Moving to America >> Graduate Visa Guide.

Are you thinking about taking advantage of the US graduate visa upon finishing college? Or perhaps you need a break before final year to refocus, get some experience and adventure? Whatever your reasons for wanderlust I hope that over this series of posts on the J1 Graduate Internship Visa I can shed some light on the application process, arrival tips, job hunting suggestions and a guide to general survival in this strange and wonderful foreign place. 

This is the fourth post in a series. Here are the first, second and third.

The past couple of months have brought emails, questions and new followers thanks to my experiences (and the documenting of them in this space) in The Bay Area on the J1 Graduate Visa. I have chatted with strangers and friends about our life here and all the ups and downs along the way. After all of this interesting and positive engagement I felt like it was time for a new Graduate Visa Guide Post. Check out the previous entries here.

Today let’s talk about jobs. The process of procuring a job is daunting, nerve wracking, thrilling and tedious all at once. Add in the fact that you’re doing it all in a foreign country—with different rules, codes, expectations and practices—and it’s no wonder it can feel like an unsurmountable obstacle on your J1 journey. That said, where you work and who you work with on your J1 Graduate Visa can have a huge impact on your experience in your new home as well as setting you on the right path toward ideal employment back in Ireland. 

Looking for employment is frustrating and often disheartening. There is no progress or state of in between; you are either employed or unemployed. Sending out tens of resumes a day feels futile when you are not getting any responses in return. Here are six tips on landing your dream job while spending a year in The States.

#1 Browse Craigslist.
Craigslist is a huge resource and chances are there will be tons of vacancies within your skill set listed. Some of these jobs will seem perfect and a lot will seem pretty average. Craiglist is a good port of call when you first arrive and need to feel like you have at least started the application process. It’s a good place to find a starter job too (more on that later). 

#2 Look Elsewhere Too.
Craigslist is great but (speaking solely from mine and Rich’s experience) don’t expect a lot of response. It felt wonderful to be able to say “I applied for twelve jobs today!” But by the end of the week when I had received just one measly response that good feeling dissipated more than a little. Look outside of the box. Make up a list of companies you wish you could work for, and then email them and ask if they’re hiring. Most jobs go unposted and neither of the positions I have had in The Bay Area have been advertised. Working in the creative industry meant I could browse design studios on Facebook and use the ‘other pages’ suggested to me to find similar workplaces. Twitter was an excellent resource too. Use location and sector in your hashtags and follow specific recruitment accounts in your field. Connect with your local J1 meetup group. In San Francisco the Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre organises meetups, career evenings, connects graduates with professionals in their fields and posts job and housing opportunities. You’ll soon have a long list of places where you would love to work. 

#3 Ask for an Informational Interview.
Informational interviews are one of the stranger sides of job acquirement in The States but they totally work. Essentially information interviews are a formal kind of networking—a meeting and a chat without the promise or potential of a job at the end. Companies love giving these and are more than happy to meet with you to chat about your industry. It is a way of making contacts and getting an ‘in’ within your field. To our Irish mindset they sound like the height of cringe but that’s just something you’ve got to get over in the US! Rich bit the bullet and did one with a brewery in Oakland. He had a blast with the Brewmaster, learned so much and got a ton of contacts. He was employed less than two weeks later. 

#4 Don’t Accept anything Less Than.
You may be tempted to say YES to the first job you are offered and some of you may have to because of financial reasons. Living in a new city with new exciting opportunities (and less exciting things like rent and food!) very quickly leads to a dwindling bank balance. When that golden email arrives offering you a full time position my advice is to take a step back. Ask questions. Ask for more money. This is not rude (in fact its expected) and you will never have a job offer rescinded because you fought for more money. The worst thing they can say is no and that’s not the end of the world. 

#5 Know your Worth. 
I mentioned this in the point above but it’s worth repeating. Ask for more. I don’t just mean money—though it is good to get into the habit of asking for more because it is the only way you will ever get it. With a limited time period and a definite expiration date on your experience here in the US you it makes sense to try and squeeze as much out of the 12 months as you can. So ask more questions, and ask for more jobs, put yourself out there and volunteer for opportunities. Become the yes woman (or yes man, of course). This year is about self development and improvement. It’s about returning home a better person than you left. It’s about learning and travelling and having a ton of fun but also gaining a whole load of workplace experience you wouldn’t get at home. Embrace it and exploit the hell out of it. 

#6 There’s always more. 
If you don’t like your first job look for a new one. It’s pretty much a guarantee that the city you’re living in America is exponentially larger than the one you came from in Ireland. A bigger city means many more opportunities—so take advantage of them! The Graduate Visa is limited and you will only be in America for such a short amount of time; there is no point being miserable. Take what you can from your current position while you’re there but always keep an eye out for something better. Spending twelve months staring out the window thinking of the green fields of home is just plain sad. When you hate your job its hard to love anything else about your life. It’s tempting to say ‘suck it up’ and appreciate what you’ve got but if there is one thing I have learned from this time in The States it is that there is always room for improvement.

A short aside, on careers in general: The purpose of the graduate visa is to gain experience in your field of study. Starting out in any field is hard. Sure, you’ve (hopefully) studied and gained a degree in something you love but bridging the gap between undergrad and intern in the workforce is tricky for everyone. You’re the bottom of the totem pole and are often stuck with the grunt work. If you hate the specific tasks you are doing make sure to look around and see what everyone else is doing. Is there a junior with more experience getting to do some interesting and engaging stuff? Are your bosses working on projects you can only dream of sinking your teeth into? Is your work environment positive, encouraging and fun to be in? Do you like going to work everyday despite what you actually do there? While you are not necessarily going to love your specific job right at the beginning of your career you are meant to love your industry. 

P.S If you’re in the mood for some more career-themed goodness I go back to this post time and time again.