Friday, July 10, 2009

Finding a job - an immigrant's perspective

I know of a few people both in my life and through social networks that are looking for work, here's my advice to them:

A little about me. I emigrated here when I was 8 years old, so I have just enough knowledge of the "old world" to be able to gain some insight from it, but I was raised in the US, and speak English without an accent, and can barely speak my "mother tongue". I saw my father work 2-3 jobs within weeks of moving to the US even though he didn't know English at all. He got one job as a dishwasher because he learned some French in highschool and saw a French restaurant while walking around and decided to go inside and ask for a job... in French... in Phoenix, AZ. I can honestly say while I wanted stuff growing up, I never went without anything I needed, and it was all because my father. I'm not going to say he never made any mistakes, because he had a hard time shaking off that "I'm an immigrant" mentality, and was constantly being put down and stepped on even though he is an extremely intelligent and insightful man.

My father never wanted me to work during high school. My friends all worked but he said I should concentrate on my school and that it was the most important thing in life. Even though he didn't want me to work, he also didn't give me an allowance, and I barely had enough lunch money (something like $2/day). I didn't get the newest video games consoles or computer components or clothes. I learned to be resourceful (I would borrow games from friends, learn about computers enough to know what was the best bang for your buck, and shopped at Old Navy :-P).

So once I graduated high school I had a few months before I started college and wanted to get a job to make some money. My dad bought me a car too, a 1986 Ford Mustang 4 cylinder, for $1000. It was stick shift, didn't have AC, and the windows barely worked. At first, I did what I thought people did to find a job. I looked in the paper, and sent out resumes by email and was generally honest about me only looking for work for 3 months, before I went to school. I got 0 offers in 2 weeks. Not one person called me back after interviewing me, even though I was very highly computer literate, and young, and could be of use in any position.

I must've sent out 50 resumes in those few weeks and got maybe three interviews. It was at that point that I felt my inner "immigrant" coming out. I decided I would do and say no matter what in order to get a job. So I did. I stopped saying I was going to school in the fall, I routinely called the people I sent resumes to several times a day to see if they had reviewed my resume, and in less than a week I had a job making $10/hr. That was more than my mom was making and would make for about 5 years (I think she was making $7-8/hr working retail and similar job and only in the last few years has she breached that barrier and I'm happy to say she is a manager and makes more than $15/hr).

In the fall I befriended a teacher in the college who taught 3D rendering and got a job in the computer lab (10-20 hours a week for $5/hr). When I met my future-wife in the dorms and we decided to move together in the summer, I knew I had to get a new job. So during summer break I went back to looking for work just like I remembered doing last summer. I submitted resumes to jobs that I didn't "really" have the skills to, I lied about going back to school in the fall, I hounded HR people. Within a week I had a job interview to become a web programmer within a small company. The job required PHP4 / Javascript / HTML. Technologies I barely knew from tinkering with on my own time in the fall. I was a Computer Science major but, the first 2 years they don't really teach you ANY programming languages that are useful to any business, and they DEFINITELY don't teach you anything about making websites. I got the call on Friday that I had an interview on Monday. I immediately went to the bookstore and bought a book on PHP and on Monday I did my interview, I told a few white lies regarding my programming knowledge but in the end I was offered a job.

Within 2 weeks of summer, I had a job paying $15/hr creating an internal web application. At the time that was DOUBLE what my mom who had been working for close to 7 years by that time in the US was making. It was nearly what my dad was making as an expert HVAC repairman. I spent a year and a half at the company and built a great application for them, but after 9/11 they had problems financially, so I was let go in February.

Again, I was looking for a job, except this time the economy sucked. So I went back to my old habits. Craigslist started becoming popular so I was constantly searching it and replying to posts and making pleas for someone to hire me. I must've had 10 jobs in 2 years. I cold called people in this guy's spare room in his house, I fixed computers in peoples homes, I learned 3 new programming languages, I made fake ids and wrote spam software for a ticket broker, I wrote the software for a porn website (heh the strange things I did for that job, when the site went under, I was paid with a router that I sold on Ebay), I worked telephone tech support for a small dialup ISP (I helped old people with their email), I did WHATEVER it took to get paid and to make money for my wife and me.

When my wife graduated we moved from Phoenix to Dallas because she got an offer with IBM. We had never been there before, and knew nothing about the city or the work they did there. Within 2 weeks, I had a great job working in the field I'm currently in and loved every minute of it.

So that's my story, and here's my advice:

  1. Finding a job is a job. It means waking up at 8:30 and calling people and sending resume's by 9.
  2. Custom tailor your resume for each job you apply for. Change the order of skills, emphasize ones that are relevant, change your goals to match what the job is asking for. Don't send a resume that says "I want to be a secretary" to a retail job.
  3. Write a custom cover letter or email for every resume you send. Really sell yourself. Say you're a hard worker, and that you're great at X Y Z.
  4. If you fit 80% of the skills and you know that you'll pick up the other 20% quickly, tell a white lie and say you have those skills. Make sure you know what you're talking about at least for the interview. If you've never done a particular job before, tell the interviewer how it's like other jobs you've done, or what skills you think will make you good at the job.
  5. Never be too proud to take a job when you have no other choice. Money is money, no matter what you do to make it. Some money is better than no money, and who knows who you'll meet and what skills you might pickup.
  6. Don't give up. Seriously, if you want a job bad enough do what it takes to get it. Sell yourself more, beg, plead, whatever.
  7. Continue to develop your skills. It's easy to find a job if you have skills that businesses need. Find out what skills are needed and LEARN ON YOUR OWN. Grab a book, search the web, figure it out. This is the easiest way to get a good job. I don't care how hard it is or how many kids you have or other obligations. People do it every day, so can you.
  8. This is an extra bonus tip. Constantly look out for other jobs while you have a job. Look for jobs that will allow you to increase your skillset, allow you to jump up a position, or allow you to be happier going work (ie, your dream job). This is a great route to make sure you're never out of work again. It's also safe, because if you apply for a job and don't get it, it doesn't matter you already have a job. You also have a lot of bargaining power over salary and benefits when you don't "need" to get the job.

So that's it, that's my story, and some tips to help those looking for work, find meaningful work.

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