From “Alien Kid” to New Immigrant – Part 2

by Tina Tan

Believe it or not, being literally free has been quite a challenge for me after I moved to the States. Especially because I had been that kind of workaholic who used to work around the clock.

I was an Area Manager in an apparel company back in China. I’d always considered my department, Sales and Marketing Department, as the core for the whole company because we brought back cash flow to support all other operation. With my competitive streak, working in an intensive environment would be the perfect recipe to exacerbate everything. Yes, I turned into a “tough” person according to some stereotypes.

But, I had to be that way. Fairly speaking, there were tons of tougher person in my previous business negotiation experience. Being a lamb would be daunting in business environment. The apparel market in China has been in fierce competition, we could easily lose our customers to other brands. You know what they say, business is business. Holding a smaller market share, a declining sales figure or ranking is indicative of unaffordable fees in the next contract, even worse, being directly kicked out of an upscale business corridor.

Photo taken by Tina at City Hall in December 2018.

I also needed to take the responsibility as a leader of my sales team made up of 40 plus handpicked sales staff. They all were independent women who left their hometowns or families to another city to pursue better lives. I would feel guilty if any of them received low bonus because of any errors from the office. Never did I place myself in a higher position in my team. Compared to the traditional way, I streamlined our teamwork by clearly dividing our duties. I would make sure they got the utmost resources to meet their sales targets.

Based on these concerns, I kept working in a very competitive and straight-forward way for almost four years. I didn’t care how certain groups of people misunderstood me. Being people-pleaser can never bring back benefits to the company or team members.

Besides from being competitive, I was also diligent. I spent half day every weekday and Saturday investigating in different department stores to know about the market before I initiated any marketing plans. The first thing I did after I went into a department stores would be observing all the competitor brands, “spying” on their new arrivals, best-sellers, marketing posters, and their sales persons. I discussed with, rather than commanded, my Store Managers, and motivated them to achieve higher sales figures. FYI, I was nice to my subordinates while I had always promoted encouragement in team management.

I had always considered the most upfront chain of the whole business process would be in the stores, and the very moment when customers paid. With around four big department stores in the same corridor, and 20 plus competitor brands in the same floor, customers were too spoiled to have any reason to compromise any dissatisfaction. All they did would be walked away and paid to our competitors. This was the most important reason why I hold high standard for myself, my team, my colleagues, even my supervisors. I truly understood a company shouldn’t compromise to any excuses because customers would never grin and bear it.

Nevertheless, the most unexpected scene came to me on my last day in my former company, some colleagues gave me warm hug while saying they hated to let me go. I appreciated their consideration, also moved by their acknowledgment. I was also happy they understood I wasn’t that tough, I was just serious about my responsibility.

“Though I was proud of my previous achievements, I had a hard start in the States.”

Though I was proud of my previous achievements, I had a hard start in the States. I wouldn’t say it is easy for an immigrant to find a desirable job. There are barriers, language barriers, culture barriers, and even more. I’ve noticed many highly-educated immigrants have difficulty going back to their professional fields. A former editor might be working as a customer service in at a bookstore. I was also encouraged to take any job by many Chinese immigrants.

Before I came to the U.S., I was considering going deeper in marketing. So here in Philly, my job search goal would be any entry level positions that could leads me to my desirable field in the near future. Even not requiring high salary or senior position, I was still stuck at the first step. The major reason was that I was not confident in applying every time I saw the job requirement of a desirable position denoting “excellent communication and writing skills”. Even though I had been studying English since I was ten years old, I still hesitated.

“Thanks to the International Professionals Program at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, I’ve already gained the essential skills for job searching. Now, I think of my job search process in this new country as an adventure.”

It took time for me to build up confidence. I utilized my former experiences to remind myself I should be the last person to let the barriers be an obstacle. Knowing proficiency in English is step one, I started practicing English in various ESL programs in my community and at home every day. That has already become my routine. I used to lack enough confidence to speak English in front of a group of native speakers. Nonetheless, I unexpectedly found myself fluently speaking with an interviewer for about one hour and half in my last interview.

Photo taken by Tina at the Eagles parade.

Another barrier I faced was social capital. People keep stressing to me how important it is to build up a network while job searching. That is quite intimidating to me! On one hand, I only have limited number of friends here while majority of them and me are on the same boat. How is that possible for me to build up a relationship with a bunch of people who would give me a leg up within a couple months or even one year? Furthermore, I was not that comfortable about attending social networking events to meet many strangers.

On the other hand, the workplace culture is quite different here from my home country. For example, I didn’t even know all the resumes I sent out was in the wrong format, not to mention the cover letter I never wrote in my home country.

Thanks to the International Professionals Program at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, I’ve already gained the essential skills for job searching. Now, I think of my job search process in this new country as an adventure.

There will be all kinds of barriers in my life. Just because I face barriers doesn’t mean I should stop. I hope to bring back good news to the Welcoming Center soon!

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