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After over 500 job interviews spanning two years in the US and a year working at Uber in Los Angeles, 25-year-old Michelle Perdana moved back to Indonesia and is now one of the youngest managers in her department at Gojek. The Incubation and Experimentation Lead at the unicorn start-up shows us that sheer determination and incredible resilience can bring you to greater heights.
As a young student, Michelle has always been ambitious and purposeful in her goals. The University of Southern California (USC) was her dream school because it offers a business-oriented curriculum, and she likes that “it teaches you to be leaders”.
After graduating from USC, Michelle was determined to get a job in the US. She believes that her first employer will set the bar for her career, and jobs that follow after build on it. “My big aspiration was to work in companies that my parents don't have to google to know what they are,” she says.
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She started working at CBS Corporation as a financial analyst before moving to Ernst & Young as a summer associate. In the end, she decided to apply for positions in tech companies as the US is the epicentre for start-up tech firms. She adds, “Very few Indonesians from USC were trying for tech companies as most think it is impossible to get in, and I think that also drives me – to push myself and prove that it is possible [to get into a tech firm] with a lot of effort.”
Eventually, the journey that landed her in Uber was filled with roadblocks and disappointments.
“Being an international student, it was challenging for me to get a job. I was fixing my resume every day and talking to my professors for recommendations. It was a lot of hard work,” Michelle relates.
If you plan to stay longer in the new country, you should invest in skills that would propel your career
“Unlike most of my friends who focused on getting hired at big consulting firms, I applied to smaller companies. Unfortunately, sponsoring work visas for international students was a foreign concept to them. There were instances where I would arrive at a company for my first day of work only to be asked to leave because I was an international student, even though I had previously indicated that factor when I applied.”
Even though getting rejected initially made her more resilient, the amount of rejection she experienced left her demoralised, stressed out and saddened. It didn’t help that Michelle was pretty much alone in the States. She was in a foreign country, far away from her loved ones, and the friends around her were too busy looking for jobs to be able to offer her the support she needed. Michelle's parents didn’t pressure her to get a job, but she wasn't ready to give up yet.
One fine day, Michelle came across a life hack video by Sequoia Capital about focusing on the actionable. The advice from the video inspired her to rise above disappointments, and she shifted her focus from dwelling on sadness to concentrating on what she can do to improve her situation.
When Michelle got accepted into Uber, she was the youngest on the team, the only female and a foreigner. “I had imposter syndrome because everyone was so seasoned and spoke the native language.” Ultimately, she fought through her insecurities and became one of the top performers in the team.
Her time in the States had made her more comfortable and confident in her opinions. “Working in the States has taught me that having an opinion and being a leader is important – and it doesn't matter how young or old you are, because everyone brings a different perspective. At the end of the day, more heads are better than one, and it is always great to have a melting pot of different opinions.”
With a lean team at Uber, Michelle also learned to be proactive and take ownership of her work. “That taught me to bring my whole self to work. And that I shouldn't just follow my superior's instructions when working on a project. I should, if I can, help develop the project further. If you simply follow the instructions provided, then why should your bosses choose you over someone else? You should be outstanding and not just a regular contributor.”
Being away from home wasn't easy for Michelle, and she flew back to visit her family in Indonesia twice a year. When the time came for Michelle to renew her work visa in the US, she decided to look for a role in Indonesia.
“I was at crossroads. While the money is great, I also know that I want to, at some point, contribute my skills to my home country. My family is my top priority, and they are in Indonesia. Not to mention, my closest friends are also Indonesians. And I realised I don't want to stay in the US for another three to four years away from them.”
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No matter where you are, how you work plays a part in your success in your career. While some might advocate keeping personal lives separate from their professional self, Michelle believes that bringing your whole self to your job allows you to do your job to the best of your abilities.
Although being bilingual gave Michelle an advantage, the primary language for the professional work environment in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesian, and she was not used to speaking the language.
The pace in Indonesia was also different. In the States, she was used to packing her schedule with meeting after meeting to leave early or on time. “I would squeeze in as many meetings as possible because I lived pretty far away from the Uber office. At Gojek, meetings are more spread out through the day, and the hours tend to stretch a bit.”
Besides working styles, Michelle strongly believes that you need to step out of your comfort zone and adapt to the new work environment. “It is normal for human beings to complain, but after you are done letting off steam, you should focus on ways to make the transition to a new work culture smoother,” she explains.
Michelle took up a lot of courses to keep up with the demands of the workforce in Indonesia. “If you plan to stay longer in the new country, you should invest in skills that would propel your career. So my advice to anyone looking to move back to work in their home countries is to upgrade their skills, be more open to challenges, and learn to adapt.”
Planning to return home? Find out how Michael Page’s Membangun Negeri campaign can help you look for a new job opportunity and facilitate your move back to Indonesia.
Read more:Membangun Negeri: Thriving as a woman in tech in LampungMembangun Negeri: Joining the vibrant start-up culture back homeMembangun Negeri: Bringing the US culture back to a booming Indonesia
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