Tackling the Fear of Self-Introductions

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This newsletter content comes to you from University of Cincinnati’s Julia Montier-Ball, MEd, who is the Manager of International Student Services, Division of Experienced-based Learning & Career Education. 

Don’t go it alone, take advantage of career coaching services at your school to enhance your job search skills. Coaches understand you face many challenges as an International Student and can carefully customize a coaching session to meet your needs, and ease your fears. We are trained to listen and help you explore which job search techniques will work best for you, which strengths/skills you will need to emphasize and which personal attributes you will need to be developed. For example, you should ask your coach about Self Introduction, an important area of the job search process that causes a significant cultural shift and can be intimidating for International students. But it is the first step to building relationships. Many of my students say they are hesitant in their approach to building relationships which are known in the US to be essential in a job search. The process of building new relationships also includes being aware of some non-verbal nuances in US business culture common to a job search. Career coaches can assist you in adapting to such things involved in Self-introductions, asking questions, networking and follow-up – typical US job search practices – as they may take you out of your comfort zone. Learning to adapt may take practice, but once achieved, you could improve your chances of not missing opportunities to advance in your job search. So, here is how to you can work on these things with your career coach.

linked-inRecently, Quingjian “Lillian” Zhao, a Master of Design student majoring in Communication Design came in to my office for a career coaching appointment related to her job search. She had previously sent me a copy of her resume, which had both a link to her LinkedIn profile and a link to her work portfolio. It is a good idea to send these ahead of time so your coach can be prepared to give you encouragement and feedback on how you are presenting your personal brand through Self Introduction. In her words, Lillian explains her reasons for coming in and how she felt afterwards: “I think it is very essential to have professional coaching of job seeking techniques, like proper contents on my resume, how to create a cover letter which fit in job’s description, and what should be the things on my portfolio. I feel more confident of how to search a job and how to reach out to a recruiter who would be interested in me and how to present myself for a phone interview.”
Here are five elements I recommend to International students that require some practice, but they must become proficient and better prepare themselves to engage in activities requiring Self Introduction such as, informational interviews, networking, meeting employers at career fairs, or job shadowing:

