Pham Thien Minh applied to 800 jobs in the two months after he was fired earlier this year, describing the period as “the worst days of my 10 years living in America.”
On the morning of November 30 last year, Minh, now 29, received an email from his employers at DoorDash, the largest online food delivery company in the U.S.
The company announced that it was letting him go.
Just a day earlier, Minh was still the leader of one of the company’s finance management team.
When he received the email, Minh had already studied and worked in the finance field in the U.S. for over a decade.
He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s in data science, is a certified Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), as well as a Certified Public Accountant.
“Though the layoff wave at that time was staggering many tech firms, I still couldn’t believe my eyes. I was aware of the financial situation of the company [DoorDash], and it was good,” Minh said.
The next thing he did was call his manager, hoping the letter may have been a mistake. The manager said they were surprised by the news and promised to look into the matter.
Ten minutes later, it was confirmed that Minh was officially on the list of 1,250 staff laid off by DoorDash.
The day Minh got the email was one week before his mother was planning to visit him from Vietnam.
As an immigrant worker on an H-1B (skilled worker) visa, Minh had 60 days to get a new job or he would have to leave the country. Thanks to support from DoorDash, he received an additional 30 days to stay legally in the U.S.
The final quarter of the year is usually a hiring freeze period in the U.S., and with the layoff waves going strong, Minh felt anxious.
But he decided he did not want to leave America as a laid-off worker.
“I had no choice but to find a job as soon as possible so that I wouldn’t get kicked out of the country and leave behind everything I’ve tried to build in the U.S.,” said Minh.
He called his mother and told her to stick to the plan.
Then he made a plan for himself: If he was unable to get a job by February 2023, he would either return to Vietnam or register to study at an American university.
Minh’s strategy was to apply to as many jobs as possible in as short a time as possible.
He scoured every folder on his computer to summarize his experiences and past projects, and he also began reaching out to several old connections in his network, asking them for letters of recommendation.
For his cover letter, Minh used ChatGPT to complete it as quickly as possible.
By the afternoon of on the day he had received his lay-off email, Minh had already sent off his first application. And he then began firing off emails and applications at a rapid clip, one after another, to multiple companies across the U.S.
More than 70% of the companies he contacted refused him almost immediately, partly because Minh’s dossier included an application for H-1B visa sponsorship.
Having not many choices left, Minh decided to put aside the visa sponsorship and even applied to companies offering half the pay he was looking for.
“As manager, I used to get US$130,000 per year, but last November, I began applying for jobs that would pay me just US$70,000-80,000 per year,” he said.
During the employment crunch, many candidates like Minh who used to work as managers at big tech firms had no choice left but to accept work further down the ladder.
Over time, out of around 800 applications, Minh received nearly 60 phone calls for first round interviews.
In the U.S., companies normally recruit new employees through four rounds of interviews, and the process could last over a month.
“In the first round, the human resources department will call to ask about information in the CV. In the second round, a boss will interview you about your skills and work experience in the industry. In the third round, the company gives you a hypothetical problem to solve. Finally, in the last round, you have to present yourself as a product in front of a committee of about 4-5 people,” Minh said.
He shared that generally, the third round is the hardest.
For the hypothetical for a job he applied for at eBay, Minh had to spend 12 hours “analyzing eBay’s strategy from the next year.”
“It was a comprehensive topic which tests applicants to see how much they understand the company, e-commerce products, and how they could use their skills to solve problems,” Minh said.
By early February this year, Minh had made it to the final round at 30 companies and got his first invitation letter for a job.
Half a month later, he was working at eBay. It was two weeks before his H-1B visa expired.
A few years ago, if he had made it to the last round of interviews, Minh believes he would have almost certainly got the job. But now, his success rate was only about 20%.
Minh said that in over two months of racing against time to get a job, he tried to keep himself busy as if he still had a job, and avoid worrying too much.
“I spent most of my time in my room completing my applications and preparing for interviews. I only went out on the weekends to meet with friends and play sports.”
Aside from a “strong” CV with lots of working experience, Minh said he was “lucky enough” to find a “personal connection” between him and an interviewer.
“I failed many interviews because I couldn’t find anything in common with the interviewers. But then at eBay, the interviewer and I had a comfortable conversation about Pokémon, which is one topic eBay is planning to focus on, and thanks to that, the entire interview ran smoothly,” said Minh.
A friend of Minh’s, Nguyen Minh Phuong, who is a Product Operations Manager at Google, said: “Minh has a strong spirit and he’s tougher than many others who were also laid off without warning.
“He stayed calm and reached out for help to get any possible job opportunities he could,” said Phuong, who saw many people break down under the pressure of having to find a new job in just two months’ time.
In an article published last December, NPR said about 50,000 tech workers lost their jobs last November due to layoffs. And a lot of that workforce was made up of immigrants. A 2018 report found that more than 70% of tech workers in Silicon Valley were born in another country, according to NPR.
“Losing a job is always devastating, but for many immigrant workers on H-1B visas, their ability to stay in the U.S. is suddenly on an unforgiving ticking clock,” said the article.
Although things are better now after three months at eBay, Minh still has not quite gotten over the trauma of his first layoff.
He said that two days after his firing via email, he called his former manager at DoorDash on the phone, and the two of them talked for around 30 minutes.
The manager kept thanking Minh for his contributions and expressed regrets for not being able to keep him. Minh cried right after hanging up.
“I really loved my former job and colleagues,” Minh told VnExpress.
It was the first time he had cried since coming to the US.