3 Tips for a Successful Job Search in the US (they involve culture!)

If you’re in the job market here in the United States, you know how difficult it can be. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to even think about.

Not only do you have to prepare for the job search as you would in your home country, but you also have to navigate through the cultural barriers that your American counterparts don’t have to worry about. It’s not surprising that a lot of international students and professionals feel like giving up. It’s more challenging for you than it is for native speakers, even when your skills and abilities are on par with theirs (or better).

A Word on Culture Differences in the Job Search

Before I get into the details of how you can improve your job search skills, I’d like to say a couple things about these cultural barriers. During my time spent working with 100s of international professionals on their career transitions, I’ve noticed that many are either unaware of how cultural differences might be affecting their job search, or they simply don’t take the matter that seriously. And this is a grave mistake. You might not realize it, but culture affects the job search endeavor in the US to a significant degree. And if you don’t take steps to understand that and make the necessary adjustments, you may have a difficult time of it.

Let’s just take one simple but illustrative example. In the US, it’s expected that you toot your own horn. You can’t be humble. You have to project your value clearly and undeniably. Obviously, you’re not supposed to show off or brag, but you have to be able to talk about your successes with confidence and even relish. You have to “own” what you’ve achieved and make it clear that you can replicate this achievement in the new role. And show that you can’t wait to do so.

Being willing to state your value and goals directly, unequivocally, and with enthusiasm can make or break the phone screen, not to mention the later rounds. The point here is that if you come from a culture that prizes humility and deference and that discourages open, direct expressions of emotion in a professional context, you might be in trouble. You won’t sound as confident or as impressive as your American counterpart even if your skills and experience are equal, if not better.

Let’s Start with Cultural Mindset

You might think it’s odd that I’m starting with mindset instead of your LinkedIn profile or resume. I’ll get to those in a minute, but without the proper mindset regarding culture, these job search assets might not be as effective as you think they are. When I say mindset, I’m thinking of the standard contemporary definition; something like this: a set of beliefs that influence how you understand the world and your place in it.

Mindset affects how you behave, what your expectations are, the decisions you make, the actions you take, and perhaps most importantly, how you interpret others’ behavior. This is good article on mindset if you’d like to dig deeper. (The article discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, which I’ll also be addressing here.)

A Fixed vs Growth Mindset when it comes to Culture

The challenge of being in a new cultural setting pushes mindset issues front and center. How open are you to adopting some of the norms here in the US? Have you spent time with American colleagues? If you went to university here, did you socialize with people outside of your national group? Do you see people as all being basically the same underneath? Or do you view your nationality as being intrinsically different from “foreigners?” Do you have some flexibility in your approach to new cultural situations or do you view things through the lens of “this is how we do it in my country, so this is how I’ll approach it here”?

Obviously, it’s much better to have a growth mindset when it comes to cultural matters. A fixed mindset could cause you to start your job search off on the wrong foot. It could mean you’re not adopting the most optimal approach. It could mean that you’re conveying the wrong signals to recruiters on your LinkedIn page or to interviewers when you finally do get a chance to speak to them. And it could mean that your efforts come to nothing in the long run.

I never try to force anyone to make changes that don’t feel comfortable making. It’s essential that your choices and actions reflect your values. I also recognize that in an ideal world, American recruiters and hiring managers themselves would start to take cultural differences seriously and understand them. I think this will happen over time. But in the meantime, it’s important that international professionals understand how culture impacts the job search and how important mindset is in this context.

Enough of that. Here are the tips you came for!

1.Personal Branding

I’m starting with Personal Branding because this is where YOU should start. It might not exist where you come from, but in the US personal branding is key to a successful job search. So what is personal branding and why do you need it? Well, here’s what it is (in terms of the job search):

Personal branding in the job search refers to the process of crafting and communicating a distinctive, consistent image and message about oneself to potential employers. It involves highlighting unique skills, experiences, and values that align with the desired career path, thereby differentiating oneself from other candidates. This strategic self-presentation helps to establish a memorable identity within the job market.

