To All of You Who Feel Defeated Finding Your First Job

The more profound struggles of finding a job as an international student

Mayank Bansal
11 min readApr 1, 2020

In my article To All of You Who Moved Abroad, I mentioned that I was going to share my experience with my job hunt. It’s been a little over a year since I started working at a startup that one can only dream of working for, and about two years since I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I wanted to take the time to share my journey up until now. :)

Disclaimer: This isn’t a guide on how to get your first job or the next job you’re looking forward to. Instead, the article will help you to navigate the ugly side of the process. If you’re looking for general tips and tricks to find a job apart from the ones that worked for me, one of my good friends Soundarya Balasubramani wrote an exhaustive list of techniques that may help you in her article — The Monster Guide to Getting Your First Interview — Without Cold Messaging on LinkedIn.

In 2017, I transferred to Illinois Tech in downtown Chicago to finish the remaining four semesters of my undergraduate degree. By this time, most students are already looking for jobs, and a lot already have summer internships. Busy adjusting to the different lifestyle and trying to optimize for early graduation — I spent all of my time keeping up with my classes.

Fail #1

When the last semester arrived, I had accepted the full-time job of looking for jobs. Our college career fair was quite useless for international students as not many companies were interviewing non-residents. It is disappointing that your chances of getting interviews depend on the effort of your university’s career office to attract employers. It gets even worse if your university doesn’t have a well-recognized brand in your field.

Fail #2

My next strategy was to apply to every position I could find online. Spriha Jha can back me up when I say that we applied for roughly 40 jobs per day to reach a total of 800+ positions at 65+ companies. I don’t think I heard back from any of them except Microsoft and Google — both were rejections. It was incredibly painful to track all the emails and timelines of all the applications. I highly recommend not doing this; it’s not worth the time.

Fail #3 & #4

If you have heard about the Google Foobar challenge, I can confirm that you can get a recruiter to message you after you finish level 3. The interesting thing to note here is that this happened roughly 2–3 weeks after I got a rejection applying with my resume. I didn’t get very far with the Google interview but did get the opportunity nevertheless. At the time, one of my uncles was working for Facebook, and I managed to get a phone screen that I didn’t get through either.

The Google Foobar challenge

Fail #5

One of my dad’s ex-bosses had become the VP of Engineering at a subsidiary of a well-known company. Through this connection, I asked for a referral to some new graduate positions. He forwarded my resume to one of his head recruiters within a few exchanges over email.

The head recruiter called me the next morning — the fastest follow up I’ve seen — and told me that their company didn’t have a university recruiting partnership with my university. She explained that they have to fulfill minimum recruit numbers with universities like Harvard; otherwise, they’re not allowed to go back the following year to pick up students.

Most of the time, recruiters aren’t this honest — they have a long interesting conversation with you only to lose interest when they find out you are an international student. I was devastated. I took it personally and wondered if I made bad decisions that led up to this point. I questioned everything I’ve ever spent my time and energy on. I felt defeated. A lot of the international students reading this might be feeling the same way.

Fail #6

My first on-site interview was for an exciting material modeling startup in San Francisco called Exabyte. Before the on-site, I was tasked with building an online development environment for creating new materials. One of the requirements was to accept and parse what is known as a “.XYZ” file, which has positional descriptions of atoms. The parsed molecule had to be displayed in a 3D renderer right next to the file editor. This was my first React application and remained to be the most complex interview project I have built so far.

The IDE I built for Exabyte’s homework assignment

Hands down, this was the first time I felt like I was interviewing for a company that was looking for brilliant people mostly because I had grown up reading Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google and they asked me this question:

If you could print the U.S. economy in $1 bills, would you be able to cover the surface of the San Francisco bay?

Although I didn’t end up getting through the on-site interview, I probably learned more out of this whole process than they got out of it.

After I had graduated, I moved half my belongings to go live with my uncle in the San Francisco Bay Area, assuming that I’ll have a better chance at networking and going for interviews. After all, living in the tech capital of the world has its perks. While I was there, I had reached out to as many startups and people from my uncle’s network. One month in, I had only spoken to three co-founders or recruiters on AngelList, and as you may have guessed by now… Yes, they all went pretty bad.

Life moves on, and the most unexpected things come to you at the most unexpected times. I was at my uncle’s friend’s place in Palo Alto to attend his daughter’s high school graduation party. At the end of the night, my uncle was introducing me to his friends so that I could network, and it was that moment when this showed up in my inbox:

You might have noticed that I mentioned that I was right out of school, and the screenshot shows I applied as a Senior UX Design Engineer. My name is also not Drew. I had reached out to so many startups that I didn’t remember consciously deciding to apply at the ones that emailed me back. I was tired of all the applications, rejections, and all the opportunities that felt like they slipped out of my hand. At this point, I didn’t care for the fact that the email wasn’t addressed to me or who this Drew was. I had nothing, so there was absolutely nothing to lose.

I emailed back.

Even today, I don’t know if this was a typo or if I was not supposed to get this email. Who cares? The hiring manager was more than happy to talk to me, Little did I know that the 15-minute call I was about to have would turn out to be the most important stepping stone in my career.

He sent me a coding project to do on my own time and also introduced me to one of his other co-founders who happened to be in San Francisco that weekend. I had nothing better to do, so I went ahead and met her. We had an interesting discussion about their product and about potential features that could be built in the future.

This coding project was my chance — I had to hit a home run this time. This time, I was asked to build a simple ice cream kiosk using React with a loose set of requirements. My second React project was an opportunity to learn something that would come in use later, even if the interview went south. Remember that material editor I built? The quality of this app was so much higher than that!

