International Students: how about debits and credits?

Hello everyone. How about graduating with a 4.0 GPA in Accounting? What are the odds that may happen? Not great at all. Binh is an undergraduate international student from Vietnam and he was 1 of 7 students who achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA among 676 undergraduate students who graduated with him in the Fall of 2016. Binh received his degree from the University of Houston and got hired as an Accounts Receivable Associate at SureTec. Way to go Binh. We are so proud of you. It’s not often we get to speak with Accountants – and since they can be a bit of a different breed – we wanted to hear what kind of job search advice Binh had to share not only with other international accountants but also with international students from different fields as well. Enjoy our Q&A with Bihn, and thank you Binh for your time and wonderful advice.

Marcelo: Accounting can be a great field for international students who want to work in the U.S after graduation, but it’s not for everyone. How did you know accounting was right for you?

Bihn: I know accounting is the right field for me honestly because it’s the only field I’m good at. I cannot study STEM majors because I’m not good at sciences and technology, thus I chose Business School. I did not choose Marketing or Management because I do not like to write that much. Besides, these majors are too general. I did not choose Management Information System or Supply Chain Management because they are IT-related and engineering-related majors, respectively, which I’m not that good at either. I ended up deciding between accounting and finance because I’m good at working with numbers. In the end I chose accounting because accounting is the base for finance and it is more specific and practical than finance. I can say if you enjoy working with numbers and do not mind getting into details to find errors, then you should consider accounting. Some people may not find accounting that interesting but I do like it and find it easy to study and I feel it is a field that it is easier to find a job as an international student compared to other business majors.

Marcelo: You were pragmatic about your choice of major. You picked a major that suited you, matched your strengths, and increased your chances of finding U.S employment. I think it was smart not to choose Finance for the reasons you described: I agree that finance can be more general and harder to explain at times but there is no confusion about what accounting is. I’m not saying international Finance majors cannot find jobs in the U.S – many do – but the way you approached your decision process is what I find interesting. It has much merit. It seems you have the right kind of mind for accounting type of work. That’s excellent. You succeed in the classroom and now you will succeed at work. Choosing the right major is the 1st step towards increasing an international student’s chance of working in the U.S after graduation. Pick the wrong major and you are already swimming against the current as an international student. Another typical dilemma quant driven international students face these days is: do I choose Finance or Business Analytics? Maybe this could be a topic for another blog post.



Marcelo: During your job search, what type of firms did you target? Large firms? Small firms? A mix?

Binh: As an international student, I don’t have many choices because not every firm hire international students, so I applied for every job I could. When it comes to networking, I prioritize big public accounting firms like the Big4 because they hire a lot of international students. However, I always keep my eyes on all opportunities that pop up during my job search.

Marcelo: It’s critical to also target smaller firms that need accountants in addition to the traditional Big 4 names.

Marcelo: Why do you think you were hired?

Binh: I graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA so I think that’s the main reason. I also also encourage international students to find part-time accounting job as soon as possible. My first part-time accounting job was at a small start-up company, and it helped me a lot in finding my next jobs because I already had some basic experience. When I already had two to three accounting jobs, it was easier for me to discuss my qualification during interviews because of what I had learned from those jobs. Having many extracurricular activities such as case competitions or group projects on your resume is definitely helpful as well.

Marcelo: And there’s possibly another good reason to investigate accounting as a field of study: if you excel in the classroom good grades can help you get hired. I’m sure your 4.0 GPA automatically made you a candidate that was worth a look. In the MBA world we sometimes hear that GPAs/grades are not that relevant. In the Accounting world, nothing could be further from the truth. Employers do want you to have strong grades. And we know that many international students succeed academically. And yes, getting work experience gets easier when you have work experience. I think unpaid internships, to start, are the way to go for some international students who have 0 work experience when they arrive in the U.S.

Marcelo: What were the main road blocks you faced as an international student and how did you solve them?

Binh: I would say the main road block is my visa status and my English. I’ve just been to the U.S. for 30 months, so my English is not completely fluent yet. The other thing is that there were cases where the company lost their interest immediately when they knew I was an international student. Trying to hang out with American people and going to as many interviews as possible would be my recommendation for those two obstacles. When you go to five interviews instead of one, you will definitely have a higher chance to find a company that can give you a job.

