I came to America in 2014 to study game design. I already had a degree in mathematics from Russia and was lucky to find a company that would support my application for a work visa after my study ended. I worked for 5 years with a startup until they were acquired by a larger company. This acquisition was a great accomplishment and a true American Dream moment. However, looking back, it was the beginning of a very tumultuous and uncertain time in my career.
Around the time of the acquisition, I had to renew my visa. Moving to a larger company made the visa process more cumbersome. Additionally, the current Administration’s policies around immigration and visas felt like they changed overnight. What were once routine administrative matters became overwhelmingly stressful and anxiety-laden hurdles. It wasn’t just the additional paperwork. There were now random in-person visits from government officials to my office and in front of my co-workers. What should have taken a maximum of 2-3 week process dragged on over 6 months and included me calling the Department of Homeland Security multiple times trying to ensure I was not deported while the process was taking its course. For about 2 weeks I was packed and ready to leave at a moment's notice. It was some of the most difficult times I’ve ever had. I felt emotionally drained, stuck and uncertain as to how to move forward.
The integration into the larger company was also not going well. My job went from innovative to repetitive. My responsibilities shrunk and I was demotivated. I had 2 more years left before my visa expired and I needed to find something new even in this uncertainty. Each time I reached out regarding a new opportunity, mentioning that I had a work visa killed the opportunity. No one wanted to deal with this uncertainty. I felt trapped and wondered out loud, “Was I losing my mind?”
I received an email from Wager inviting me to a Sh*tty Resume Party - an event for people who needed a refresh of their resume, skills assessment and get a better sense of their job worth in the marketplace. I signed up as I was applying to EVERYTHING in the hope that something would work out. At the party, we shared our career paths, what we hoped to achieve, shared our resumes for feedback, and collaborated with each other on the next steps.
One role that came up for me a few times was Product Manager. The more they talked about this role, the more I realized I had performed that role in the past and really enjoyed it. I left the event energized and wanting to learn more.
I started to work on my resume and researched what companies were hiring for a Product Manager. I happened to stumble across a job listing for a Product Manager within my own company. There was an opportunity right under my nose! I approached the hiring manager and told him, “I want this job.” His instant response was “OK, you got it!” I can’t say enough how much working with others and speaking to that group helped me go from feeling alone and frustrated to feeling competent and with renewed vision.
Some advice I would pass on from my experiences.
Work through what you want next, not just tweak your resume: In order to rework your resume, you need to know what story you want to tell. This was a complete mind shift for me. Before the Sh*tty Resume Party, I thought I just needed to learn a few tricks to improve my resume, such as layout and wording. My approach was totally wrong. Working out what you want has to be the first step.
Ask about salaries: I would encourage others with a work visa to thoroughly research the salaries for a role and go into an interview already knowing the baseline salary for the position. I have never felt comfortable negotiating my salary. Asking someone to sponsor my visa already felt like a big ask. However, I found this to be true: If you know that a company is offering you a salary on or above the market rate, they will most likely look after you during the visa process. It means they value your work. If you are offered a salary below the market rate, they are probably not going to care about the specifics of your situation, especially during the harder moments.
Assess ALL your options: The current political climate is making it difficult to work in the United States. There are many employees in the US that require work visas and many of us have suppressed salaries because of it. If you have a visa you do not want to have to also fight for your job and value. It’s hard enough. You need the organization to already be excited to have you on board. Unless you have a secure avenue to obtain a green card, it would be worth considering other countries with a visa system that is interested in your talent.