The same isn’t equal
When it comes to student job search resources, “the same” isn’t equal. As an international law student in the US, I faced the pressure of job seeking immediately after my first year at law school. This past summer, I went through the daunting recruiting season. I knew it would be hard, but I did not expect the level of difficulty and the time that would be required. I applied to over 300 firms, gained 30 first-round interviews and ten second-round interviews. Ultimately, I received three offers. As part of the process, I networked with over 100 lawyers.
In contrast, my American classmates applied to only 50 firms before they got a job. That’s double the success rate of an international student with the same qualifications. These numbers are the outcome of multiple symptoms that are continually ignored by academic career search processes.
If schools and recruiting organizations want the benefits of a diverse student base, their services should be adjusted to accommodate cultural differences so that those students can succeed.
In interviews, I was asked unique questions that my American classmates will never encounter. For example, “What ties do you have to the U.S.?” “Do you want to practice law in the U.S.?” “Do you need visa sponsorship?” These questions immediately put you at a disadvantage. You have to defend yourself. You have to justify your right to be here, while American students never had to justify their existence in interviews. They just existed.
Networking is another disadvantage for international students. Many cultures don’t value networking and even find it to be disingenuous. Even if an international student understands the “why” of networking, they don’t know “how.” For example, my cultural background doesn’t allow me to interrupt a conversation. It’s an impolite behavior in my culture, but an essential networking skill in the US. Nobody tells us that the systems are different. So, we go into it without the resources and knowledge we need to succeed.
Some may say that major firms are open to hiring international students, and that my experiences could be the result of poor interviewing skills. But these results are common among international law students. Overall, few international students land at top American law firms. At the top 5 law firms: Cravath, Wachtell, Skadden, Davis Polk and Latham, the percentage of international law students hired as 2021 summer associates are 0%, 2.9%, 0%, 4.5%, and 5.1%, respectively.
It’s time to change the system. What can we do? Students can help each other. Since landing a job, I’ve shared my experiences and assisted first-year students as a Peer Career Advisor, Teaching Assistant, Mentor, and the Vice President of Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.
Employers need diversity job fairs directed to international students. We have diversity job fairs for almost all minority groups, such as LGBTQ and African American students. However, universities are unlikely to host a diversity job fair for international students. We need one.
Universities need to allocate more attention and services to international students. Higher education does an inadequate job in satisfying the implied promise that they make when they accept international students. Universities make the same employment promises to all students. The tuition is the same for all students. Career services are the same.
But the same is not equitable.
The cultures are not the same, and the expectations are not the same. When competing against domestic students, international students are at a natural disadvantage because of our identities as foreigners. We need more than the “same.” If schools and recruiting organizations want the benefits of a diverse student base, their services should be adjusted to accommodate cultural differences so that those students can succeed.