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Getting a Job in America – A UC Berkeley Spouse from Portugal Shares Her Story


Patricia is an international spouse from Portugal who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. In this interview, Patricia talks about getting a job and describes what it has been like for her to work for an American company.

Briefly describe who you are, where you’re from, why you’re here and for how long, and what your professional background was before you came to the U.S.

I’m Patricia from Portugal and I’ve been living in Berkeley for 1 year and 7 months. Before I lived and worked in Barcelona for a licensing company for over 3 years in the Product Development Department. I decided to move to USA together with my husband when he got the chance to do his post-doc at UC Berkeley. We both thought it was a great opportunity in a great university we couldn’t say no. At the same time it was a tough decision to leave all friends and family behind but when you travel together with someone you love everything is just easier. We initially came for 1 year and decided to take advantage of everything to make this experience very valuable for both of us.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am currently working as Project Marketing Manager at a confectionary company in the Bay Area. I’ve been there for a year and a half and fortunately I can tell this has been a great true to life American experience. I’m essentially responsible for new product development, social media and launch of online campaigns.  Since I’m the only foreigner working at the corporate office, this experience has been a real challenge and is helping me grow as a professional.

How did you find this job and how long did it take? (i.e. What methods did you use to conduct your job search? Which were the most effective? Least effective?)

Even before getting my work permit which took about 2 months, I start looking for jobs. I tried not to be too narrow on my search as I knew I was in disadvantage comparing with an American native. Unfortunately we all know companies try to invest on their employees to keep them as long as possible and for non residents this may be the biggest obstacle. Here we are temporary employees waiting for someone to give us a chance to prove what we professionally capable of. From my experience applying to offers through recruiting agencies was more effective than directly to the companies. Surprisingly it wasn’t me finding the job but the recruiting agency finding my resume online.  It took me over 2 months to find this job. Besides applying for existing offers, I also did spontaneous applications. It is important to adapt your CV to the standard resume. Talking with career centers or even asking American friends/colleagues for advice will help you get your resume done.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

Now I understand how important it is to mention you’re authorized to work in the USA on your resume to keep you on the candidate’s selection, since it’s very unlikely that a company will sponsor a working visa.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

Essentially you have to be honest and try to best communicate your international experience. It took me lot of interviews to gain experience and confidence on myself so I was able to mention the highlights from my previous experiences. It takes time for us to understand how things work so you better go to as many interviews as you can even if they don’t perfectly match with your profile.  Additionally, here interviewees perform in a very different way – you have to be really self confident on your statements. Takes a lot of work even more when you’re not used to act like that but that’s how it works here.  Having worked with other international companies around the world (including USA) had helped me on my application. At the end it wasn’t the first time I was contacting with this market. 

What have you learned about the American workplace from your experience at your job?

Here I found a more organized, responsible and proactive environment when compared with the European companies I’ve worked for. It’s also a very competitive workplace, even internally, which motivates you give your best. There’s no time to stop – time is money! A quick lunch or even a meeting/lunch is quite common and help you keep moving. Also there’s a great sense of punctuality so you better watch the clock.

In order for you to be successful in your organization, what is necessary? (i.e. what qualities/skills does your employer value?)

In my case you need lot of good communication skills to be able to present your proposals and convince your colleagues of a great idea. A lot of planning, proactivity, attention to detail and organization mixed with politeness are also very important skills for my position.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.?

Immediately apply for the work permit and start looking for jobs when you get to USA as it may take longer than expected, post your resume in LinkedIn as well as the different job search websites as Monster or Career Building, let people know you’re actively looking for a job and organize yourself with a daily plan for your job search. If you try hard, one day you’ll make it.