Why do you need it? Because you need to communicate personalized and compelling marketing materials to your target audience, i.e., recruiters, hiring managers, and anyone that you network with about what makes you unique. And what makes you unique is the value you provide and your core qualifications. In fact, it’s your best self curated for the job search and then presented in the form of a resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and any other “marketing materials” for your job search. It should be obvious that this idea of “unique personal value” is a deeply cultural one; America is the land of the individual, and every individual here is unique and special (or so we think!)

If you don’t know how to create your personal brand, find a qualified coach who can help you or follow guidelines such as these.

Personal branding isn’t a one-time activity; it’s a multi-faceted process with a holistic influence on your career. Completing it will help to boost your confidence, enhance your visibility,  create focus, and reach your job search goals. It’s also important to realize that the core assumptions around personal branding in the US are cultural, so just completing this step can help you build the right foundation for success.

2.Resume

So much is said on the internet about resumes that it seems redundant or unnecessary to go on at length here about it. It’s all been said. However, as someone who sees a lot of resumes in my work as a coach at Impact Group, I’d like to share some of the important components of a winning resume that international professionals should pay attention to.

A.Professional summary: make sure this section contains a concise and effective statement about your UVP (Unique Value Proposition). This is a well-written Professional Summary:

Finance executive and operational strategist with 18 years of progressive experience and history of developing business strategies, identifying financial risks and opportunities, and reducing costs for global corporations. Background includes building high-performing teams at both Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. Offer strong business acumen and in-depth knowledge of financial processes and accounting methodologies. Keen relationship builder who excels at securing buy-in from stakeholders, presenting to executive leadership and boards, and collaborating with cross-functional teams.

This summary provides a clear overview of the candidate’s experience, strengths, and skills.

B.Bullet Points and Metrics: Most resumes I see present the candidates experience in terms of responsibilities and tasks. “Responsible for….” etc. This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. You need to convey what you achieved, not what you were responsible for. There is probably a cultural difference here: Americans value taking initiative, making an impact, and accomplishing something not simply attending to your responsibilities. If you’re just stating your responsibilities, it makes you look passive and dull, not dynamic or innovative. Use the bullet points to showcase what you’ve achieved in your previous positions and provide quantitative metrics for each bullet if possible (estimates are ok). This gives the reader a sense of what you’re likely to achieve for their company and team. (Because it’s all about them ultimately.)

Furthermore, always format your bullet points according to the so-called Google formula. If you’re not sure what types of metrics you can add, here is a handy list that I always share with clients.

Lastly, make sure each bullet point starts with a strong action verb (don’t repeat words like “led” or “organized.” It gets tedious quickly.) Here’s a great list of action verbs you can use as a resource.

Oh and make sure highlight examples of leadership throughout the experience section!

3.LinkedIn Networking

LinkedIn networking might be one of the most challenging aspects of the job search in the US because the cultural differences you encounter are front and center. They’re hard to ignore especially considering that LinkedIn works best when you use it as a networking tool. And when you network in the US, you bump up against the culture barriers right away. For example, the so-called “hidden job market” presents job seekers with some great opportunities (some of the best, in fact), but you can’t access it through the standard “apply and wait to hear back” approach. You have to network. There’s no other way. And on LinkedIn, this means you have to reach out to people you don’t know. You have to cold message recruiters, hiring managers, and in some cases, employees to ask for an informational interview. This informational interview will allow them to get to know you and give you an opportunity to find out some insider intel on the role you’re interested in.

The problem is all of this requires you to reach out and connect with people you’ve never met before and who in many cases may be higher up the corporate ladder than you. And for many who come here from a different cultural background, that kind of stuff is a no-no. You can’t just reach out and say hi to a senior member of an organization whom you’ve never met. In many countries, this is considered extremely inappropriate and even rude. But in the US, not only is it ok, it’s actually encouraged and as I said, you can’t access the “hidden job market” without it. Moreover, the truth is that you can’t get the best results from LinkedIn in your job search without dealing with it.

In a future article, I will give you a step-by-step strategy for optimizing your LinkedIn in your job search. I’m well versed in this because I have found work on LinkedIn myself, and I’ve helped many others do the same. But for now, I can only suggest that you start thinking about the kinds of adjustments you can make in your cultural mindset about LinkedIn. The benefits are huge and without it, your job search might be even more frustrating.

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