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Memories of My Job Search as a Graduate Student in the US


I remember well when I was looking for a job in the US and I got my first job offer.

The startup extended me the offer is still in Los Angeles, and from the looks of it, it's still growing. It is in the Series B stage and has more than 50 employees. I'll call it "Company L" since I'm afraid I might get in trouble if I write its name. Let me also keep its business segment secret.

When I applied for the job the company had been in business for about two months. The number of employees was in the single digits. I received the offer and then turned it down in the end. I suddenly thought about what would have happened if I had accepted the offer.

USC Village

Startup Career Fair

I was looking for a job when I was a graduate student in Computer Science at USC (University of Southern California), but it was not easy to get a job as a software engineer. I was struggling to make ends meet.

I had a summer internship at a small startup in Los Angeles, but it wasn't much help in my job search because it was now a well-known company and the work was more research than development. The number of applications I submitted was in the triple digits, including via referrals.

Then, right around the start of 2019, I attended the USC Startup Career Fair. It was an event held on a university campus for students who wanted to join a growing company. I wasn't particularly startup-oriented, but I had failed almost every major company I applied to, so I gave it a shot.

McCarthy Quad

Tents lined up in McCarthy Quad in front of the Leavey Library. Company L's booth was located near the center. A young man introduced the company to me. I gave him my resume and asked for some information.

When I got home, I received an email saying that they would consider hiring me if I submitted an assignment to create a web application in Java, and that the sooner I completed it, the higher the rating. It also said that they would close the application process in about two weeks, so I should send it in as soon as possible.

I didn't feel motivated to do it, because it was an assignment that required me to concentrate for several hours. I had homework to do for class, and I thought it would be more efficient to send messages to strangers on LinkedIn asking them to give me referrals. However, I couldn't throw away this opportunity.

I completed the assignment in half a day, creating a database and web application environment in Docker so that I could run it locally right away, and I also wrote instructions on how to set it up in the README.

A few days after submitting the assignment, I received an email asking me to interview.


Using the address I was given, I took an Uber to the location. It was an office building in Culver City. I called the number on the email, and within a few minutes, a guy came to pick me up.

LA buildings

We walked past the security guard at the front desk and took the escalator to the floor where the shared office was located.

After waiting in the conference room for a while, three people came in and greeted me. One of them was a man from the career fair.

As soon as the introduction of the company was over, the coding interview began, focusing on understanding and discussing web applications rather than LeetCode problems. I learned from his self-introduction that he was a student at USC, had done an internship at Company L, and was planning to work here after completing the program. In other words, he was a classmate of mine.

At the end of the interview, I had a question and answer session with the CTO about the company's services and business. I asked him about the future growth of the company and what kind of team they would have in one year or three years.

The CTO walked me out of the building. He told me that he was from Belarus and had been in the US for quite a while. He told me politely that he had been to several startups and that L was the best one so far.

Communication with the CEO

About a week after the interview, I received a call from an unknown number. It was the CEO of Company L. He said that he wanted to extend me an offer and we should talk about the details over the phone. I had never met the CEO in person and didn't even know his face.

I suggested that we communicate by email instead of call. I was relieved when he replied that was fine. Phone calls with native speakers were difficult. Especially in situations like salary negotiations.

The offer was a bit lower than I had expected.

I sent an email saying, "I'd like a higher salary." He replied, "Sure."

I thought I should have asked for a higher amount if he would have agreed so quickly, but it was too late.

"Can I receive stock options or RSUs?"

"Of course"

But he didn't give me a specific number.

"By the way, I'm sorry, but would you make a decision soon? The offer will expire in two days." He said.

"Oh, could you wait for more days? I'm interviewing with another company and I'm hoping to get an offer from them as well"

"Okay, I'll ask you within three days"

As we continued this exchange, I began to feel that I would not feel happy working with him. I received a good offer from another company that I interviewed at the same time, so I decided to decline the offer from Company L.

I googled the text of rejection emails and sent it.

The Reason Why I Turned It Down. What Would Have Happened If I Hadn't Turned It Down?

Because I didn't feel comfortable with the CEO. Because the benefits were not that good. I didn't think the business would do well. I turned it down for these reasons, but what would have happened if I had accepted the offer?

I like a rapidly changing environment, so I might have wanted to change jobs within a few years of joining the company. Besides, I was tired of Los Angeles at that time and wanted to go to another city. That's part of the reason why I later accepted an offer from a company in New York City. It's not productive to think about what-ifs, so I'll end here.

The description of Company L is also different from reality in some ways. I would be grateful if you would accept this as about 50% creative.

I wrote a continuation of this article.