The Foreign Job Search (Trials & Tribulations!)

“You’ll find employment soon.”

“You’re qualified and you’re smart. I have no idea why no one has hired you yet.”

“Have you tried looking at this agency/company/non-profit/start-up/website/recruiter/location?”

When you’re looking for employment, career advice isn’t exactly scare. For every “what do you do?” I’ve encountered when meeting new people – or making new friends – one of the above platitudes has been soon to follow. While the well-meaning comments above are appreciated, and they have certainly helped at one point or another, the reality of finding a job is infinitely more complicated.

The question: “What positions are you applying for?”

The inference: “Perhaps you’re just not doing it right.”

“I remember applying for hundreds of jobs before I landed my first one,” mused one of my professional connections, attempting to reassure my worries. “It’s tough, but you just have to keep going.” There was, of course, a catch to this. You’re an American, I thought. An American… and it still took you months of work and hundreds of applications to land your first job.

I knew it was going to be tough getting a job after graduation. As an international transplant, particularly one pursuing a communications role in NYC, I knew I would only be a drop in an entire ocean of applicants. I didn’t foresee, however, being treated like a drop of water from Flint, Michigan. I didn’t appreciate just how difficult it was going to be – nor how pressurized or demoralizing.

In hindsight, it’s not a new story. Many of New York’s inhabitants have gone through situations similar to mine: the looming threat of having to uproot your life because finances are dwindling and nothing seems to be working out. I’ve seen it happen: U.S. nationals returning home, licking their wounds, steeling themselves, and then mustering up the courage to try again. For those in my position, however, having to return to your birth country is often game over. Legal statuses are lost and work-authorized re-entry is insurmountable. You’re bumped back the place before square one – relegated to being a tourist in a place you now consider home.

I moved to New York City in January 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communication at NYU. I had long romanticized living and working in NYC and, upon my arrival, I was as starry-eyed as a British person can be (which, admittedly, is not very). As the months passed, I found a distinct love for the world of public relations. Over time I discovered that it combined my strengths with what I enjoy doing, and made an asset of my perfectionist, analytical nature. What’s more, I came to realize that I am good at it. I interned at entertainment publicity agencies, consulted with small businesses and non-profits on how to position themselves, and – in May of this year – graduated Summa Cum Laude (with Distinction). Soon after, my OPT was granted and it was finally my turn to follow in the footsteps of other NYU alumni and go on to do something fantastic.

I’m still waiting for my turn.

At this point in time, I have applied for over a hundred positions; I’ve updated my resume more times than I can remember and dream in cover letters and active verbs. I’ve joined recruitment agencies, made profiles on every job-search website I’ve come across, and talked to anyone who would listen. I’ve targeted both in-house positions and agencies, and have had to regroup, reassess, and refocus every step of the way. Here is what little I have come to learn:

Large agencies and organizations

The assumption: large agencies can afford to sponsor visas.

The reality: large agencies are highly competitive and won’t entertain the idea of having to sponsor a new recruit, even if it’s a year down the line. It seems any application they receive that indicates a candidate has yet to secure permanent residence status won’t be read.

The inference: despite having substantial cash flow, you’re not worth spending any of it on.

Mid-sized agencies and organizations

The assumption: mid-sized agencies are less competitive and operate within their own niche, allowing them to distribute capital however they see fit.

The reality: they receive enough applications to ensure they have other options. Why spend money when there’s no need? In these cases, it’s not enough to simply be more qualified than the other applicants – a foreign candidate has to be light-years ahead and willing to be put on an entry-level salary, despite their experience.

The inference: despite having flexible cash flow, you’re not worth spending any of it on.

Small agencies and start-ups

The assumption: small agencies wish to grow and succeed – and need the right people to do so. Talent acquisition is a priority.

The reality: attracting the right people is the top priority for small agencies and start-ups. Unfortunately, so is maintaining enough cash flow to stay afloat, and residence status means no legal fees.

The inference: despite wanting you, they have extremely limited resources.

Where does that leave me, or any foreign job seeker? The jury is still out. It’s a trial and error balancing act. More than anything else, I want to be listened to and I want to be given a chance to introduce myself and showcase my skills – independent of my visa status. My resume and covering letter make no bones about my past experiences, including their location, or what I am seeking. But, while it could be interpreted as underhanded, I don’t exactly advertise my nationality, either. I figure, this way, interviewers are able to deduce that I’m not a permanent resident by themselves. Hopefully, they may be curious enough to ask and find out for themselves, or at least talk to me (something which less than five organizations, out of all of those I have applied to, have decided to do. Rejection emails included).

For the time being, while I continue to search, I have a steady-stream of tasks and projects to complete thanks to my various volunteer positions and my professional network. While it isn’t contributing to any income, it’s providing me with much-needed experience and new connections, all while allowing me to use my PR expertise in a constructive way. These roles are also the reason that I am able to maintain my legal status. Although I’m unlikely to make it, as my visa limits my money-making pursuits to communications and communications alone, I can currently stave off my seemingly-inevitable deportation until February of next year.

Despite all of this, I wouldn’t change any aspect of my journey. So far, I’ve had many great experiences and I’ve learnt more than I ever could have hoped to on my own. I’ve met some incredible people, some only in the past few weeks, and I’m fortunate enough to call many of them my friends. As bleak as everything sounds, and as unfulfilled as I feel, I’m determined to succeed in a system that’s stacked against me – a system that has made it inexplicably difficult for employers to take foreigners on. I’m forever grateful to those who believe in me and support me, particularly my parents who I rely on for encouragement and reassurance (though those can both be few and far between when progress is seemingly non-existent), and help, in order to feed myself and stay safe.

A friend of mine recently told me that I have to treat this situation like Blackjack. She explained that it’s often the mistake of players to look to one another out of competition, seeking to compare successes or best their fellow participants. That’s not how you play to win. The trick is to stay resolute, ignore distractions, and play against the only person that matters: the dealer.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do.