After spending countless hours preparing Cover Letters, Resumes and networking, I finally found a job last week. It took me 4 months, 174 applications and countless hours before I found a job that I was really excited about. Over the past 14 months, I constantly asked seniors, alumni and mentors the question – How can I find a job in these choppy markets? When every institution is in firing mode, how do I as an international student differentiate myself?
I’m writing this post to summarize what I learnt. I hope the reader ( perhaps a Columbia University IEOR Grad student like me) benefits and adds his/her observations along. I did not do all these things, at some of them I failed miserably. But a wise person is one who learns from others mistake.
Before Starting College
1) Your job hunt does not starts 1 semester before graduation. It starts from the day that you get your college admit letter. You should have only 3 focus areas in college. a) Learn (study) as much as possible b) Enjoy your college life in a responsible way and c) never forget the end result of education – a dream job.
2) When you arrive in college, You should already have the first draft of your resume ready. You should have ideally spent atleast 20 hours on making your resume. The only thing that should change is the top line of education heading, where you decide your courses and put relevant courses,
3) You should read every page of your university’s career website. For Columbia University, it would mean that you have read everything at http://www.careereducation.columbia.edu/resources/
4) Make a Linkedin Profile. Your goal should be to have 500+ connections before your last semester.
The First Semester
5) Arrive in US one month before course starts. Give yourself sufficient time to find an apartment and to acclimatize with the new culture. Contact seniors. Get all stupid things like phone, housing, food etc sorted out so that you waste minimal time thinking about them once school starts.
6) Talk to seniors and alumni before selecting courses. Although you should select courses that you like, keep in mind that certain classes are very important for jobs. For example, Security Pricing is a must if you want to be in finance.
7) Dont bite more than what you can chew. Select at least one ‘easy’ class each semester to maintain a decent GPA.
8) in light of points 6 and 7 above, Talk to your advisor ( or better still Jenny Mak in IEOR department ) before settling on a course,
9) Once college starts, You’ll be always short of time. For the first month, try to participate in everything possible. After first month, concentrate on a few things that suit your interest. Don’t compromise on studies for extra-curricular work. The only thing that may take a upper hand is interviewing where even if you have to miss classes, its ok.
10) GPA is not absolute. There are “bands” of GPA. below 3.0 you are pretty much screwed. 3.0 – 3.3 is just ok. 3.3 – 3.5 is average. 3.5 – 3.8 is good. 3.8 to 4.0 is very good. 4.0 + is excellent. The positive impact of a 4.0+ GPA is very high, just like the negative impact of a 3.0 and lesser GPA. That said, a higher GPA is always better
11) Sometime after the mid-sems, start applying for Spring and Summer Internships. I suggest you concentrate on CCE and IEOR job postings for the start. I ask you to wait till mid sems so that you can make some sense of job postings’ work description. This way, u’ll come across as a smart applicant who knows what he/she is talking about in cover letter.
12) A spring internship will mean that a) Your free time will disappear completely b) You’ll have to compromise on your social life c) You’ll have to work extra hard for grades d) you’ll miss out on some required extra-curricular activities. The good thing is that you’ll add a US work experience on your resume which will help you find a summer internship as well as a full time job.
13) Take 3-4 days off after the hectic first semester. Then, get down to work. The two odd weeks should be used to remedy your coding and math skills. I suggest you pick up 1 language – VBA or C++ preferably, otherwise MATLAB and try to code as much as possible. Make a schedule so you don’t waste time in spring semester to learn these things. ( I regret that I did not do this – big mistake)
14) Go to various companies website and note the deadline for summer internships. Make an excel sheet where you note the designation, deadline, and required documents. Mark your calendar so you don’t miss any stuff.
15) Good time to go to Linkedin ans see where your school alumni are working. On the excel sheet in point 14, make another column for people you should contact about jobs details in the specific company. EG. “UBS – ER Intern – 12 Jan 2012 – resume/CoverLetter – Contact Mr XYZ of MSOR 2004 to know more”
This section assumes you have a GPA of 3.4+
16) This is when you’ll learn the most. There are amazing courses available in this semester. Asset Allocation, Term Structure, Volatility smile, Security Pricing, Application Programming etc are all good courses. You should try to audit as many courses in the first two weeks as possible. Remember, what you choose to learn in this semester will modify your job hunt in a major way.