Marcelo: Your English is already strong and will get even better over time. Besides, you’ve become fluent in another language, the language of business. In the end, that is what matters the most. For international students out there who may be considering accounting as a field, what are your top 5 job search tips for them?

Binh: 1/ Start your job search as soon as possible. You should start finding an on-campus job in your 1st semester in the U.S. Start applying for accounting jobs at the end of your freshman year, go to any accounting/finance interviews you can secure. It is crucial that you start NOW and not your senior year.

2/ Utilize the career services in your business school and your university. You already paid a huge amount of money, then you should take advantage of the services provided by the school. They will help you write your resume, give advice on business attire, and assist you in practicing your interviewing skills. There’re also several job postings on the school career website that you should take a look at least once a week.

3) Consider joining an accounting organization such as Beta Alpha Psi. You will meet many older students that can become your mentor and help you in studying as well as in finding a job. You will also have a chance to network with many companies. Big4 firms will notice you and invite you to interview if you talk to them even if you are only a freshman or sophomore.

4/ Have a LinkedIn account. I find it very helpful to connect with alumni and employers via LinkedIn. You can use LinkedIn to find an alumnus who is currently working in your dream company and ask him/her for advice. There are also many job postings on LinkedIn that you can submit your resume to the recruiters.

5/ Enjoy playing the game! It will be tough for any international student to find a job in America, so please don’t give up if you fail five or seven interviews. Treat it like a game! If you fail an interview, learn, improve, and play again. I enjoyed every time I got to interview because it was a chance for me to meet new people and test myself. I got my first part-time accounting job after interviewing with six different firms. In total, I’ve gone to almost 40 interviews in past 30 months. Again, don’t be too upset if you don’t get the job you want, because that’s just an opportunity for you to improve and do better the following time. When you get your first accounting job, it will be easier for you to find the next one.

Marcelo: Excellent suggestions for international students from all majors actually. I can’t thank you enough for speaking with us today. All the best to you and good luck with what is ahead for you Bihn.

Marcelo: Last question. What is your international advantage?

Binh: My international advantage is also the advantage of many Vietnamese international students, I believe, and that is the fact that we tend to be excellent test takers. In Vietnam, students study hard because they want to pass exams and get a diploma. There are many “test preparation centers” outside of school that teach students pragmatic methods to pass exams. Therefore, Vietnamese students have had much training on “how-to-pass-the-exams” by the time they go abroad and that can be a big advantage if they end up choosing majors that have rigorous curriculums and require them to get good grades in order to get noticed by employers. We really have a chance to excel in the classroom and get hired.

Marcelo: Thanks so much once again. Most international students in my opinion lack the kind insight you had early in your college studies to make optimal decisions – such as choosing the right major – that in the end increased your chances of finding employment in the U.S after graduation. It’s important to seek advice with an eye towards the end goal. If you have the focus for detailed, investigative type of work, if you like to uncover a story that numbers on financial statements might be telling you, then accounting might be worth exploring as you mentioned. Accounting is a language. It has rules, and international students are good at learning languages. Here’s more: you are not going to hear nearly as much talk about presence, leadership skills, likeability, soft skills, presentation skills, or emotional intelligence in the accounting world as you will in other fields. All of these terms are hard to understand – sometimes I’m not sure I know myself know what they truly mean – and these are highly culturally based concepts that can be quite difficult for some international students to master. So why not consider putting yourself in an environment that directly plays to your strengths and where your “communication weaknesses” may not matter that much?

If you are the type who prefers to look at a firm’s annual reports and quarterly filings – rather than listening to a company’s CEO’s brag about how great his or her company is – if you like comparing a firm’s income statement to their cash flow statements, then accounting might suit you. Take a class or two in college and see how you feel and perform. Some people love looking at companies’ 10Ks and eventually get good at flagging things that may look questionable. If get good at this, it will not matter that much if you have terrific presentation skills or not. What matters is that you’re good at solving mysteries, and that remains a critical skill in business. Folks who are able to process and interpret financial information objectively will always be in demand. In addition, as the world becomes even more globalized and M&A transactions happen across borders, the language skills and cultural insights international students have only make them even more interesting choices to do accounting type of work.


Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm focused on helping international students secure jobs in the U.S. Barros currently partners with US universities and conducts job search training aimed at giving international students such as Binh an edge when job searching. Check out The International Advantage Get Noticed Get Hired! on Amazon and start reading the book today to get noticed and hired as an international student.



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