What I Wish I knew Before Moving to the US for Grad School - Ecosystem, work, careers and networking
This last week I got to visit the Google office in DC and this quote stood out for me because this is precisely why I got into the tech space.
This last piece looks at work, career, and transitioning after grad school.
Work on Campus
Be humble. You may be surprised to find that it’s actually hard to get ‘basic’ jobs on campus. Receptionist, Dean’s fellow, social media management, library roles, etc. It’s very competitive and not easy to get, you’re also limited to the hours you can work so be forewarned.
Getting a job on campus is perhaps the easiest way to get your Social Security Number (SSN). The academic institution will facilitate all the paperwork and it will be your responsibility to set up the appointment and submit your paperwork for approval, before a stipulated time frame (you’re allowed to work while your SSN application is in the works).
Networking and the Value of Relationships
Do not underestimate the power of connections, it’s the biggest thing I learned in grad school. Fostering connections is in my opinion probably more important than maintaining a high GPA. Lol. People will hire you not just because you’re good at what you do but because they know you and can vouch for you. Talk to people you never thought you would, attend school social events that might seem boring, you’d be surprised by who you might meet.
Graduate school is about the people. Make friends. Make friends. Make friends. Participate in everything. Don’t only limit your socialization to African students.
Network with fellow students too. I got my summer job through a classmate who introduced me to their former organization.
Confidence goes a long way in networking. Always try to put your best foot forward. - (Do not wait to feel confident to network. Show up and you’ll build the confidence as you go.)
Look and you shall find! If you aggressively pursue opportunities you will find them, there are lots of great opportunities both on and off campus.
Go to a school that has a solid networking and alumni program that will make it much easier for you to get placement after graduation.
Attend as many events as possible that are organized by your school or communities that you’re a part of and try to actively plug in.
Seek advice from professors, and from the school career office if one exists.
Reach out to past alumni who are working in fields you are interested in. Ask about their journeys and genuinely listen keenly.
Work as a research assistant if there’s a position that matches your interests. Good for your resume, and for establishing a work relationship with professors. But remember such research assistant jobs take a lot of time - do it only if you think it's worth it.
Make use of OPT and CPT if possible. They can open up more opportunities for you.
There are many “under the table” jobs which you can opt for. I’ve seen people work as security guards and receptionists but without using their OPT - which may be kind of illegal, but that extra $2000 per month can be really nice.
Use LinkedIn and use your school email as much as possible. Your school email makes people more receptive to what you have to say.
Find a job you’d want to get when you graduate, look at the required skills then see what you don't know. Find electives for those missing skills and gain and practice the skills while you communicate with the recruiters and let them know what you are learning. By the time you graduate, you will be set!
Participate strongly in those school-organized career fairs. You will get lots of good opportunities. At these fairs, recruiters give you higher credibility than usual LinkedIn job applications. You also get to talk directly to the recruiters, which in a way acts as an informational interview.
Internships are a great and easier way to get into companies and full-time jobs. Take the internship process very seriously, network intensively within the company, showcase your abilities and make sure you can get a full-time offer. Even if you don't think you will want to go back at least you have a fallback plan after graduation.
Job searching can be very strenuous, especially for international students looking for sponsorship. Start the process early. Network on LinkedIn, cold emails work especially to the school alumni, ask help from your career departments and have faith. Be prepared for many rejections. It may take time but something will eventually come through.
For law students, most schools boast that their placement rates are 100% but few will tell you that that placement rate is for JDs, very few schools declare for LLMs because unfortunately, it is simply much lower.
You may need to underplay your past working experiences otherwise you appear overqualified, especially in fields where you’re not established.
LLM graduates might find it difficult to get mainstream jobs without a full admission or qualification to relevant state bars. Look into sitting for the New York Bar Exam as soon as you can qualify. Apply for internships, research jobs, and non-mainstream jobs to widen your options.
In making job applications be prepared for various rejections. They are normal and expected.
At the Workplace
Be cool. Don’t be offended easily. You will meet nice people. You will meet horrible people. Focus on the nice people.
The work culture in the US can be overwhelming for many, even backbreaking at times. Do not take on too much, it can lead to a lot of stress and disappointment if you don’t deliver, rest when you have a chance, exercise, and maintain healthy hobbies.
Rule of three. The culture rewards being outspoken and facilitates it. I’m trying to implement the three-step rule - try to say three things in each meeting. A former manager of mine used to hate people attending meetings and would be ‘a fly on the wall’. There’s no value addition to having such people in rooms so try to be proactive and speak up.
Learn to speak up, ask for what you want, and find unique contributions you can bring to the team based on your unique background and experiences.
Be open-minded to learning new cultures e.g. pronouns etiquette be respectable.
Extend grace to yourself especially when it’s your first time doing anything. I always ask myself have I done this exact thing before? If the answer is no, then I extend grace to myself. You’ll have a lot of first, enjoy and trust the process.
Remember everyone is scared. So ask yourself:
What will I do if I was not afraid or scared or intimidated or from Africa?
And do it…
At the end of the day, whether you elect to stay after graduation or move back home
… make choices based on what’s been serving you and accept that work is but just one facet of your life so it’s work to fit into the life you’ve built not the other way round.
One of my fave’s - Ali Abdaal - put up a video on how to make your resume stand out from the pack and I found it incredibly useful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when watching it.
I have gotten feedback asking for experiences on how to deal with the uncertainty, the dread/angst of having to go back at the end of their studies - if any - and am wondering whether to make it another post. I might. Who knows, maybe yes, maybe no.
Have a great week!