17) If you are not interning this semester, study very very hard. Don’t limit yourself to 3 hard, 1 easy course rule. Take all those subjects where you think u’ll learn the most. In addition, audit another subject if you so wish. Crux – this semester forms the bulk of your knowledge base for any job you will do. Think of this semester as on-job training.
18) The only other objective in Spring semester is to find a Summer Internship. Be ready to apply to 50, 100 or even 150 places. Your objectives in the internship should be – firstly Brand Name, Secondly job content and thirdly Money. . Don’t feel bad if you are not earning as much as some others in summer internship. Brand Name and job content are far more important in long run.
19) Again, CCE and IEOR postings are my preferred way of searching for jobs. Others say that websites like internship dot com, monster dot com and efinancial careers are also good. But as you will observe, you’ll get around 200 – 500 job postings for relevant internships. For me, that was more than enough.
20) Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get an internship by April. People got internships as late as June. In the end, about 70% of my (known) classmates of MSOR ‘2011 had internships. Some unpaid, some paid. Mostly paid between $9 and $43 per hour.
21) The best way to find internship/jobs , apart from CCE, is networking.
I’ll post another article here mentioning what you can do to maximize your benefits from Summer Internship.
The Last Semester
22) Try to have a light courseload in your last semester because you want to focus all your energy on job hunting.
23) Right after summer internship, make at-least 4-5 types of cover letters. Rework your resume. Have 3-4 types of resumes ready as well.
24) These cover Letters and resumes should not be longer than 1 page each. They should be easy to read and be specific to major types of job roles that you are planing to apply to. For example, in finance they can be one each for Equity Research, Portfolio Management, Credit Risk, Market Risk, Aset Allocation, Quant Research, Quant Trading, Technical (coding), Structured Finance etc. Bring out your different qualities as needed in each job. For Example, Equity Research should focus on your ” seeing the big picture” trait while Quant Trading should focus on ” Quick mathematical mind”.
25) Get your Cover letters and Resumes reviewed by someone in CCE.
26) For heaven’s sake, make sure you are addressing the correct company/person/job in your cover letter. Dont be stupid to send one cover letter to another company. ( I did this and I truly regretted it)
27) Not all jobs in CCE will be for Grad students. Some of them will only be for undergrads or postdocs. For these posting, go to the website directly and apply.
28) Not all jobs will be open to International Students. Don’t waste your time for jobs that require US Citizenship !!
29) My personal experience with job fairs is that they are useless if you haven’t researched the company and roles before visiting the fair. If you go there, the only way u can separate yourself from 100’s of people is when you ask quesntions like, “So I saw your profile at website and you mention that you need so-and-so. I have this-and-this and am good at such-and-such. Do you think I’ll fit in/ can you enlighten me abt this/ can i speak to someone in your this department/ I met XYZ and really liked the role, can you tell me what differentiates a good candiate from others?” etc. Moot point is – don’t sound dumb and ask stupid qns which amazingly enough, 90% of people do.
30) Don’t loose heart if you are rejected! Everyone who got a job amongst my friends received at least 40-50 rejects. Some people like me received 174 rejects. You’re not the first one who’ll receive a reject nor the last one. There will be times when you’ll just not know why u didnt get a interview call, when you clearly were the best. Instead of pondering too much over it, move on.
31) In light of point 30 above, if you are tired of job hunt, take a break, for as long as a week. Leave some applications. Its ok to miss a few deadlines. Don’t take it too hard on yourself. I suggest after every 30 applications, you take two days off and do no job hunting.
32) If everything fails, mobilize your networks and LinkedIn to full force. If you have been diligent, you would have already spoken to a number of people over the past 15 months, and now is the time ( on your 3-4th interaction) to very tactically ask, “is there any job that you know of? “. Please note that you’ll need to raise this topic very sensitively with your networks, I’ll write another post on this topic sometime.
33) If you have done all the above things, the only thing that can stop you from getting a job is your poor luck. And if that happens, remember what happens, happens for the best. Have faith in the Lord for He who creates is He who feeds.