"The most powerful way I've learned to compress time is to learn through other people's experience. Modeling those who've already succeeded can save you years of pain" - Anthony Robbins - Author, Entrepreneur, Life Coach
In this third and final instalment of this self-initiated U.S expat interview series, we focus our attention on Juan’s story. Juan, a Colombian native graduated with a bachelors in Systems Engineering from the University of Medellin and like Luza from our second instalment interview series, is also a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s University’s Information Technology program.
When Juan was at CMU, he interned at Google during the summer and then returned to work as a full-time test engineer after graduation.
In my opinion, that is pretty awesome. I was keen to find out whatever secrets he has in his toolbox. During my interview session with him, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by Juan’s “matter of fact” persona. No fluffs. I got pointed, targeted responses from him to my questions.
I wonder if his candid yet methodical approach to the interview had anything to do with his work environment… or is it just my confirmation bias at work, eager to reaffirm that the company he now works at has shaped him to be the way he is? Wait, or is it the other way around..?
Revelation #1 – Adaptation
Juan factually puts adaptation as one main key factors to his success, as if it was something everyone knew and would if one wanted to stand a chance at getting hired overseas, and in his case at Silicon Valley.
“There is really no secret formula when it comes to down securing a job”, it’s really about adapting to the U.S environment, playing to your strengths, don’t try be someone you’re not, and have a passion in whatever it is that you do and be able to strongly articulate it during your interviews”, stressed Juan.
What struck me during the interview with Juan was his candidness about the steep degree of cultural differences between networking in Colombia and in the U.S, and how he quickly adapted to turn things in his favor.
Googleplex - Photo Credit - The American Interest
He elaborated that in Colombia, networking events are uncommon as companies generally favor traditional job fairs when recruiting candidates. Therefore, attending a networking event was a completely new experience for him.
Juan also shed some light on the differences between the recruitment practices in the U.S and Colombia. On the resume front, he highlighted that in Colombia, having certificates of attendance for conferences/workshops take precedence over one’s academic or personal projects which exhibit expertise in a certain area. Local perception contributes to the emphasis that company recruiters put on attendance, and that in turn drives the recruiters’ decision on whom to call up for an interview.
Revelation #2 – Localizing the Resume and Preparing for Brain Teasers
Juan’s resume was lengthy by U.S recruitment standards, and was initially filled with the technical details of his prior role. It was with much relief that Juan prevented a recruitment disaster by allowing staff from the CMU graduate career services team to review and critique his curriculum vitae.
Unlike many of his local graduate school course mates, he had the unenviable task of trimming down the length of his resume. However, contrast this to his younger classmates with little to no real-world experience, Juan had a flavorful amount of relevant experience to choose from, ranging from his coding experience in the banking world to stating “hacking” as one of his hobbies. Material changes include but are not limited to:
A significant reduction in resume length from more than five pages to just one;
Utilizing a resume format that is accepted by U.S standards (e.g. - standard one pager. Oh, and to omit key personal information such as race, gender, marital status etc. - it’s all part of this legal enforcement called the “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission”, which will take another 3000 words to flush out. Go Figure.)
Adding color and diversity to his resume by including interesting hobbies as a subcategory, rather than only outlining the de facto academic and professional accomplishments.
Commentary - For international readers who are just starting out college or are in the middle of it, your challenge is just the opposite – filling up your resume with relevant academic and professional experiences, and this comes with careful planning in the investment of time during your college years.
One notable experience that Juan was keen to share during our Skype call was the swirling myth about Google’s legendary first round interviews and the insurmountable difficulty of the questions asked. If you’ve played the “telephone game” before, you would know what I mean. Otherwise, for the nerds out there, in behavioral economic terms, that’s called confirmation bias. For the philosophical readers out there, it’s a funny spin of Descartes’ all so famous quote of “I think, therefore I am” to “I think therefore it is”.
On a separate note, Juan was once asked by a career fair representative of another company to use code to solve a problem “on the fly”. To be fair, he was stunned given that this situation would have never happened in Colombia; he was stunned. He couldn’t quite do it and as a result he wasn’t called to go for a first-round interview. This was a learning experience he took in stride. Deep inside, I can imagine Juan shouting at the top of his lungs to the degree of “NEVER AGAIN!”.
Hypothetical Brain Teaser Gone Wry... - Comic/Photo Credit - The Oatmeal.com
Undeterred by the unfamiliarity and challenge, Juan set off to do what was needed; he practiced really hard on how to structurally articulate his thoughts on paper when similar questions were next thrown at him. However, the interview process has evolved since Juan’s time as brain teaser interview questions are now being replaced by practical technical and programming ones.
Revelation #3 - The Power of Alumni
It was because Juan had specifically highlighted coding as his hobby, which caught the eye of an alumni who was recruiting on behalf of his company. That led to more probing of Juan’s work-on-the-side, which ultimately led to a call-up for an interview. It also helped that CMU’s alumni base really shone through during Juan’s first experience at the career fair hosted in his school, where he befriended a few alumni members, one of whom he was able to strike a nice a rapport with. The rest is history.
For example, he shared with me that his alumni friends had pointed to him that companies like Google may develop an interest in knowing more about his hobby of coding on the side and that he should include that his resume. This tactic worked as his interviewer picked it up and asked him about it.
Commentary: The impact of school champions (alumni) that now work at multinational companies cannot be overlooked when it comes to campus recruitment. American executives are big on giving back to their respective alma maters; and it stands to reason that not all of the executives come from only the Ivy League schools. I have personally seen and witnessed the power of executives who championed for candidates that were graduating from their schools – some of which are community colleges. That is their way of giving back to their schools. More details about the power of Alumni are further discussed in the book What’s Next.
Through this three-part interview series with Vu, Luza and Juan, I hope that it has helped shed some light about the U.S recruitment process for International Students. While their journeys may seem invariably different from the outset, there is a distinct pattern and similarity about the challenges they face. Yet, despite the seemingly tall and insurmountable circumstance that these individuals had chosen to put themselves in, they were each able to overcome all of them and realize their career dreams in the U.S. As the saying goes “if we can do it, so can you”. Keep gritting. Keep trying and most importantly, keep growing.
Keep Riding! - Photo Credit - Wix Images.
Want to gain access into a thorough and comprehensive strategy that can maximize your success rate of securing a full-time job in the U.S before graduation? The book "What's Next" can help you achieve that. No matter which stage you are at in your college endeavor, this book will unveil all the tools that can help you gain an edge in the U.S job market and help achieve your academic and career goals.