Dear International Students in the US,
I know you feel anxious, confused and even rejected.
It’s been only a month into the Trump administration, we have seen a lot of stress in this community. Whether they are about the executive orders or possible legislations related to immigration, fear and uncertainty hang in the air.
For international students, what will come next?
For many of you, pursuing a career in the US after graduation is the goal and dream. Is it still realistic? There are already rumors that the H-1B program – a program that many of you rely on to find a job – will be altered.
You ask yourself, “What do I do?”
Before I answer this question, let me tell you something: I’d been in your situation before. I was an international student once. After I received my undergraduate degree, I had my H-1B visa denied due to cap limitation. After getting my MBA, I couldn’t find a job for a long time due to the Great Recession.
Through it all, I learned rejection from the government, employers and bad luck more than I could ever imagine. All these rejections contributed to my entrepreneurial career by making me tougher and stronger. This past year, I gave a TED talk on rejection. The topic was about business and entrepreneurship, but it might just as well be about job search.
Now, let’s get back to the question at hand – what should you do? I’ll start by telling you what NOT to do:
1. Don’t give up looking for a job.
There’re many people who let the potential policy changes affect them so much that they simply give up on their job search. Their excuses are either a) “All my efforts are probably useless anyway,” or b) “I don’t want to live in this country anymore because it’s becoming increasingly unfriendly to international students.”
Rest assured, if you give up, there would be no need for company hiring and H-1B policy change. You’d have done the damage yourself and the effects would have been the same. If anyone is going to reject you, let others do it. Don’t do this to yourself.
2. Don’t read the news every day.
It’s easy to get caught up in reading the news and speculate based on rumors of bad news (the drafted executive order to change H-1B use for corporations) or even good news (proposed Congressional bill to reform H-1B to curb abuse).
Only one thing is certain: no matter what the government does next, good or bad, no one will hand you a job. You’ll need to earn it through active networking and interview preparation. Focus on your effort, not the news.
Now that we’ve talked about the things you shouldn’t do, let’s move on to the things you ought to do. As an international student studying in times of turbulence and uncertainty, here’s what you must focus on:
1. Do put things in perspective.
Yes, the executive orders and legislative policies might make your life harder. Sure, your job search looks much more challenging compared to your domestic classmates’.
But if you look at history, this is nothing new. America was built not just by Americans, but also by immigrants who had to overcome many more hardships than their native and domestic counterparts. They still thrived nevertheless.
All these obstacles that the immigrants went through made them tougher, smarter, and more innovative. They pushed the country forward as a whole.
2. Do double your job search effort.
We don’t know what will happen in the future. Among all the negative, uncertain, and uncontrollable aspects of the current environment, there is, however, one thing that will stand unbroken – your effort.
It’s not always true that your efforts will yield positive results, but it is a guarantee that zero effort leads to zero result. One of the most basic and effective actions humans can take in any country and under any circumstance is by working harder.
3. Do search creatively.
Innovation comes from challenges, not from comfort. In case on-campus recruiting with large American companies becomes difficult (due to H-1B restrictions and policy change), turn your attention to an off-campus job search and target companies that don’t traditionally recruit international students.
Your job search should go beyond Fortune 500 companies. You must learn to get comfortable networking with strangers. There’re many well-funded medium-sized companies that need your skills. Your negotiation and problem-solving skills will be put to the test.
Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Never.
4. Do have a backup plan.
Even if your goal is to stay in the US, you should still search for international opportunities, whether it’s in your home country or elsewhere. In fact, no one should entirely shut off the idea of an international job search.
I have known classmates who’d moved to every continent (except Antarctica) after completing their MBAs. The breadth of industries and knowledge they accumulated helped them make career leaps, even after they moved back to the US or their home country.
5. Do learn and engage in American civics.
This part of the discussion is often left out. For many of us international students, not understanding American civics makes us isolated from the political activities that could have major impact on our lives.
If you want to live in this country, you must actively work to shape the current and future policies to benefit your community or country as a whole. Even if you’re not able to vote yet, you must make an effort to participate in political discussions and campaigns. Your expertise, voice, and perspective might mean a lot more than a citizen’s vote.
On the one hand, a period of turbulence and volatility could be a destructive force to comfort and the status quo. On the other, many dreams and stories were made and written in times like these.
Fellow international students, to be the future leaders of this country’s innovation and progress, you need to overcome a lot more than an unfriendly political environment.
Maybe, just maybe, like all rejections, this is the opportunity for you to open up new possibilities and unlock your true strength.
Jia Jiang, the Rejection Guy