What’s the Other Name of Challenge? Opportunity.

As an international student studying and living in US, I am often exposed to various challenges. From ordering the exact food I want in the campus cafeteria to speaking in front of nearly 700 business, economic, and education leaders with the Governor of the State of Michigan.

This March, I was recommend by Athena Trentin, the director of Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan, to attend the 2013 Governor Snyder’s Economic Summit in Detroit. This summit brought Michigan business, economic, and education leaders together to discuss the talent challenges, needs, and solutions to strengthen our state’s skilled workforce. 20 young college students and recent graduates across Michigan were selected to attend, and I was very lucky to be one of the 10 who were introduced by Governor Snyder and who spoke at the opening of the summit.

Before the official summit kicked off, the 20 talented students gathered together first to receive the career coaching arranged by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC for short). Led by Diana Wong, the President of Sensei Change, a group of experienced career coaches in her team provided us with a series of career coaching ranging from resume revising to elevator pitching. Their feedback was extremely useful and practical, since many of them have been recruiters for many years and some also have helped both individuals and companies to succeed with professional career coaching. Here are some of their suggestions that I would like to share:

For the resume, it is a good idea to include your LinkedIn profile URL if space allows, since a LinkedIn profile is a great additional source for a recruiter to know more details about you. Also, for the descriptions of your previous experience, be sure to include RESULTS, like numbers, achievements, and BUZZ WORDS that will catch recruiters’ attention quickly.  These buzz words require research about the jobs and companies your apply for. Another thing I am really impressed was Mr. Scott Patchin’s question: “What are the 3 unique things you want to tell the recruiters in your resume? Or in other words, who are you? What makes you stand out?” The question is inspiring. He asked us to tell a story about ourselves from this piece of paper. Many people, including me, are just listing our experiences, but recruiters have reviewed so many resumes, not to mention they only have few minutes available for one resume, so how do I vividly and briefly show the real me? The answer may vary, but to me, my solutions are to discover where my true passion lies, develop related skill sets, and constantly seek feedback from others.

For the 3-minute pitching rehearsal, we were broken into small groups. Each one of us gave a speech standing in front of the others, and the other students including one coach had to give feedback of 3 positive things, and one improvement, followed by a second round. I remember I was the very first one, and I did not prepare at all. I was very nervous with disorganized content and forgot to mention one important part of why I want to stay here in Michigan. Everyone else seemed to have this or that problem. The speaking seemed easy to me before, since at Michigan State University (MSU), I have many chances to practice presentation skills in class, and I have had pitching practice in business model competitions. However, when it turns to a pitch to sell myself, I did not even know where to start. The coach gave us suggestions from how to stand naturally on the stage, to how to better present using appropriate body language. These are the some of the important, but always-neglected, trivial details. For me, I seldom ask my instructor or my classmates how I behave in public speaking. But after the pitching coaching, I would like to ask for real time feedback every time I give a speech. Another impressive improvement for me specifically was that I mentioned “should” and “we” many times. I believe this is common among Chinese or even Asian students, but in America, under this circumstance of talking about myself, I was not supposed to tell what should others do, but should have focused on talking about “ME” myself, not representing others as “we”.

Fortunately, the speech turned out to be great success. I was so proud of all my peers, and also myself. All of us have done a great job! I still remember Laurie, another Spartan young talent at the summit when we were just about to go on the stage. She asked me, “Did you ever think you would speak with the Michigan State governor one day before you came to the US?” I did not even have time to think about it at that moment, but later I came up with a joke inspired by her question. I said:

“I have had opportunities to work in Leo Burnett Beijing as an account executive serving BMW and Samsung China. Also, I have an internship in a local web marketing company called UZoom Media. However, opportunities don’t come easy. I still remember times when employers at career fairs rejected me politely with a response like ‘Sorry, we don’t sponsor international students.’ I always tell myself and other international students to not give up, and one day, you may be speaking in front of hundreds of people with Governor Snyder. But opportunities are everywhere, why stay here in Michigan? One thing that attracts me here in Michigan is the unique opportunities coming from tough challenges that not everyone is willing to take, for the risks, for the sacrifices, and the patience you need to see the results. Another thing that keeps me here is the emotional connection I’ve built with Michigan. I come from China, but Michigan is my second home. I am proud to be a Michigander! The respect, care, and support I received from awesome Michiganders build the strong bond. I am Skyin, a Michigander from China.”

I was even touched by my own words, and I am very glad that the joke that just came out of my mind worked well. People applauded and laughed.

It seemed that many employers are interested in connecting with us after the opening. I heard “Ni Hao”, the Chinese way of saying hello from several employers, while exchanging business cards with me. I really appreciated their encouragement, and the conversation! Jacqui, the MEDC staff who has been taking care of us provided us with very positive feedback like:

“Your speeches were the highlight of the summit, and everyone was very impressed by your confidence and poise. You should all be incredibly proud of your work today. This was quite an accomplishment! The press and employers all loved you!”

Followed by the opening, the sessions were broken into different groups first by regions, and then by industries. I attended the Central region and IT & Media sessions. In each session, small groups talked about the questions like SWOT analysis of each region, and for the industries, we talked about challenges (filling open positions, talent acquisition, and industry collaboration) and future talent needs (newest skills required, occupations of greatest turnover, and top three occupational needs) of the specific industry. These sessions have been informative and inspiring. For example, I realized the gap between job applicants and employers when Micaiah (Filkins, Force by Design co-founder and CEO) said he had difficulty in finding the satisfying cloud computing candidates, and I know several friends studying information technology complaining they can not find jobs. The gap is there. What’s the problem? Also, another employer mentioned that for the employees in technology field, many of them lack the soft skills like strategic thinking and effective interpersonal communication skills. I was wondering at first if this was too demanding for them. But later a statement convinced me that to design and develop good applications or products requires knowledge of understanding consumers as human beings. But many engineers are lacking interpersonal skills and they hardly talk to people. How can they design perfect products?

From these conversations, I became more aware of the fact that only based on an understanding of the job market and by working hard to develop the right skill sets, can I gain opportunities.

The three-day participation was overwhelming, and I cannot overstate how much this opportunity means to me, and how grateful I am to be involved. The take-aways are not only the understanding of the talents issues of the state, but also a better understanding of myself, and a realization of life-long pursuit of improvements. I still have a long way to go, but with these reflections and support, I am more courageous and confident in realizing my passion of doing cool things that matter.

Photos from the Economic Summit: http://www.mlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/03/gov_rick_snyder_kicks_off_econ.html

Watch the video: http://www.michigan.gov/snyder/0,4668,7-277–297463–,00.html

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Skyin (Xiaoyu) Yin is a second year Master’s Student in Advertising at Michigan State University. 

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