American Employers in Asian Markets: What Asian Students Need to Know Before Choosing an American University to Work in Asia

American Employers in Asian Markets: What Asian Students Need to Know Before Choosing an American University to Work in Asia

Asians now more than ever need to obtain a degree from a top US university to be considered for the best jobs with American employers in their very own home countries. In the main Asian markets of Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, sometimes even graduating from the best local universities is not enough. Why has this trend drastically increased in the last decade? There are many reasons, but the ultimate answer is very simple: because people that are interviewing and employing you have done so, too.

Many of these foreign employers and their Asian employees have attained degrees in the US. The reality in Asia today is that competitive candidates in the high-end services industries (consultants, attorneys, business and so on), need to demonstrate a strong “East-West” profile.  These job candidates need to demonstrate that they are equally able to deal with the local clients in their country and with the English/American superiors (the “boss”) in their jobs, as well as other foreign clients. This demand for a mixed profile results in a new trend in the last decades for a flooding of Asian students going to the US to study.

The bad news is that although there are dozens of US universities that can teach you what you need to know for your career, there are only a few that your future employers will actually like. There is only about ten universities that are recognized by top American employers in Asia, and there is only about six that will guarantee you not getting your resume dismissed in two seconds-of course a job is never guaranteed in today’s market.

The largest of these “employer-employee” clubs are Columbia and New York University (NYU). In a world flooded with Hollywood movies, it is not difficult to see why every single person in the world thinks that New York is the capital of the world and that everything that is amazing happens there. Even if the reality is that New Yorkers are overworked, overstressed, and they live inside their offices, all of this is still not enough to dissuade people from chasing a fantasy life in the world’s biggest urban jungle. The Columbia-NYU gang in Asia is the strongest and most numerous. They usually hold themselves to be business savvy and cosmopolitan—they lived in Manhattan and thus they know best.  Many of these Columbia-NYU employers are very “loyal” to hiring other fellow alumni, if anything because they think all others US universities are beneath their caliber—unless they went to the next university.

Yes, you guessed right: Harvard. The club of all clubs. People that are in it, love it; people that are not, hate it. Some people even define part of their “lifestyle” based on the fact that they attended this “master university." Indeed, for many, Harvard is the only good reason to attend graduate school outside of New York. At conferences it is not uncommon to identify Harvard alumni, if anything because they give you their Harvard business cards unless they have a job business card that expresses “absolute success." While the Harvard crowd has respect for the other top ten US universities, deep in their hearts they will always think that if you didn’t go to Harvard you only did “okay.”

If there is one place outside of Asia that Asians love is California. California people are among the most loyal to their own. The Stanford-Berkley alumni group is numerous and strong in Asia. Although Berkley is well recognized, it does not match the greatness of the other three universities previously mentioned. However, Stanford is by now at equals with Harvard (Stanford = Harvard.v2). Stanford is probably the best choice for lifestyle, education and recognition; it is essentially as good as Harvard, but with an amazing weather. American employers will think highly of you across Asia if you come from Stanford. The fact that there are plenty of Asians already in California applying to these universities means the chances of acceptance are incredibly low

The remaining top universities are still “very good," but they are not “memorable." This means employers will know about them, but they will not give your resume the instant “checkmark of greatness” that the other universities mentioned above will. The other top US universities don’t have strong alumni groups in Asia either. The Yale people are just too few in numbers.The rest of the top universities such as Duke, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Georgetown, the other Ivy League Schools and so on, still look good on a resume. However, in a typical situation where the person interviewing you is the Asian employee of the American boss, that person might not be so knowledgeable about US universities and they would not necessarily associate “greatness” with any of these schools even if they are great in the US.

The last category is all other US universities. Any American university that is not at least top ten is almost guaranteed to put you in the “you have a generic US degree” category. American employers in Asia would still recognize that you went abroad to study and learn about “western culture,” but not much more than that.  In the end, when you return to Asia the value of your degree is much less compared to the other top universities and so might be your future career prospects.

Thus, Asian students choosing an American university need to strongly consider that there are only a handful of universities that will “connect” them with great American employers in Asia. Asian students should still be mindful of the financial aid package of each university, since this can be a big life changing decision in your future finances considering the enormous cost of American universities. Last, if your guanxi and connections are strong in your own home country then there is no need to worry about the prestige of the university you attend since you will likely be known by other things than your academic background. However, for the rest of Asian students that are not “connected" and come from humble backgrounds, American employers in Asia are only looking at a handful of universities because those are the ones they know and trust.

(This article was originally published on The News Lens Taiwan Edition on 1/17/2014.)

Edited by Olivia Yang