I’m about to tell you everything that’s happened since the day I graduated. But let me first point out something important for the purposes of this story: Although I’ve lived in the U.S. since July, 2001, I am legally an international student. I’m not a citizen and I am not a permanent resident. I came into the country as a visitor, then I was under a dependent visa, and 4 years ago I decided to become an ‘international student’ in order to avoid becoming illegal (because a lot of people do just become illegal instead of coming in that way). I have not been illegal for a single day of my life, and ironically this has been the reason why my life has been a pain ever since my graduation.
In May 2013, I graduated with my Bachelors in Economics and Philosophy. I love my majors, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but they don’t lead to specific career paths or job titles, which means that for me, finding a regular job after college is… well, pretty much like this.
If you thought finding a job was hard, then at least be thankful that you’re not an international [from Mexico of all places] who only has a bachelor’s in non-engineering/programming majors. International non-immigrants usually need some sort of work visa which has to be provided by the employer (this is what is referred to as “sponsoring”). This process costs the employer time, money, and legally-binding agreements (such as agreeing to pay for your flight to your home country in case they fire you).
All of these factors have led to the tumultuous journey that I’ve been on since I graduated from college….
The very next Tuesday after I graduated, I had an interview with AMC Theaters to become an Executive Assistant under the number two person in the entire corporate ladder. This job paid $40,000 and had great growth potential as well as some really unique networking opportunities. Considering how quickly this interview landed on my lap, I though “Man, this whole finding-a-job business is going to be easy!” I went to the interview and they loved me. I wasn’t supposed to hear back from them for a couple of days, but they called me within a couple of hours to schedule a second interview. Since we all know I didn’t land this job (otherwise this would be a damn short story) I will go ahead and cut to the chase: I made a fatal mistake at the second interview; I went in believing that I had the job in the bag. I didn’t go above and beyond to show that I was the perfect person for the job or prove how much I really wanted it. I did nothing to stand out again because I thought once was enough. During the initial interview, the first interviewer said “You know what I like about you? … You are diverse… like, with a capital D!” and when I asked the second interviewer about a couple of skills they were looking for, he said “don’t worry, you’ve got them, I can already tell.” So I came in thinking that this second interview was merely a formality. Rookie mistake, I know, but this was my first ever “real” interview and boy, did I learn my lesson…
I proceeded to take the “networking route” by asking a professor to connect me with a friend of his that worked at State Street. His friend was the VP of _[something I forgot]_, who said he was going to set me up with an interview despite the 14,000 applications that they receive every month. I was given a phone interview, which is not exactly my cup of tea, but I was lucky enough to get. It went well enough, and they said I would hear from them… but I never did.
I decided to get back in touch with my professor’s contact to ask if he’d heard anything, and what he said was pretty surprising.
He informed me that one of the main reasons the recruiter decided not to follow-up was not because the position usually required experience, but mainly because I had stated that I “was looking for a $40k entry-level position” and they only started at $30k… First of all, I don’t talk money during interviews. Ever. I’d never had a full-time ‘real’ job and I wasn’t going to earn less than before, so why would I? There was very little mention of money in our call and the only time that $40k came up was when I answered her question about other jobs that I had applied for; I specifically said that it was what another job offered and I had only interviewed with that place so far. So for her to rule me out on that basis displayed some terrible listening skills on her part. Frankly, the lack of professionalism to follow-up and at least notify me about the rejection left me questioning the very competence of that recruiter. But whatever, that was a done deal, and there was nothing else I could do.
At this point I should mention another little technicality about being an international student…. As an F-1 student, you are supposed to go back to your home country after graduation. You have a 90 day grace period to find a job that will sponsor you, otherwise you are going bye-bye… or you automatically become illegal, whichever one you prefer. The loophole is a work permit called Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows you to work for a whole year once it’s been issued. This buys you a whole extra year to gain work experience and/or find a sponsor after graduating, but there are two catches:
1) Whatever jobs you take have to relate to your area of study.
2) The work permit is void if you accumulate 90 days of unemployment within that whole year.
Well, since you have to apply for this permit within 60 days after graduation, I played my cards right by figuring out processing times and waiting until somewhere around day 45 to apply for this permit, which means that after graduation I got the 45 days I waited, plus the processing time while it was issued, plus the 90 day grace period that I’m supposed to have. “Surely, that’s enough time to find a job.”
Finding The One ❤
It was a very long time before my next actual interview. The few companies I managed to talk to during that time had all said they were very interested and impressed…. until they found out that I was going to need sponsorship. Then they pulled one of these numbers.
And don’t even get me started with online applications. Let’s just say that when you answer the legally-binding question “will you need sponsorship now or in the future?” with a “yes”, companies avoid you the way Shaq’s free throws avoid the inside of the hoop. I’m serious. Eventually it became almost a game for me to build rapport with an interviewer very quickly and make friends with them before I dropped the bomb “hey, by the way, I’m going to need sponsorship next year. I figured I’ll be honest and let you know right off the bat” then I would try to predict the politically-correct way they would stumble on their words to reenact this.
One day I was sitting at Panera, looking at the online database for Career & Employment Services at my university. It was a nice, sunny day and I decided I was only going to call people because I reached the conclusion that online applications are a guaranteed waste of my time. Suddenly, I found one job that had all the benefits you could ask for: health care, dental, vision, 401k… and even some you wouldn’t normally imagine: gym membership, healthy snack fridge, flexible hours… as the icing on the cake, it paid $60,000 as a base salary, with opportunity for $20k on commissions. You can imagine how quickly I called that place….