  • “Your Elevator Pitch” – Should always be succinct, done with enthusiasm and showcase top accomplishments, whether engaging in informal or formal networking with anyone that can be influential in helping you secure employment, via resume referrals or actual interviews.  Begin by saying hello, shaking hands, telling your first name (or nickname if that is easier for the other person to repeat) and one interesting fact about yourself. Here is an example: “Hello, I’m Lillian, and I am a traveler. I have worked in four different countries, but my favorite work experience was creating training videos in the US for top healthcare companies. My research centers on human interaction with appliances but I specialize in 3D modeling for medical device innovation.” Here, she could give an example but it should relate in some way to whatever the recruiter is looking for. She will end by asking a question, “I’m wondering what type of people with my skills would fit best in your company?” This way, the recruiter can focus on answering, not on her International status.
  • “Your Positive Passion” – Should be reflected in your tone of voice, facial expressions, your smile, hand gestures, arm position (not crossed), your greeting, slow-paced delivery, initial handshake and even how you first walk into the room. We call this, display of a good job search “attitude”, a pleasantly confident total body experience. Positive passion also means that you find ways to gain additional experiences outside the classroom that will add to what you learn in the classroom. Don’t go it alone. Enriching experiences can be found by joining a student organization on campus, where you can do such things as a group. I advise students to consider joining groups that are culturally different, may relate to a personal interest, or may offer some new experience or challenge. For example, a Chinese student may learn to Salsa (dance) and make guacamole (tastes good on chips) by joining a Latino student organization. (Tip: Record yourself saying and doing some of these things on your phone or tablet. Then show it to your career coach for some feedback.)
  • “Your Soft-Skills” – An important way to convey your soft-skills is by engaging in ‘small talk’, for example, when interested in making a good impression at a career fair, take notice of the ‘small talk’ used by recruiters to put students at ease. Small talk can be a brief comment about the hot weather outside, the large size of the crowd, or simply a question asking what city the recruiter may be from. A good opening question would be to ask if they are an alum of UC. Soft-skills can describe your work ethic (are you dependable?), the way you work with others (are you a good listener?) or how you would handle certain job-related situations (are you cool under pressure?). Focus on what you can contribute to the specific areas of the company where your technical skills are in demand (can you support a high-level manager?). You will be painting a picture for the employer that will convince them that your personal workstyle will fit in with others on their team (can you collaborate with multiple-disciplinary teams). Make a list of your non-technical skills and personal strengths, and put them in a sentence. For example, “I have the ability to (strength related to a job of interest) collaborate on proposals with respect for others contributions (qualify level of proficiency).” Share this list and sentences with your coach for ways to best integrate them into your oral self-introduction and written job search documents.
  • “Your Online Brand” – This is often how employers first meet you. They use LinkedIn to verify who you are and your online presence is just as important as a verbal face-to-face self-introduction. First, your professional photo should have a plain neutral background (no plants, windows, pictures or other distracting items should show), and you should be seen smiling and dressed in interview attire. Some career centers will take LinkedIn photos for free. Next, give yourself a title that indicates that you are success-driven, such as, ‘Rising Chemical Engineer’ or, ‘Engaging Business Intern’.  This will lead readers to your summary, which should include your accomplishments, career goals and the things you are doing (or have done) to achieve them. Create an online portfolio to support your summary by uploading a resume, visual examples of your work, well-written papers, relevant articles, abstracts to research, etc. (this is viewable to the public, so don’t upload anything personal). Here is where you could upload a video resume. Finally, literally ‘scrub’ your other online portals, (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc.) and remove any unprofessional pictures, videos or material that may cause unwanted bias. Finally, ask for professors, advisors, mentors or research partners to upload a brief recommendation and/or endorse you for skills on your LinkedIn profile page.  Ask your career coach to review your LinkedIn profile and make suggestions for improvements. You will want to use this as a tool to market yourself to employers across the country and in other countries.
  • “Your Agility” – What this means is that you are adaptable and willing to take the initiative to learn in a US work environment. This is especially important for International graduate students that have gained prior experience while studying and living in other countries. I highly recommend that students take every opportunity to gain as much experience working, interning, volunteering, job shadowing and touring in US companies and non-profit community organizations as possible. Community organizations can be found on the United Way website. As a result of doing this, you can practice using soft-skills as you expand your network of people to ask for referrals, letters of recommendation and mentorship. Don’t go it alone. Ask your friends to engage with you in doing these ‘shoulder-to-shoulder-American-business/cultural-experiences’ as they are prime opportunities to understand and model the non-verbal nuances of US business culture common to a job search. Your career coach can guide you in setting up these key opportunities.

So, to make the most of your career coaching experience here are 10 things you can do before meeting with your coach:

  • When giving a Self-introduction to your career coach for the first time, you may find it difficult to maintain eye contact, so practice looking slightly to the left at the person’s ear while are talking. Remember, when you do this with a career coach, you don’t have to worry about making a mistake!
  • Take time to write down some specific things you want to discuss.
  • Be prepared to tell about the things you have already done (networking events attended, companies you have applied to, who you have had interviews with, etc.)
  • Look into doing a virtual mock interview online at www.InterviewStream.com so, your coach can review the resulting video with you and assess how well you did.
  • If you are interested in discussing companies that are known to hire and sponsor International college job seekers, research first them on www.MyVisaJobs.com or www.immihelp.com (both free). This may take some time, as there are thousands of companies across the US that submit thousands of H1b applications each year, some with 30-40% certification rates.
  • If you will be discussing networking techniques, research what is involved in doing an informational interview. Meeting a stranger may sound scary, but you can interview someone you know first. Many schools will have that information on their websites.

You can find more information on these and other related topics in these resources:

  1. “Career Champions Playbook”, UC Student Career Planning & Job Search Guide, https://issuu.com/juliamontier-ball/docs/uc_cdcstudentguide2015_2016final ,by Julia Montier-Ball, MEd., 2016
  2. “How to Network Like an American”, by Judy Shen-Filerman, 2016 Dreambridge Partners LLC.