Lose and find a new job in the US when you own a H1-B visa

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The year 2023 started quite abruptly in terms of the job market. As you may already know, many companies did significant budget-based layoffs, especially in the United States. Vistaprint (the company I had been working for almost 5 years which belongs to the Cimpress group) was part it. Unfortunately, I was part of the last wave of layoffs.

While the numbers had been down for a few months, the SEO channel was performing well. My manager informed me at least a bit before the official announcement, but it was still quite a shock. In less than 3 months, I went from a situation where I was “preparing my use case for a promotion” to “you’ll have to leave due to a budget cut.”

The purpose of this article is to share my experience regarding re-finding a new job in the U.S. territory while holding a valid H1B visa. I hope my story will inspire people who have found themselves in a similar situation.

Negotiating your layoff with an H1B visa

When I learned about my layoff, I also knew I would receive a severance package (meaning the company would provide several months of salary due to my history and position). After negotiating a slightly higher severance payment, two choices were available to me for receiving it.

  • Either I would receive the amount on my last day of work, or
  • I would continue to receive my normal salary on the company’s payroll every two weeks until the severance package was fully paid.

When you hold an H1B visa, the first thing to know is that you have 60 days to find a new job once the company notifies the government that you’ve lost your job. After that, the government considers that you should leave the country (or you can stay as a tourist, but your H1B visa gets canceled). Two months isn’t very long, even in the U.S. Additionally, keep in mind that you can’t work as a freelance or accept temporary contracts (which is frustrating since there are many good offers in the US market). You must find a full-time job at a company willing to sponsor your visa.

Naturally, I chose the second option during for the layoff. As a result, my official departure was announced a few months later, significantly extending the time needed to find a new job (more than 5 months instead of 2 – which makes a big difference when you own a H1-B visa), giving me some breathing room and the ability to prepare for what comes next more calmly.

As a visa owner, I felt like I had a timer on the top of my head to find a full-time job, which may the whole process a bit more stressful than a regular job search. Before starting for a new job, I also wanted to outline the various possible possibilities:

Scenario 1: I find a new job within 5 months with a company willing to sponsor my H1B visa.

Scenario 2: I can’t find a new job within 5 months and must return to Canada.

The second scenario required doing some researches about the conditions of returning Canada. How much would it cost to move everything? Where would we live upon arrival, considering I can’t reclaim my apartment and evict my tenant without giving them 6 months notice? In short, a far-from-ideal scenario, but I believe it’s always better to plan for the worst and then being a bit more prepared (at least mentally and financially).

Updating your resume in the US format

Even before my last day of work, I looked into my CV. It needed refresh and adjustments in format to make it “easy to scan” for US recruiters. As part of my severance package, my former company provided me access to a professional coach through TransitionSolution services.

At first, I was skeptical about the effectiveness of such a service, which aimed to assist in the transition between jobs. However, in the end, Donna proved me wrong and was incredibly helpful in perfecting my job search and maximizing my efficiency in many aspects. Many thanks to her for her professionalism! She was fantastic, guided and supported me as best as possible during my job search (and believe me, it’s not easy to stay highly motivated every day when you’re in this situation).

The resume was then the 1st thing I updated as I was going to apply to a large number of job offers (in the end, after counting, I applied to more than 90 job offers online within 2 months).

Summary of major changes made to my resume:

  • Revamp the introductory paragraph sharing who I am, what I do, and what I’m seeking to do, using the right terms (meaning, keywords that resonate with the recruiter and allow them to quickly determine if you may fit the role).
  • Illustrate this paragraph with a visual summary of specific skills (in my case, I chose to create a small table with Technical SEO / Analytics for SEO / Tools).
  • Reduce the resume’s length to two pages instead of three.
  • Provide details about my responsibilities and especially achievements (with impact) in my most recent experiences (it’s important for the resume to be more detailed than the LinkedIn profile).
  • Remove details about very old experiences (at least those that wouldn’t add any value).
  • Conclude the resume with the “Education / Certifications” and “Pro / Personal Interests” sections. Limit the list of interests (and admit that recruiters don’t care if you love traveling or photography).

You can download my resume here in Word format if you’re curious, but here’s how the top of the first page evolved between the old and new versions:

The old version
The new resume

Spoiler alert: I received more responses with the new version than the old one.

Before jumping into the job search details, another thing I wanted to do was publicly announce my job loss, current status, and what I was seeking. I took the time to craft a personalized message on my LinkedIn profile. Being fully transparent about my new situation marked the beginning of numerous opportunities, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of reactions and shares the message triggered (I also received several private messages from people I know who clearly wanted to help me).

It took me 2 months to find a new job. In those 2 months, I applied to more than 90 job offers in my field. Prior to this, I made sure to update my LinkedIn contacts (meaning, I added several people I had worked with over the past 5 years with whom I had a good collaboration).

In my job search, I used several approaches (keep in mind that having an H1B visa complicates things a bit):

Applying to a job offer without using professional networking

The process is simple: you see a job offer posted online, you apply by entering some information in a form, attach your updated resume, and wait. It should be quick, and don’t bother writing a cover letter – recruiters don’t care about it at all.

These systems that HR teams use for recruiting looks completely broken to me. If you don’t have specific keywords in your resume, your application might be quickly rejected by the system (like 5 minutes after you applied). If you mistakenly mention your visa upfront (even though you’re authorized to work in the US), there’s a good chance your application will be rejected too. You might also get “ghosted” because your application fell into a black hole (or sometimes the position simply doesn’t exist anymore). And finally, the famous generic automated response that hits you without you knowing why.

