US big tech mass layoffs leave Vietnamese international students in limbo

By Le Thu   February 5, 2023 | 03:09 pm PT
After landing a coveted internship at Google, Bui Thuy is back to square one since learning that her recruiter was laid off along with 12,000 other workers in January.

Thuy is a third-year Ph.D student at Rutgers University where she is studying applied mathematics. Last October, she submitted her resume to Google in the hope of landing a research internship in the field of science and technology. However, that plan is currently on hold due to the recent layoffs in the sector.

"I feel like I’m in limbo," she said.

Thuy is disappointed because she put in a lot of work preparing for interviews with companies she had applied to, which have recently put these jobs on hold again due to the current job cuts.

The Vietnamese student revealed that she had applied to be an intern at Amazon, but in November 2022, she received a notice saying that the interview had been postponed. And then she surprisingly heard nothing more about her application.

It was also disconcerting for Huy Anh, a third-year computer science student at Texas A&M University, to see the social media app Snap Inc let go of 20% of its staff, including his mentor, during the final week of his internship in September 2022.

After his internship ended, he tried to contact all the previous headhunters at companies that offered him internships and jobs. However, he did not receive any response.

Huy Anh (L) at the headquarter of Snap Inc. in the U.S., September 2022. Photo courtesy of Anh

Huy Anh (L) at the headquarters of Snap Inc. in the U.S., September 2022. Photo courtesy of Anh

Pham Quang Vu, an engineer at Meta, said that there are fewer internships and job opportunities being offered for international students pursuing an IT career.

Both small businesses and multinational conglomerates such as Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon have announced job cuts. Around 150,000 tech workers in the U.S. may have lost their employment in January. As a result, there are fewer chances for recruitment.

If that's the case, Vu argues, "Then the firms' expectations and standards for candidates are likewise higher than they were previously."

Nguyen Van Dong Anh, an IT worker at Google, saw a decline in the tech companies' interest in hiring interns over the past 12 months. As a result, many international students are struggling to find employment.

According to the Open Doors Report on International Exchange published by the Institute of International Education last November, there were more than 20,000 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S.

In the 2021–2022 academic year, 17.8% of all international students from Vietnam planned to major in mathematics or computer science.

Most of these students hope to one-day land summer internships at big tech corporations so they can gain valuable experience, enhance their resumes and find employment more easily after graduation.

Many of the tens of thousands of members of an online community group catering to Vietnamese overseas students and IT professionals in the United States have posted their resumes in the hope of being referred to high-profile technology firms for internships.

One member of the group, who wishes to remain unnamed, has been hunting for an internship since last October, and another candidate had applied to more than 200 companies but has not had any luck so far.

Vu predicted that in early 2023, a qualified candidate would have only 3-5 interview opportunities with companies, down from 10-20 in prior years.

Amid the mass layoffs that are rippling through big tech, an online community of Vietnamese professionals employed in IT and HR in the United States has been working together for the past few months to assist overseas Vietnamese students in the areas of internship placement, resume critiques, and practice interviews.

Vu says he has successfully guided over 30 international students to navigate the competitive job market to land a job in America.

Despite the dire situation, several of those who were laid off have already found new jobs. In some cases, they are making twice as much as before. The door is about to close, but it's never too late to open it, he said. After being laid off, several of them were able to find new employment within three months.

"Though the window of opportunity is narrow, it's never too late to try," Vu said.

Duong Linh, CEO of Career Pass Institute in America, said that despite the cutbacks in the tech industry, there are still opportunities.

He stressed that candidates should equip themselves with new skills, professional relationship networks, and an optimistic and confident mindset.

In light of the shortage of internship opportunities at large technology companies, many Vietnamese experts said international students should look at small and medium-sized businesses along with tech giants.

They also advised international students in their last year of university to look into L1, a nonimmigrant and intra-company transfer U.S. visa. It allows a U.S. company to transfer a key employee from one of its offices in another country into America after working abroad for one year.

Vu suggests job-seekers seek out seasoned consultants and advisors who can assist them in polishing their interview skills.

According to Linh, it is important for job seekers to understand what is expected of them by potential employers.

"Many candidates make every effort to show off their skills but don't succeed because they still lack certain niche skills that employers are looking for," he said.

Potential employees can learn more about the positions available and tailor their applications to these jobs by reaching out to Vietnamese friends and communities already employed there, Linh added.

During the last few days of January, Huy Anh received 11 internship acceptance letters from companies including Netflix, TikTok, Snap Inc., Amazon, Dropbox, Flatiron Health, ZipRecruiter, Klaviyo, and Klaviyo.

He added that small organizations spend less time screening resumes and are less selective about candidates. He recommends others do the same. He urges job-seekers to network with current or former employees of organizations they are interested in applying to.

Linh also pointed out that there hasn't been much of a change to the hiring procedure over the past few years, so applicants should hone traditional skills.

He has an impressive academic GPA, but he has also taken the time to practice his interview skills, learn about databases and algorithms, and spend lots of hours practicing mock programming questions.

As for Bui Thuy, she continues to apply to different organizations and checks the hiring progress of those to whom she has already applied.

"Even though there is an invitation for an internship, I'm not sure if it will be revoked, given the continuously changing environment," she remarked.

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