I will always remember that day – my first day in America. I must tell you, finding the right person and Immigrating to the United States took me almost five years. When I landed in Denver Colorado on November 11, 2003 – I was one of the happiest people on the planet Earth — not kidding.
My elation lasted a few months, than reality hit and ,I started pondering how to get a job in America.
What I am about to share with you took me 15 years to learn, so please, listen carefully and share this with those who may think about immigrating and looking for a job here.
The post will share my personal career story in America and give tips and lifehacks on how you can achieve career success faster in America.
1. Job Search in America can be unbearable
I never been a chicken, nor I expected things to come easy to me, but what it took to get my first job was very surprising. I can not tell you, just how much I learned from the process, but it was nothing that I anticipated. Lets review what I expected vs. reality about the job search in the U.S.
My Expectations vs. Reality of American Job Search:
- After I apply I should get a reply from the employer. Reality: no answer, at times no confirmation
- I can use the same basic resume with some minor changes for all jobs. Reality: resumes must be customized for every application and every job function
- Cover letters are for high-level jobs. I do not have to use it. Reality: if you want to get to the top of the application pile, you better create a nice cover letter
- Using keywords is not important. Reality: artificial intelligence programs scan the resume and cover letter for keywords if you do not include them in your files your application is going to the trash
- Once I am selected employer will move fast. Reality: it took weeks and months to get hired
- The employer will offer me a fair pay. Reality: employer offers as little as possible, your job is to negotiate higher pay and justify the ask
What can you do now:
- Prepare for a long haul, finding a job make take a while (several months, sometimes longer). I recommend to study HR hiring process in America, understand how it works
- Read my posts:
2. Your English skills will define your paycheck
I started applying for my first job in the Spring of 2004. After submitting hundreds of applications for retail, business office, and food service jobs, Kohls called me for an interview.
I was so excited! Finally, someone noticed me! I will never forget the day of my first interview in America. I felt at the top of the world, I was called for an interview!!! I woke up early, dressed well, printed my resume copies and my spouse drove me to the Kohls location in Greeley.
After I was called into the conference room I realized it was a group interview. I had no idea what to expect or what they will ask. There were three people in front of me. After they started asking questions I realized I could not figure out what to say. I got paralyzed!!! It gets worse – I could not understand the questions! I asked to repeat the question and the tension in the room was rising. I felt anxious.
Ten minutes of the humiliation was long enough for Kohls. I was asked to leave the room, the interview was over. When I came out of the room, my husband knew. He gave me a big bear hug and I burst into tears. On our way home he recalls I was silent in the car.
In that silent hour, I promised myself that what just happened again. This was the first time when I realized that if I want to rise in America I will need to overcome the biggest barrier to my success- my language skills.
From that day on I decided to go back to school. The reality is, how well you speak now will define how much money you can make in America. Even if you were a university professor at University back in Russia/Ukraine, you would not be able to get the same job, unless you can speak like a University Professor in America.
What can you do now:
- Please read my posts about how to improve your English:
- Spend less time talking to your Russian-speaking friends and family and more time with Americans
- Consider going back to college for a certificate, professional license or a degree
- Consider volunteering your time at a non-profit to build a network, improve professional /business English and learn new skills:
3. You will need to start at the bottom
Eventually, I got a job as a Cashier at Wal-Mart. My family, husband, and friends were not excited, but I was very happy to get a real job!
Of course, after running my businesses back, in Ukraine, it was humiliating to work as a Cashier at Wal-Mart. However, since nobody else would hire me it was pointless to keep losing precious time. For many of us, retail, food service, house cleaning jobs are where we start as immigrants.
For the longest time, I was ashamed of it. However, today I know, it was the right decision and it was a stepping stone. Even if you clean floors today or clean toilets, be proud, you are employed! It is a huge step, and you already made it! Great job!
