them, and a way to get them interested in your students).
  • Find a mentor or colleague with experience working with international students to help you. This could be someone from your school’s visa services office, international house, or counseling center. I’ve been so lucky to have incredibly smart and experienced colleagues (Carrie Hawes, Jenny Johnson, Bridget Fletcher) help me grow my skills with international students along the way – I’m so grateful to them!

In my next blog posts I’ll discuss the sponsorship process, and address all of the confusion and anxiety many international students face when networking.

What ideas do you have for helping international students better understand the U.S. job search?

Did you miss part one? Read it here, and watch for Ross Wade’s next blog in this series! Coming soon.