EBC Series: 10 Tips for Navigating the U.S. Work Environment
This blog post is part of a series from representatives of Kellogg’s European Business Club. Check back for more updates!
By Maria Prastakou (2Y 2020)
I come from a small, European country: Greece. And like many International students at Kellogg, I had never before worked in the United States. When I came to this school, I was bewildered by the collaborative culture and generosity of my classmates, but I was also terrified to realize that the culture I was used to working in differed greatly from the norms that characterized the American workplace. How would I make it in recruiting and how could I navigate my internship to secure a coveted Full Time role post-MBA?
Tips and resources for navigating your job search
The journey wasn’t easy, and the recruiting process was a steep learning curve. However, with the immense support of my classmates, the Kellogg Tech Club and the Career Management Center, I landed an internship and eventually a full-time offer with my dream company, Google.
So here is some advice if you, like me, are transitioning to the American work environment:
1. Network like your life depends on it.
Having never networked in this context before,I was very slow to enter the “networking game”. Networking for Tech was informal and meant I had to reach out to strangers – a pretty uncomfortable action for me! I soon realized however that when starting a job search in the US, it is crucial that you go after people working in the companies and teams that interest you. It shows your genuine enthusiasm, as well as helps managers see you can connect with them and be part of their team. Networking doesn’t stop with a job offer. I spent most of my summer doing coffee chats with people I randomly reached out to and found myself uncovering incredible opportunities from the network I built!
2. Be prepared.
When networking, interviewing, or even starting your internship, you should understand the company, the goals of the team you’re on, and their pain points. This will set you apart. Once you have your dream role, always be prepared to answer details of your project and go into meetings with every aspect nailed down. This will show you are reliable and trustworthy for larger projects.
3. Make allies.
Working in any company, you will have to come up with innovative, and often disruptive, solutions and strategies. As an intern or a post-MBA hire, you will have to influence the team to buy into your ideas and proposals, without having any authority. Make allies: your manager, your immediate teammates, but also others around the office. They will help you not only to be effective when proposing new solutions, but also uncover key information that will make you successful in the broader scope of your projects. In my experience, I also found that people in the U.S. are very willing to become your mentors or sponsors; they will not only help you in your professional development, but will advocate on your behalf when you need it. This article by Professor Diane Brink perfectly outlines how to make the most out of these relationships. I also suggest you read this article on gaining influence by one of my favorite Kellogg professors, William Ocasio.
4. “Meeting expectations” is not enough.
The U.S. working environment is one of the most competitive workplace environments in the world, especially for MBA graduates. If you want to progress in your career, you need to exceed expectations. Talk to your manager about what they want of you, understand their needs, ask for feedback on your performance and slowly go above and beyond what they expect. If you feel like you don’t have enough on your plate, ask for more! The U.S. culture is much more focused around work and productivity than many other cultures in the world. So asking for more tasks and responsibilities shows that you’re confident and a go-getter.
5. Ask questions.
A key difference in other countries of the world is that often questions are not reinforced. But the truth is, the more you ask (and therefore the more you learn), the better you perform. In the U.S., not asking questions can actually be perceived as a negative. Ask many (thoughtful) questions even if you are just curious. It shows you care about what you do and what you deliver. Always keep in mind that a fresh perspective is the most important value you can bring as an intern or a new hire, and asking questions can uncover that.
6. Take ownership, admit mistakes.
In my previous career, I have often faced people not owning up to their mistakes. The mindset in the U.S. however is very different: admitting a mistake signifies you learned. Owning up to it shows that you can take responsibility and that your team can trust you even if things get hard.
7. Acknowledge others.
I never realized how important acknowledgment is, until I started working in the U.S. Every email I received started with a “Thank you.” At first I thought it was odd, but soon I realized that being acknowledged for the work I was doing made me want to do more. This podcast outlines some very interesting research on gratitude and generosity. Acknowledgment can go hand in hand with feedback, and I strongly suggest also listening to this podcast on how to give constructive feedback by Professor Ellen Taaffe, an extraordinarily gifted professor who I had the privilege to have as a leadership mentor at Kellogg.
8. Small details have a huge impact.
Learn people’s names, remember dates and numbers, show up on time, take notes, spell check, and proofread. These small things are very important in the American working environment and will set you apart. Be careful not to overdo it though; there’s a point when perfectionism starts blocking your work. At the same time, U.S. business language is much more relaxed than other countries, so don’t get too attached to formalities. Focus on substance over etiquette.
9. Negotiate your offer.
This was a big change for me. In most countries around the world, salary negotiations rarely happen. In the U.S., however, the first offer is never the final offer (note that this applies to most Full Time offers, but less often to internships). Negotiating your Full Time compensation is expected and shows an employer that you know your value. Kellogg offers incredible Negotiations classes, which have helped almost all of my classmates and myself build a strong toolkit of strategies for successful negotiation of our offers.
10. Finally, find your fit.
Cultures around the world vary, and researchers spend their entire lives trying to analyze everything that makes them unique. Professor and author, Erin Meyer, has developed a particularly interesting tool to help managers navigate the different elements of other cultures, called the Culture Map. It is made up of eight scales representing the management behaviors where cultural gaps are most common. I have found this research particularly interesting. One thing I realized while working in the U.S. is that each company here differs in terms of these eight metrics. So, as my last piece of advice, I suggest you create your own cultural map, as well as the map of the environments you are faced with in the future. Figure out which environment is more closely aligned with who you are: that is your true cultural fit and where you will thrive.
The U.S. working environment can be challenging and, as an International student, you will be faced with moments of uncertainty. But always remember that there are incredible resources at Kellogg to help you! Professors, classmates, student clubs, the Career Management Center, the Student Life office and our alumni network have always been there to help us make this transition and succeed in our post-MBA goals.