What can you do now:
- Check out my post about to ponder which industry could be a good fit for you
- If you do not need to earn money immediately consider volunteering
- Read my posts about how volunteering can advance your career faster:
4. Employers prefer American degrees
Every situation and every employer is different, but in my personal experience employers do not care much about foreign degrees.
For example, I have a Physical Therapy degree from Lugansk State University. It is a four year Bachelor`s degree in PT, but in Colorado to hold Physical Therapy License I would need to get a Ph.D.! The only programs at the time in Colorado were Master-PhD programs, which would take 5-6 years to complete.
After considering all my options, pricing out the Ph.D. degree in Physical Therapy, discussing my options with academic advisors and even volunteering as a PTA at the nearest medical center I decided to go back to school and get a degree in nursing instead. According to industry research Nursing, occupation was forecasted to be the hottest job for the next 20-30 years in America. In the end, I could not leverage my PT degree in the U.S. and needed to choose a new occupation.
Employers do not like foreign degrees. Employers question their validity, credibility, curriculum, they do not trust our education system and in general, have very little faith in the trustworthiness of our colleges.
What can you do now:
- Google colleges near you
- Make a trip to the top-rated, closest college to your home, meet with academic/career advisors
- Learn more about the hottest degrees and hottest sectors and consider getting into college
5. Managing your digital presence is a key to success
Did you know that 70% of all employers will research your name on the internet before making a job offer?
They may use Google or any other search tools to learn more about your private life. Your job is to assure is what will come up in the search results will not drive them to toss your application in the trash.
I used to work with someone, personally, who used to post her party pictures on Facebook every week. Robin was an amazing accountant, but when her boss learned about her private life, she was fired. Later on, she had a real hard time getting a new job since every time employers researched her what they would see is her half-nude, party-girl pictures. It was hard for hiring managers to perceive her as a qualified candidate, what prospective employers could see was a crazy, irresponsible drunk party girl.
I recently had to delete 1,200 of my personal pictures from FB and remove most of the blog posts from LinkedIn, since one of my former clients read my post and got offended by my opinion. All that you say, post and do can be seen externally, even if you have private accounts and communicate in closed groups.
What can you do now:
- Check every one of your social media accounts, remove all pictures that should not be seen by employers (use your parents as a proxy)
- Consider having a discrete (screen name) to avoid being Googled by your real name
- Use google to search for your name, see what comes up, take actions to make your digital presence more professional
6. Your connections will drive your career growth
Connections, connections, and one more time, connections. Whom you know and who knows you will be defining factor in your Job Search, promotions and your career development. One of the critical skills that helped me grow was the fact that I love humans and love to chat.
First very awkwardly, later with more piazzas and intention I connected with hundreds and thousands of people via LinkedIn, Facebook, trade shows, conferences Meetups and so on. I also made many friends in college who helped and guided me on my career path.
For example, one of my university professors recommended me for a Financial Advisor job. Because the hiring manager`s wife was one of his buddies, my application was selected for an interview. Even today I am very grateful for his support and assistance. Instances like that happened dozens of times in my career, when a recommendation, helpful advice, resume review or moral support were provided to me for free. Friends are incredible in many ways and definitely, learning how to grow and maintain relationships can help you in many ways.
What can you do now:
- Use Meetups, Facebook or a local church to meet new people
- Learn to foster long-term, mutually beneficial relationships
- Ask for advice, listen. Ask questions, keep in touch with people in your interest area.
Your career in America might be turbulent. What does it mean? It means your career growth will not be linear. You will be exploring, learning and trying different roles.
In fact, It took me 15 years to become who I am today. My message to you – be gentle with your expectations, things will take time. You will grow, but it will happen over time. I believe YOU can do anything. Seriously. You know how I know?
I believe in your potential and your ability to grow and self-develop. Now you know the secrets, and the next step is to act. Take the first step towards a more fulfilling, better compensated and more purposeful career in America and remember, nothing is permanent. You always can change it!
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