Living primarily on the West coast, I always wanted to see how different the East coast would be. My chance finally came in October, 2013 when Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers (SASE) hosted their annual National Conference in Philadelphia, PA. The conference consisted of a series of workshops and inspirational talks intended to prepare students of Asian heritage for industry.
SASE is a student organization that aims to provide effective and insightful professional development for students. I happen to know many executive members of SASE UCSD Chapter, explaining my participation in this event. I learned a great deal from wonderful speakers who pointed out seemingly trivial matters in Asian cultures that could put Asian professionals at a disadvantage.
Flying to PA
Excited, I booked an afternoon South West flight to Philadelphia International Airport. It was an interesting experience because never before was I so close to missing a flight. The night before my flight, South West blasted out an email notifying a delay in departure time to 1:40 PM. Relieved, I decided to attend to attend my 10 AM lecture and leave at 11 AM. While listening to old Dr. Parr talking about kinematics and Newton’s laws, I received another email notification from South West; the departure time was switched back to 12:10 PM. I dashed out of class and called a cab. Little did I know cabs could take as long as 30 minutes to reach you (they only took 7 in where I came from). Panicked, I decided to just drive and pay for parking at San Diego airport. I boarded a minute before the plane took off… Travel tip: be at the airport an hour before the time printed on your official ticket. That way you would never miss your flight. Also, relying on cabs on the last minute is a really, really bad idea!
I spent 2 days in Philadelphia: one for the workshops, the other for a career fair. I went to a lot of workshops, but that of Dr. Vu Pham was the most helpful. A veteran in professional development, Dr. Pham pointed out many practices in Asian cultures that should be avoided. For instance, many Asians tend to apologize too frequently. Dr. Pham explained that in some Asian cultures, apology was meant to be a polite gesture or to show respect. “If you apologize for doing nothing wrong, you will lose credibility. What happens when you have no credibility? No one expects you to be the leader. As a matter of fact, no one wants you to be the leader”, Dr. Pham argued.
He then discussed how the most trivial gestures could significantly affect how others perceive you. Who would have thought the font you use in your emails could give hints about your personalities and level of professionalism. He suggested to use “Serif” family fonts to enhance your professionalism, since not only “San Serif” family fonts are more casual, they are also harder to read.
When you are on a job hunt, you cannot afford to make a single negative impression, thus being open-minded and paying attention to nit-picky things will only improve your chances: I had a surprise interview with General Electrics (GE) on the second day of the conference!
The event was a nice weekend getaway as well as a wonderful opportunity for me to sharpen my soft skills. I now pay more attention to subtle body language and gestures that better express my maturity and professionalism.