The International Advantage program recently sat down with Devi Prasad Gorrepati – international student from India – after learning that he landed a job. It is rare for us to proactively contact international students to learn about their job search journeys. To be honest these stories naturally reach us one way or another. We made an exception in this case. Gorrepati first caught our attention a while back by being super creative with his use of LinkedIn also for wanting to help other international students find jobs in the U.S. When we first spoke with him he was still in school and seemed uncertain about his chances of finding U.S employment. Well, he did it. We were eager to learn more about him and hear his advice on what international students can do to secure U.S jobs. We hope you will enjoy the Q&A below as much as we did.
Marcelo: Tell us what you studied and what kind of jobs you targeted.
Devi: I have completed my masters in Mechanical Engineering and I was looking for jobs majorly in Computational Fluid Dynamics and Thermal analysis fields. However, I have also considered any job in Mechanical Engineering which had job roles that matched more than 60% of my skillset. After my graduation, I was successful in getting a job within 2 months and started my career at Mentor Graphics as an Associate Rotation Engineer in Mechanical Analysis Division.
Marcelo: Good stuff! How did you exactly get the lead for the job you have now?
Devi: I have been applying for jobs for a while through Linkedin and Indeed job sites. I found this opportunity on Linkedin and immediately responded with my resume. Everything worked out in the following weeks since my profile matched very closely to the job requirements.
Marcelo: It helps when you apply for roles that closely match your background, doesn’t it? Tell us more about your job search efforts. What kind of successes did you have?
Devi: Job searches are tough! That said there is no easy way out. After reading a lot of blogs and trying it out myself I have learned that Job search has to be done as a fulltime job. I used to spend 8 hours every day 9 am to 5 pm to look for jobs. I cannot pinpoint a day when I started job search because getting your resume ready is the first step in searching for jobs and I have been doing that for more than 3 years now. (Senior year of Undergrad)
The successes I had would be everything including my resume being picked despite of thousands of others applying to getting interview calls. Although I haven’t received more than 5 calls from 400 odd internships/ fulltime jobs I have applied, I learned what goes into a successful resume. I believe only after applying for 300 jobs I have come close to perfecting my resume.
Marcelo: It seems you could have been more efficient when job searching. 400 applications for only 5 calls is tough. Glad in the end it all worked out for you. Since you are talking a lot about resumes, give us your best resume tips.
Devi: Resume building is an ongoing work and I believe the sooner you start looking for jobs the more refined your resume could be. My 400 jobs applications include everything starting from internships applications which means my resume was poorly structured and lacked content in the beginning of my master’s program (while looking for Internships).
- HRs usually spend very less time looking at resumes when they have a bulk of them; make it easier for them to read by being precise with what you would like to convey rather than expecting them to find matches between job role and your experience
- Keep updating your resume with up to date content
- Ask peers or someone in the similar field with experience to review it
- Use the career center from your school for reviewing your resume
- Do not use a generic resume, personalize it to the role/job
Marcelo: I must say this about resumes: they don’t matter that much. Many international students out there are way too resume obsessed. Yes, get your resume done. Make it look good. Adjust it along the way as you mentioned but then move on. A lot of international students don’t move on. When international students get in trouble and don’t find jobs they come to me and say “could you please review my resume Marcelo”? I never start troubleshooting from there.
Marcelo: What are the major job search barriers you have faced?
Devi: Access to information or network. No one knows the job openings better than the ones working for that company (specifically in the department you are looking for). Unless you have a wide network it is often difficult to know whether the job posting that appears in several job boards is still open or not. I urge all the job seekers to build your network which provides access to latest information.
Marcelo: So true. It makes a world of difference to be talking to people from the departments of the firms you want to join in order to understand what a job you saw on-line is all about, and yes, to find out if the job is even still available. Insider info about an opening – or an upcoming opening – can give job seekers huge advantages over other candidates.
Marcelo: When you were job searching, did you consider attending some sort of trade show where companies in your field of interest gather to display their solutions, for example? I’ve been trying to promote this idea a lot lately due to several reasons.
Devi: I have not attended any trade shoes due to the lack of access to transportation or expenses involved in traveling. However, now if I look back I think they are great opportunities to meet people, build network and get advice.
I have attended a couple of job fairs (Society of Women Engineers, College job fair) before looking for fulltime and internship opportunities respectively.
Marcelo: I think having attended a trade show in your field of interest would have given you the opportunity to get in front of employers in a subtle way. Sometimes these events offer discounts for students. Sometimes they look for volunteers. There’s a show for everything out there. Americans seem to like these types of events.
Devi: I do agree with that but again being a student attending these can be expensive if we have to fly out to other places.
Marcelo: It’s a tiny investment compared to what you spent on tuition and the ROI can be high.