That being said, you might occasionally get lucky and a company executive who noticed that you’re job hunting might contact you via a LinkedIn InMail.

Response rate: 2% or less (even if you include an optional cover letter).

Contact headhunters

This is another option I explored in my job search. People shared 2-3 names with me but nothing very concrete came out of it. I got the sense that this approach is more promising if you have a highly technical profile (engineer, developer, etc.), as their platforms have many offerings in these fields.

In the realm of Web Marketing / Analytics, I explored three platforms related to headhunters / talent placement: Creative Circle, Market Search, and Mondo.com. I received very few responses or interesting offers through headhunters. However, when there was a good match, I received quick follow-ups, and generally within 4-5 days, I could find out if my profile was a good fit with the offered position.

I also tried directly contacting headhunters, but they usually redirected me back to their platform.

Response rate: 50% (100% if you apply to an offer on their platform, but there were just a few in my case).

Applying to job offers and leveraging your professional network to connect with someone internally

The third approach involves leveraging your professional network to obtain a referral from one of your contacts with someone already working for the company you’re applying to. This is THE best way to search for a new job. It requires a fair amount of time, effort to reconnect with your former relationships (in the most personalized possible way), but it works!

Here’s how it works in a few words:

  1. I apply to a job offer online as usual.
  2. I use LinkedIn to find first-level contacts who know people working in this company.
  3. I write a message to my contact, kindly asking if they could introduce me to a person working at Company X, as I’ve seen a job offer where my profile may be a great fit (of course, I start my message by catching up and explaining my situation).
  4. If the person wants to help, they’ll usually create a LinkedIn group message including you to make a small introduction to the person you ultimately want to connect with (or sometimes just have a conversation with that person and give you the “green light” to contact them via LinkedIn/email).

This approach was simply the best for me (I know I already said it). It’s also a good way to see if your former professional contacts truly want to help you by investing some of their time.

Response rate: over 80%.

Sending unsolicited applications and making your situation known to key contacts

Another approach I used is to look at companies that seem appealing to me in the region where I live (in my case, analyzing which companies are based around Boston).

From there, I took two different approaches: Reconnect with a friendly former colleague working in that company (even if there’s no job offer on their site) and let them know my situation.

Contact people from online services / tools that I’ve used in the past and ask if any of their clients might be interested in a profile like mine.

This approach may sound direct, but it works as long as you have a great relationship with these contacts. Of course, there’s no guarantee in the end, but it’s a good way to get noticed in the market.

Response rate: 100%.

In the end, keep in mind that as many people as possible should be aware of your current situation, potentially bringing opportunities to your attention. Don’t assume that a long message on LinkedIn is enough (even if it’s read by 400 people and generates over 200 reactions and comments).

A few additional details that helped me between jobs in the U.S.

At what frequency should I follow-up with someone?

I contacted numerous people in my professional network. Naturally, the time between each response varied greatly. So, I wondered how often I could follow up with them. Not too soon, as it might come across as desperate, but not too long, as with a H1B visa, I don’t have the eternity to find a job.

In the end, I gave myself 10 business days before following up with a contact if I hadn’t received a response, and it worked very well (I even had people thanking me for sending them a reminder).

Do you have a template to share for managing my job search?

I created a Google Sheet to track my daily job search. Nothing exceptional, but if you’d like to use it, you can access it through this link.

Simple, but very useful

Which platforms to use for job search?

LinkedIn remains the best option in the U.S. for job hunting. It’s where I found the most opportunities. Additionally, the very useful SEOjobs.com in my field, as well as VentureFizz are good options if you’re in the Boston area. Regardless, always double-check that the offer is indeed on the employer’s site. It might sound silly, but I got caught a couple of times this way with fake offers.

On the other hand, I do not recommend using two platforms: Google (yes, it’s not always relevant, with many expired offers and fewer options than on LinkedIn) and Geebo.com (a sketchy platform with lots of expired or dead-end offers).

Thanking the person you spoke with during an interview

A small habit I almost forgot. Every time I had a call with someone for a job I applied to, I made sure to send them a thank-you email the next day, mentioning a point/topic we discussed that I enjoyed the most.

Find the right time to mention the H1B visa

Originally, I mentioned my H1B visa at the end of the interview with the recruiter, indicating that I held a valid H1B visa, which means I had the right to work on U.S. territory and it just required a transfer. Experience showed me that I was wrong doing this (you wouldn’t believe the number of recruiters who freeze when you mention a visa as it looks like it will give them more work to do).

I decided then not to mention this unless being asked. Immediately, this made interviews smoother. In fact, the company that hired me only asked about it in the final interview. The person understood that I already had a visa and there was no uncertainty, just a H1-B visa transfer to be done (meaning paying a lawyer a few hours and around $2000 to the U.S. government).

This amount isn’t huge, even for a small company. I have proof that certain companies make the effort to seek talent that fits the company rather than immediately eliminating people with a visa.

Transfer your H1-B visa with your new employer

When the offer is signed, the most important thing is to reassure your employer about the conditions of transferring the H1-B visa. By researching a bit, you can provide an estimate of the time needed and the fees (between 2 and 3 weeks for the transfer).

Another thing I recommend: don’t hesitate to ask the law firm from your former company if they can take over the case. They need to request permission from your former employer to take on a new client (ethics requires this), but generally, there’s no issue. As they already have your history, the transfer will be much faster than going through a new firm.

In the End, it took less than a month to transfer my H1-B visa to the new company I am working for. Thank you Intrepid Digital and Jeremy, I am grateful to be part of the team. It’s the beginning of a new adventure for me.