By Paula Chiamulera Böhler, Guest Writer
The search for internships and jobs in general is an arduous task for any young professional, but an even harder one for international students such as myself and many of my peers at Thunderbird. Nonresident aliens (yes, that is the technical name given to foreigners under U.S. law) that come to the United States with a student visa can only work in the country under very specific circumstances that result in additional costs to employers. For this reason, there are very few companies in the market that are willing and able to sponsor the work permit required for international students. In other words, international students get the short end of the stick when it comes to jobs and internships. But why am I telling you all this? So that you understand the situation I was in during my very long internship search. It took a lot of work, perseverance and many rejections until I was able to find an internship that was the perfect fit for me in a company accepting of my visa status.
This company is called Badger Maps, a technology startup firm that developed a routing application for field sales that is now commercialized in all major application stores such as Google Play and the AppStore. Badger Maps is a vibrant young organization composed of an engineering team, responsible for product development and software enhancement, a customer success team and a sales team. As a Sales and Business Development intern, I was a part of Badger Maps’ sales team and was responsible for establishing and maintaining customer relationships, developing new business relationships, and researching and implementing better ways to serve existing customers and expand our market.
I worked out of the company’s office in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was responsible for daily conference calls in which I either hosted a product demonstration to potential customers or offered technology and platform support to existing ones. Being that I am a native Portuguese speaker, I was also responsible for developing strategies to expand our market in Portuguese-speaking countries. With this objective in mind, I translated our website and all of our marketing materials to Portuguese and developed a marketing campaign to reach customers in Brazil and Portugal.
The majority of my role was composed of customer-facing functions which proved to be challenging at times. Constant interaction with customers requires patience, communication and interpersonal skills. Listening and actively engaging with customers are key elements in the process of building rapport and are essential for anyone who wishes to work in sales and business development. By doing so, and by actively pushing myself to learn from more experienced colleagues, I was able to overcome customer pushback and build long-lasting relationships with customers in the U.S and abroad. As a result, I personally brought in over $10,000 in monthly subscription revenues for the company by the end of my 10-week internship.
Working at Badger Maps was an incredible experience not only because of the skills I gained, but also because it gave me the opportunity to experience the youthful culture of a growing startup firm. I was given an incredible amount of freedom and trust to take on projects in different fields and to learn and develop skills I wanted to pursue further. I got to meet the CEO and founder of the company and go out to dinner with him and other colleagues. I truly felt like an important part of the company, for so much trust was bestowed upon me and my work. Startup firms are filled with potential and opportunities, and Badger Maps was no different. I loved its progressive culture, its friendly and cooperative sense of teamwork and its flexible structure. My coworkers were incredibly friendly and became great friends. They knew I was new to the city and made sure to invite me out on weekends and include me on hiking and camping trips. Badger Maps even allowed office dogs so that we could all take breaks to pet puppies whenever we were feeling stressed. It was truly a wonderful experience!
The best advice I can give to anyone looking to work in the startup industry is to be a self-starter and proactive in taking on new projects outside one’s main role. At Badger Maps, I was responsible for petitioning for new projects and ideas that I wanted to work on outside my regular functions, which required me to be engaged with the company and aware of its needs and areas for improvement. Working for a startup requires a holistic view of the company and its main procedures, and that entails a proactive and flexible approach. Get to know the product or service the startup firm is selling and be passionate about it. Embrace the smaller, family feel of the growing company and take every opportunity to grow with it.
Lastly, if you are an international student and you can relate to the reality described in the first paragraph of this article, all I can say to you is do not give up. Believe in your potential and the skills and diverse worldview you bring to the table. My biggest advice is to focus your internship or job search on companies that are open to the possibility of hiring international students. I used Handshake to make sure I was only applying for internships that accepted OPT/CPT authorizations, and Badger Maps was one of them. I was clear about my visa status during the application process and they reassured me by saying they love the different perspectives brought on by people from different parts of the world. You will hear a lot of noes before you hear a yes, but I promise the search will be worth it once you find your Badger Maps.
Paula is a second-year student in the MAGAM program.