Long-story-short, everyone working there was genuinely AWESOME, I passed the wonderlic tests, I absolutely nailed the two interviews, and roughly an hour after the second interview I was offered the job
The only small issue was that they could not find my criminal background because they had some issue with my social security number in the system. “How long have you been a U.S. citizen?” she asked.
“Well… I’m not a U.S. citizen, but I have my work permit and everything.” Throughout the whole interview I didn’t lie once, I provided all the documents I was asked for, and I was convinced that we had a mutual understanding that there weren’t going to be any problems with my non-citizenship. I guess I was wrong.
She said she would talk to corporate and call me back.
Things Get Interesting
A couple of days later, I was at the gym shooting hoops when I got the call. Rest assured that I had not missed a single call, text, or alarm up to that moment. When someone says he/she will call, and it’s important to you, it’s an understatement to say that you look like this every waking minute (and there’s no such thing a ‘sleeping minute’, in case you enjoy being a smart-ass like I do).
Of course, I got the news that I expected:
“Unfortunately, due to company policy, we cannot hire someone in your situation… We’re not closing the door, but we’re saying that at this time, there’s nothing we can do.“
Again, heartbreak is too cliché and colorless to describe the sinking feeling when you hear something like that.
“So that’s it? I did everything beyond perfectly, and yet the one thing that was keeping me from this dream job was the fact that I was born in a different country, and twelve years of legal bullshit had not allowed me to fix my status?… God, why didn’t I choose to be born in this country instead? I’m so stupid!”
If you’re an ignorant, nationalistic
I’mNotGoingToFinishThisDescripton and you’re thinking “Yeah! ‘Merica! Get out of our country and stop taking our jobs!” Then 1) I don’t know how you ended up here 2) I will bet solid money that I speak/understand English and ‘America’ much better than you do because I’ve heard to l/earn them 3) proving your ignorance is reeeeeally not worth my time.
(Ok, I’m done venting)
Anyway, I had managed to set up an interview with another place, so I figured it would help me move on.
Granted, I was still feeling down from that whole experience, but the moment I walked into this new place for the interview, I thought “uh-oh… these guys have no idea what they’re doing with their body language, they stumble on their words, and I’m going to have to make them comfortable throughout this interview…awesome…”
I mean, it was awkward. They began by asking a few things about my resume and background and it was something like…
“So I see you went to Italy..”
Yeah, it was __[insert typical response]__
“That’s great. I hear it’s nice there”
Oh, it’s awesome. Have you been anywhere out there?
“.. Not really..”
Well, you should definitely check it out.
You get the picture. Not great conversationalists. Eventually they said the next part was a written portion.
Sure! Let’s do it.
Well, the questions they asked were very engineering-and-physics-based (the job wasn’t supposed to be). Let me say, these weren’t terribly hard questions and I’ve always been pretty good at math, but I need to get warmed up into it. Even then, I am still a bit slow because I triple-check things or take ages in order to not have to triple-check things. One of my really good friends will tell you, despite being good at hard math problems, I’ve actually screwed up 6×3=27 and 9×3=18 multiple times when I rush (I do my mental math in Spanish so apparently things get lost in translation and apparently I am also a weird kind of dyslexic when it comes to my 6s and 9s). Needless to say, I was way out of my element and could not get some of those answers to make sense… or the questions for that matter….
So I had come into this interview mentally bummed and I had not expected this sort of physics quiz 4 months after my college graduation, so I was like a three-legged donkey in a stallion race.
This next part is something that I really don’t think my closest friends would picture me doing. I don’t usually come off like a very bold person when I’m with them because, well, I only do crazy shit when I’m by myself. Believe me though, when something needs to be done and I’m in a position to do it, I go for it. So here’s what happened next:
#1: I stopped in the middle of a problem and asked “I’m sorry, how does this relate to the job I will be doing?” One guy said that it was testing my logical skills as well as…
Woah. Stop right there. That’s bullshit.
I told him that this really wasn’t testing my logical skills because there’s a difference between math and logic (I was a philo major, logic was pounded into our heads whether we liked it or not). I politely expressed the fact that I was not the person they were looking for and I did not want to waste their time, or mine. He thanked me for the honesty and I politely excused myself.
#2: That interview made me realize how much I really did want the previous job and how much I had lost when they said no. Therefore, I decided the best strategy was: I was going to write a letter to the CEO… No, wait, I was going to hand-write a letter to the CEO… actually, let’s make that the Co-Founder…Yeah, that’s it! And just for good measure I’m gonna deliver it to him myself.
They say if you want something done right, you do it yourself, right? Well, a probably took that a bit too seriously.
I hand-wrote a 4-page letter to the Co-Founder of the company expressing how badly I wanted the job and asking why it was ‘against company policy’ to hire me after they clearly proved that they wanted me, I drove two hours to corporate headquarters, I strolled into his office and I personally handed the letter to him.
As usual in today’s world: companies and systems are so large and complicated that no one can give you a straight answer other than pretending to know what they don’t actually know. Why was it against company policy to hire me just because I was going to need sponsorship later? I spoke with a few people in HR and all over the place and no one really knew. Believe me when I say I’ve learned to deal with bureaucracy so I was quick to communicate to the first people “this is way above your pay grade” [not explicitly but they definitely got the memo]. I worked my way up HR pretty efficiently and eventually, one guy named Augie was kind enough to listen to everything. And I know that he listened because he asked good questions and I provided solutions to the point where he was actually taking notes instead of conjuring up rebuttals to my arguments. He told me that he couldn’t promise me anything except for the fact that he would bring it up with his superiors and the Co-Founders.
So how did this story turn out? Well, I got the job. But that is Oh-so-far from where this story ends….