Finding My Career Footing as an International Student
Myles NgEconomics, Year 5
It’s been exactly 1,508 days since I left my hometown Cebu, in the Philippines, and began my university life in CUHK. I remember landing in Hong Kong in September 2018 with a blank agenda, not knowing at all what my interests were beyond basketball and music. I was a clueless Economics student with no career goals, no sense of purpose, and no knowledge in calculus (yes, calculus).
Things only got tougher for me in the next two years. After the November 2019 campus protests and the onset of COVID-19 (i.e., strict social distancing measures) in 2020, I was deprived of face-to-face interactions throughout Years 2 and 3. On top of that, not only did I struggle to find my career interests, but I was also rejected by more than 20 companies I applied to for internships. My junior year was brutal. And with every missed interaction, and every failed application, I was going through a downward spiral with no way out. I began to feel like an imposter, an accidental university admission, a dispassionate and isolated “international” because, frankly, I felt like a failure.
But just when I thought of giving up, things started going my way.
After volunteering at HELP for Domestic Workers, a charity that provides legal assistance to migrant domestic workers, a demographic I’ve always cared for, I co-founded my own social enterprise called HelpBridge and successfully acquired seed funding from both CUHK’s entrepreneurship centre and Cyberport! On the career front, after finally getting accepted for a summer internship position at JP Morgan’s Human Resources team, I found my career calling in Human Resources. Today, in my final semester of university, I’ve landed a full-time job at BlackRock (a world-class company) and continue to volunteer!
Reflecting on the four years of my university life, I recalled the struggles I went through in my internship and job hunt, how I overcame them, and the lessons I gained along the way. So, to whoever is reading this, I’d like to share with you three tips that will undoubtedly help you navigate your career search.
PRO TIP #1: Seek help and advice from seniors
When I first started out my career search, I didn’t really know what I was doing, simply because I didn’t have any job searching experience! However, I was lucky to have seniors who not only guided me with their career know-how and application tips, but also lent their unconditional mental and emotional support to me when I was experiencing rejection. Through their support and experience of navigating internship applications, my seniors taught me (in detail) how to write a top-notch resume, interview with confidence, and prepare for final-round group assessments. If not for their support, I wouldn’t have successfully approached every aspect of my applications with a measurable degree of comfort. Shoutout to Dan, Nidhal, and Anju! If not for your belief in me, I wouldn’t be where I stand today.
Now in the professional world, the prevalent term is “networking,” but really, this is simply targeted conversation. I highly recommend reaching out to your seniors on social media – be it Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, or LinkedIn – and set a time for coffee! Because you just don’t know what that one coffee chat could turn into.
PRO TIP #2: Have a personal reason for every career choice
When I started applying for internships in my Year 2, I tried saving time by recycling my high school resume, copy-pasting a cover letter template I got off the internet, and applying to all internships as if they were the same. This is a big mistake! I learned quickly, the following year, to devote time and effort to lay out my career choice reasons on a document, so that I could be more intentional with my job applications and strategize the way I present myself on a resume, cover letters, and interviews. For instance, because I study an analytical degree like Economics, I wanted to use my analytical skills to bring out the best in people (hence, my goal to become a Human Resources Analyst). In the end, not only did university recruiters feel my internship applications stood out with unparalleled detail, but I also came into my internships with zero regret, because I fully embraced the purpose of my work, day in and day out.
I recommend you to also reflect on your career choice reasons, and write them down! You might say, “But I don’t know what I want!” and that’s OK. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t arrived at an answer; what does matter is that you take the time to reflect on your career interests with intention. It goes a VERY long way.
PRO TIP #3: Create a step-by-step plan to achieve your career goals ASAP
If you could finish this article with only one takeaway, it should be this: the difference between a goal and a dream is planning.
Coming into Hong Kong from a small school in the Philippines with clubs you could singlehandedly count with your fingers, I was overwhelmed with the accelerated pace of university life – and internship applications were even worse! So, the moment I knew HR was the career for me, I started planning my university life until the very end: (1) watch seven two-hour HR intro videos on YouTube to get myself familiar with HR by Year 3, (2) practice my Excel skills every month through my data-based volunteering at HELP, (3) and “network” with the previous interns of all the companies I want to apply for at least one month before application deadlines, among many other strategies. As a result, I achieved my goals and developed a newfound habit of setting plans.
Planning, in as much detail as you can, goes a long way towards helping you find your career footing. However, it’s also important to note that plans don’t always play out the way you hope they might. Failure and rejection are necessary – and in fact, helpful – things, and having career plans won’t change that. Ultimately, the purpose of planning your career search is not to ascertain your future, but to encourage you to just try.
Now that I’m 64 days away from graduating, I want to help other international students find their own career footing. If you’re a struggling student in need of advice, drop me a message on LinkedIn and let’s chat!
Thanks for reading!