Marcelo: You pursued a STEM major, right? That means you enjoy additional OPT time in the U.S compared to non-STEM international students. Has the additional OPT time been a source of competitive advantage for you when talking to employers?
Devi: It definitely adds a competitive edge since the company can try us out for 1 year before sponsoring our H-1B and still we would be having 2 more chances at the H-1B lottery. However, unless asked explicitly I advice not to bring this topic during the interview process. If they feel you are competent and a perfect fit for the position they would not back off due to the H-1B although if it’s their first time.
Marcelo: True, yes. It’s normally the employer’s responsibility to ask candidates questions about employment authorization. But as a candidate, if you sense the firm you’re talking to in the on the fence about hiring you due to perceived sponsorship difficulties, then it might make sense to proactively and confidently communicate the value of the 36 months of OPT to employers. It’s best to play it by ear. Some employers, particular smaller ones, may not aware that they can keep an international engineering major on payroll for 3 years at no cost to them. Some of them may be aware of the new 36 month of OPT that but don’t understand how valuable this perk is for them. Multiple shots at the H-1B lottery is huge. If only our MBAs were so lucky. As you know, the 36 months rule is a relatively new perk certain STEM majors enjoy but many employers I talk – particular smaller firms – are not aware of this benefit so they incorrectly eliminate international applicants out of the job search race.
Marcelo: Do you feel that the community of international students is as connected as they can be? Do you feel that sometimes there’s reluctance on the part of international students to share job search best practices with one another, for example?
Devi: I believe there is a lot of competition among the students to get the jobs, therefore, most of them feel not sharing it with anyone would improve their chances but I believe in the contrary. You cannot reduce the competition by not informing the ones you know also it does more harm than good. When you open up your resources/ information to others, you build a helpful network which always comes in handy during your search. In this internet generation with all the information at hand, not sharing info and expecting the others do not know is foolish.
Just think about this, what are the chances that you get a reference from a stranger who got the job you were looking for to getting a reference from the friend you helped with job search. Job search is done as a collaborative work would benefit more people than when it is approached as a competition to get ahead of your peers.
Marcelo: I have seen some creative efforts on your part to leverage tools such as Linkedin, for example, to connect with other international students. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to speak with you. What led you to initiate those efforts?
As I mentioned earlier empowering our network empowers us. The quote that always inspired me is “Blowing out other person’s candle does not make yours shine brighter”.
Marcelo: What is your best career advice for international job seekers who may need an H1-B to stay in the US?
Devi: Start early with building your network and skill set. Make yourself valuable to the company you work for. Do your homework about your peers and try to stay at par or ahead of them in skills. No company would like to let go an engineer/ candidate who fits into the role or who spends some time with the company so get your foot into the door first and don’t wait for the perfect job if you do not have experience.
Marcelo: The advice of keeping your skills at par or ahead of your peers is key. It’s a simple notion but one that gets lost in the job search process. I think that somehow many international students feel that if they get out there and network and have informational interviews they will get hired. What do you do better than others is a question we try to have international students answers during our job search training sessions. What story is your ISEL telling you? The students we have worked with know what I’m talking about. If you want a job as a programmer, work hard to be the best programmer you can be. Generate bug free code that is clean and creative and get others to say “Wow”. How did you do that?” That’s what it takes to be successful and secure a job in the U.S as an international student. Just taking classes is not enough. Getting A’s is not enough. Be great at what you do. As a job seeker, if you are lucky enough find out what it is that really interests you, then working hard to be the best you can be in your field is not a chore. And you won’t do it because you want to beat your competition. You don’t do it because you need to be better than Americans to get hired in the U.S You do it because you are having so much fun so you stay up coding at 3:00 a.m. because you can’t help it, but you are never satisfied with what you produce either. You are constantly trying to get better. Those are the individuals companies want to hire. These are the professionals who will end up making a mark in their fields. I think many international students have just the right traits to be these types of job seekers and professionals.
Marcelo: What is your international advantage Devi?
Devi: Having been raised in India (a very diverse country) I believe I have a broader perspective at analyzing things. Most of my experiences have shaped me in looking at things with a fuzzy logic approach; there is no single right or wrong answer.
Marcelo: Interesting, a bit of a philosophical answer coming from an engineer. I am thrilled you have succeeded and thanks for speaking with us today. I believe your fuzzy logic approach – AND you desire to help others – will be an on-going source of competitive advantage for you. You’re lucky to have lived an interesting life. Good luck on April 1st. We will be rooting for you big time. This year will be your year.
Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage Get Noticed Get Hired! and founder of The International Advantage. Barros partners with university career centers to prepare international students like Devi to get noticed and hired by U.S employers.