Luna’s Ice Cream Kiosk

Forgive me for the puns, but I am unquestionably serious about opening Luna’s! For those of you who don’t know me well, I love gelato, and Mayank means “moon” in Sanskrit — which translates to Luna in Italian. It’s always nice to show that you care about craftsmanship. Always give your 110%!

Impressed with the project, they flew me up to Seattle to meet the team and spend the day at their beautiful office in the startup hall at the University of Washington. The on-site interview involved improving parts of their application, testing your ability to work in unfamiliar code-bases.

Right outside Legalpad’s old office at the University of Washington

Words don’t do justice to how I felt right after I was given the offer. Before calling anyone, I went back to the hotel and just sunk into the bed. All the weight had been lifted off my shoulder. It happened so fast that I almost forgot about all the time I spent applying everywhere else. For those of you wondering, the wait was worth it!

I’m very optimistic about the companies I want to work for. I no longer work at Legalpad, but they recently raised $10M for their Series A round of funding. They’re helping employers forget about work visas and acquire the talent they need with hassle-free immigration support using modern in-house software.

What are you looking for?

At Legalpad, I got to work closely with the hiring manager, who was also a very experienced engineer who has seen most flavors of the tech industry. The learning curve was incredibly steep, and there were a lot of times my confidence as an engineer felt shattered. He spent a lot of his time mentoring me, pair programming; helping me rebuild my confidence over time as a competent engineer; and teaching me a lot about startups, funding, and stocks.

“Coming out of college, a major reason I chose the completely unknown startup I went to work for was that one of the engineers was so smart, energetic and engaging in the interview process that I knew that I would learn a tremendous amount from him.” — Alex Allain

My manager not only made an enormous effort to look out for me after he departed from the company but also introduced me to people at the new company he had joined. When I was ready for the next chapter in my career, he also helped me with interview prep.

Some of you might want the name recognition and prestige of working at a well-known tech company. Regardless, I can’t stress how important it is to find someone who can mentor you and help you build your network — by introducing you and your work to all sorts of people in the industry.

Fast forward a few months; I was introduced to some brilliant employees at Convoy — a freight and logistics company aiming to transport the world with endless capacity and zero waste. In no time, I got an interview at their office in downtown Seattle. Similar to the coding project I had done for Legalpad, I was asked to build an interface for truckers to see what loads they can pick up, again with a loose set of requirements. I love homework projects like this because it gets you excited about the product and the problem space.

A Convoy Offers Client

The on-site interviews were typical Amazon inspired values and technical ability interviews that you would also find at most other big tech companies.

Oh boy! Never had I imagined that trucking and logistics could excite me (I will write another article about my experience working at a hyper-growth unicorn startup). Being the 60th engineer at a billion-dollar company that’s on track to become massive feels surreal. Companies of this size are not only hyper-growth but also hyper-selective. You’re expected to contribute to the culture of the company and do your best and impactful work to drive that growth forward. Having interviewed dozens of candidates, I have seen the number of interviewees from top schools and companies (like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon) that we aren’t ready to hire.

Chances like this don’t come very often, especially in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest has produced only six unicorn startups of the ones founded since 2010, and the United States has 48 with a higher valuation than Convoy at the time of writing of this article. This number may seem like a lot, but remember that you may not be interested in all of the problem spaces. One can only dream of working at a company with so much to give.

~ 3 x 🦄 — Series D celebration!

Recently, I hit my 1st anniversary at Convoy, a.k.a Coniversary, and my inbox is flooded with emails from recruiters of top companies. It feels so different to be on the other side of the table — the side where I get to say no, not condescendingly of-course. I’m just happy where I am at the moment. Networking is far easier now; I don’t anticipate any challenges in getting interviews when I’m ready for the next big thing. This is proof that it gets easier as you get into the industry from college.

You may think that all it takes is getting lucky with an email. No, I am not saying it is that easy. In my free time, I worked on numerous projects and on my design portfolio to support my applications. You can’t be busy getting lucky, so use that time to give you a better chance of being found and standing out when you do get that chance.

I read an excellent article from Alex Allain, a former Engineering Director at Dropbox. Alex talks about his experience joining an unknown startup early in his career, and how he’s worked on his sourcing + interviewing skills to attract strong and passionate candidates.

“You are going to have to find strong candidates who may not have fancy schools or companies on their resume, and you’re also going to have to fight hard to make those candidates want to work for you.” — Alex Allain, former Engineering Director @ Dropbox

A lot of times, I feel like I was that candidate. I am forever thankful for the people who were ready to take a chance on me.

If there’s anything I can tell you all from my experience up till now, I’ll share that you have to keep trying everything you can and be open to unorthodox opportunities. All the rejections will get to you at some point. Every time I feel like I need some inspiration, I rewatch this incredible talk by Randy Pausch with over 20M views — The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” — Randy Pausch, Disney Imagineer & Professor of Computer Science @ CMU

Hang in there.

Comment below with your favorite flavors of Luna’s Ice Cream Shoppe and unconventional ways you got a job. If you have feedback or want to connect with me, please reach out on Linkedin. If you wish to interview prep for any software engineering roles at a big company, I’m more than happy to help! Follow me on Instagram to see what I’m up to! All of the projects mentioned can be found on my site:

Thank you Sukriti Paul for helping me edit!



Mayank Bansal

Frontend Engineering | Design | Fintech | Freight | Logistics | Immigration | Helping build finance solutions for freight carriers @Outgo ! Ex-Convoy 🦄,