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Kwan Segal, founder, ICAway, USA

Kwan Segal is a specialist career coach for international students in the US who founded ICAway. In the four years since starting the company in 2017, clients have gone on to earn jobs or internships at the likes of Google, Microsoft and MUFG Bank with the help of skill and technique guidance from ICAway. Segal, originally from Thailand, answered our questions on what international students need to be successful, and how educators can best help.

 

Not all employers want to open to hiring international students because of the sponsorship in the future

The PIE: What are the typical problems that international students face when looking for work do you find?

Kwan Segal: Well, the number one challenge that they experience is a visa problem. They’re here, with the ultimate goal of landing a job after graduation, but then face that obstacle that not all employers are open to hiring international students, because of the sponsorship in the future.

“Sometimes [students] don’t know how to connect with people”

The second barrier is cultural barriers – sometimes a language issue, sometimes [students] don’t know how to connect with people. We all know that many jobs are never advertised. They don’t have the skills to build connections with people, where they will refer them directly to the hiring manager.

From my experience, actually, if I evaluate all my four years coaching students, I would say if they have great skills in networking and communicating with US professionals, and [they can] build their career brand to make themselves become a talent in the field, expert in the field, visa problems [become] the second priority. If they can position themselves as a talent, any employers will want to hire them.

The PIE: Do you work with all nationalities? How do your clients find you?

KS: I work with all nationalities. We have at least 10 nationalities in our cohort right now. The majority of them are Indian.

They follow me through referrals from the schools. I have been partnering with career services, in numerous private and public universities, so they know me as a trusting resource for international students. Students also follow me through Google – through our website and social media. We haven’t paid for any advertisement so far.

The PIE: When you moved from Thailand to the US, was the adjustment more significant than you were expecting?

KS: Absolutely. It was much more challenging than I expected. When I came here with 10 plus years of experience, I thought it would be easy just to use my grades, find jobs and everything is just going to be a straight line to success. But it was not at all. I realised that soft skills are so important, especially here in the US. It’s not just the technical skills we need to build. And [students need to] build those along the way, not just to find a job, but to build career success long-term, and get into corporate America.

The PIE: Do you think some institutions prepare students for work better than others? 

KS: I have experience collaborating with lots of colleagues in careers offices – the majority of them are really dedicated and are trying their best to help their students. But sometimes it’s the cultural competencies that every one of us need to overcome.

Even career services, if they don’t have hands-on international experience, they don’t know what it’s like to be a foreigner in a foreign land. And even though they want to help out, sometimes the advice is not relevant to the target audience. So something that is not easy for us to implement.

“Sometimes the [career service] advice is not relevant to the target audience”

The PIE: What advice would you give to students and educators?

KS: Something that I always share with the students as a key takeaway is not to stay inside their comfort zone. The only thing to help you become successful in the US is to get outside of your comfort zone every day, try to do something that gives you the feeling of butterflies in your stomach.

Get out there and practise. Be patient, because success is not just going to come to you overnight. You will fail many times. But all you need is just to reach your goal for one time. Get that one job offer.

 

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