Corporate America is just a big ol’ competition. To secure a decent job, you have to be the best of the best. You are expected to be a 4.0 student, have exceptional hours of community service, play sports, previous experience, a life and, oh yea, a great personality. Evidently, nobody wants to hire a weirdo with no people skills. For many, that’s all they need to worry about. Others, however, have to stomach other impediments beyond their control like being an international student, disable, black, Hispanic, woman and Muslim.
Last week, I had the pleasure to interview Kowther Hussein, who is a good friend of mine. Hussain’s experience in job search has been a challenging one and her story is one I hope inspires standing up for what you are passionate about and having faith. You can read the interview below.
Tell me about yourself and your career goals.
My name is Kowther and I am from Somalia. I was born in Kenya and moved to Dubai when I was 5. I spent about 14 years in Dubai before I finally moved to the States. Right now, I am attending Prairie View A&M University in Texas for my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. I plan to pursue a PhD and eventually starting up an energy company in Somalia because we don’t have any there. All our energy products are imported and it would be nice to have something of our own. Right after college, I plan to get a job so that I can support my family and gain some industry experience before embarking on the rest of my future plans.
Why did you choose engineering?
I didn’t have much of a choice. It was either becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer in my family. I chose engineering because I liked math and consider myself a critical thinker. I understand things fast.
What obstacles have you faced trying to secure an internship/ job as a student?
Well, I have realized that there are three things against me. I am a woman. I am black. And I wear a hijab. Those are the three biggest things I have prepared myself for whenever I attend career fairs and conferences, especially with everything going on right now in America. I know that when people see me, the first thing that pops into their head is not that I am an engineer, rather, it’s the fact that I am a Black Muslim girl. I have come to terms with that and I try to portray myself as an outgoing and relatable person. I had done all I can to make sure the things that I can change are perfect. I have maintained a decent GPA, gotten involved on campus, gone through countless resume critiques, adjusted my personality but to no avail. Often times, I have had great conversation with recruiters in hopes that I will get a call back, but I never get one.
Since I was not getting any luck at career fairs with the great resume and personality I had, the only thing that could be the problem is my scarf. It got to the point where my family advised against wearing my hijab to career fairs so that I could get a job before I graduated. My cousin who was in a similar situation at a different school, took off her hijab and in that same conference she was able to secure a position with Valero.
What did you do?
I thought about it a lot but I am very strong headed about my beliefs. I have my personal reasons for wearing my hijab. It is part of who I am. I grew up in a country were wearing a hijab was accepted so I never had insecurities about my appearance. I always thought to myself, if I had to compromise my religion to secure a job, I didn’t want the job. I even thought about just becoming a teacher if I wasn’t successful. I knew there had to be another way. So I changed my career fair approach. I sent in my resume to all the companies’ way before the conference and got interviews scheduled before anybody saw who I was. The first time I did that, I secured a position as an engineering intern at Boeing’s research and development division in South Carolina and have been asked to come back next summer.
Any advice to job seekers that are in similar situations?
My advice to everyone is to find something you belief in and stick to it. If you are in a similar situation, just remember God has his own plans and will never leave you alone. The strong beliefs instilled in me when I was a kid, definitely helped me through this situation. Now I have a job and never had to compromise my beliefs.