Hi everyone. Please meet Luz Camargo, former international student from Colombia, and currently Director of Finance for Laureate International Universities in Malaysia. Yes, Malaysia! I recently interviewed Luz about the recruiting challenges faced by international students seeking U.S positions and her own experiences as a job seeker. I’m happy to share her super helpful global insights with you. This is Part I of 3-part interview series.
Marcelo: Why did you decide to come to college in the U.S for an MBA?
Luz: Well, I reached a moment in my career when I was having conflicting short-term dreams. After 3.5 years of work experience in my home country I wanted to take a break and travel internationally. I also knew I wanted to go back to school and was considering options in my country. Could I do some travel and study at the same time? I discussed my thoughts with several people. I had a very important conversation with Diego Mora, 2007 MBA, and he encouraged me to pursue an MBA. I had never thought about it since I thought an MBA was only an option for super smart rich people who spoke great English I didn’t meat this criteria. In the end, I went for it and the MBA was a great match for both of my dreams: 1) getting a break & traveling abroad and 2) studying something that would boost my career prospects.
Marcelo: What is your hometown and country known for? What’s the most interesting or funny question you received from someone during your studies in the U.S about where you are from?
Luz: I’m from Colombia, from the Boyaca region and my hometown is Tunja. My region and hometown are popular agricultural centers with cold weather and natives who have a “particular” way of speaking. We are farmers that produce the best potato in Colombia and drink the most beer. We are also famous for producing cool hats and ponchos, which are perfect for the cold weather in the region. Sometimes when I mention I am from Colombia people ask me questions related to drugs. However, lately, it seems people have also mentioned soccer (Futbol) and James Rodrigues. And also, of course, Shakira and waka waka.
Marcelo: Let’s talk about networking. Are you a good networker? Many international students struggle to network in the U.S. Some are concerned about their accent. Some feel they don’t know enough about American culture in order to effectively interact with Americans. Do you feel you created meaningful relationships with your U.S classmates during your studies? What advice related to networking do you have for international students?
Luz: I am terrible at networking. I am not exaggerating. I was able to create a few strong relationships with a few classmates but I wish I had created more connections. I was very shy because of my lack of confidence in my English language skills. I felt exactly the way you described above. Going to happy hours helped me a lot. Also, by joining activities that were NOT related to MBA stuff or my job search and were “fun” naturally allowed me to gain more confidence meeting people in general. I was really good at networking when I was not networking. I created many non-networking situations for myself and little by little I was able to learn how to break the ice and have real conversations with those I met in a natural and non-pressured way.
My best advise to international students include:
1) Join organizations/clubs that are related to your personal interests and hobbies. Do you like to dance? Maybe a photography class? Do something fun!
2) Enjoy the MBA experience. It is the one time in your adult life when you are not working. As an international student you may face difficult and stressful moments during your MBA journey when looking for a job. Find ways to enjoy the experience so when you are networking you can show your enthusiasm and positive energy. Employers do not want to hire sad or burned out people since these could be signs of lack of confidence.
Embrace your personal interests and join activities that make you happy. By doing so you can network without even trying to network. This will boost your self-confidence as well.
Marcelo: How’s it that you knew what kinds of roles and companies you wanted to target? Did that happen naturally or did you have a plan or a methodology you followed?
Luz: When I joined the MBA program I wanted to go into Consulting. However, after a few months I realized my English language skills were not strong enough at the time for me to be competitive pursuing consulting roles. I then switched my job search focus and decided to pursue something I was naturally good at: finance. Numbers are universal. I become more competitive as a job seeker and created more interview opportunities for myself when I switched my job search focus to finance.
I talked to a lot of people. It didn’t happen naturally. The finance world in the U.S is much more complex compared to what I was used to in Colombia. I had to understand the different levels (Corporate Finance, PE, Banking, FP&A) and also understand where my skillset best fit. Initially I made the mistake of only applying for jobs I thought I qualified for based on my prior work experience. That was not an effective approach. Little by little I learned that to be successful as a job seeker I had to also focus on my skills as well, and not only on my work experience.
Marcelo: Stay tuned for Part 2 of my discussion with Luz, and learn how she landed her H-1B job in the U.S before she moved to Malaysia.