5 Career Tips for New Americans

don't ask why. ask why not.

5 Career Tips for New Americans


Working with many first-generation Americans and immigrants, I often hear similar concerns when it comes to fitting in or getting ahead in the workplace. Many discuss how they fear being passed up for projects or promotions because they don’t feel as if they really fit into the rest of the office. As studies have shown, technical skill and content knowledge are not the main drivers for promotions – it’s how people relate to you and view your leadership, fit, and likability. Many new Americans or immigrants fear that cultural misunderstandings and differences make it too difficult for them to get to really know anyone and vice versa. Yet being new – whether to a country, culture, or company – can work to your advantage. Use your fresh perspective to add to the richness of the dialogue and help innovate your team.

1. Stop apologizing. Don’t apologize for being ‘different.’ Don’t apologize if your lunch box has different food than your colleagues. Don’t apologize for some awkward phrasing you might throw in there every now and then. You may be new to the U.S., but that doesn’t mean there is any shortcoming for which to apologize. New Americans and immigrants often feel like they have to apologize for being ‘different,’ which actually establishes their identity, culture, and uniqueness as being ‘less than’ or inferior.

2. Assume everyone’s strange. Instead of assuming that everyone is looking at you or treating you differently because you are different, you can safely assume that everyone (including yourself) is odd. Why? Because human beings are by nature peculiar. Whether it’s your cubicle mate who has a weird habit of stapling all his post-it notes or your boss who can’t talk to anyone without two cups of coffee with precisely two Stevia packets, viewing everyone as quirky individuals puts your quirkiness into perspective. By remembering that we all have odd habits – whether or not they have to do with our cultural upbringing – can be an important reminder that while you think others are looking at you funny, they’re thinking you’re looking at them funny. We’re all clowns.

3. Differentiate. While we all may be peculiar human beings at heart, don’t be afraid to use your uniqueness to your advantage. Perhaps your perspective coming from a different culture or having the experience of various environments can be extremely beneficial to your team’s work. Your different way of thinking, behaving, and acting can often be the catalyst for innovation and creativity, making you an indispensable member of a team. Don’t be afraid to stand out.

4. Do the watercooler thing. It isn’t always easy to be the new kid on the block. Conversations and inside jokes seem to be outside your reach. But make it a point to stop at the watercooler, the break room, the lunch room, and chat it up. If you don’t know what the folks are talking about, ask, and offer your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to step in – thoughtfully, of course. Small talk remains an important part of the American workplace, and it is through these seemingly unimportant chats about football and Real Housewives that vital information about the company or projects get passed along.

5. Volunteer. At the next staff meeting, step up and volunteer to take on a project, part of a project, or a team activity. Don’t overburden yourself, but if you can take ownership – however small – of a team-wide activity or project, it will help you to expand your network, establish yourself as a leader and team player, and allow you another way to interact and get to know your colleagues.