Job Search Tips for International Students

JOB SEARCH TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

For many international students, the goal is to obtain a job in the U.S. upon graduation. This can be a challenge since international students need work authorization in order to be hired in the U.S. and there are a limited number of H-1B visas that are issued every year. As an international student, you may face a few additional hurdles during your job search process that U.S. citizens or permanent residents are able to avoid. But by doing the necessary work to clear these hurdles, you will greatly increase your chances of landing one of these positions.

HURDLE #1: WORK AUTHORIZATION

Work authorization is the primary hurdle facing international students who want to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation. It’s not always clear which companies will sponsor H-1B visas and which ones won’t, and it can be an awkward conversation to have with a recruiter or hiring manager. So what can you do?

At the beginning of your job search, do some research on companies that tend to sponsor H-1B visas. A couple of resources you can use:

Going Global (login through the Center for Career Education)
H1 Visa Jobs online

  • Know the details of your visa status and the work permissions associated with your visa so that you will be able to answer any questions an employer has.
  • If an employer asks about your work authorization status, answer confidently and knowledgeably. But don’t let your visa be the focal point of your interview. You want the interviewer to focus on your skills and value as a potential employee. You don’t want the interviewer to come away from the interview thinking it will be a major hassle to hire and sponsor you.
  • If you are interested in a company but are unsure whether they sponsor H-1B visas, don’t let that be the first question you ask them. Employers want to know that you are interested in the company and the work being done there, not just the fact that they will sponsor a work visa. Demonstrate your interest in the position and your qualifications during the first conversation, and bring up the visa issue in a subsequent conversation.

The International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) is your best resource on campus for your current visa rules and regulations. Some helpful links:

OPT for F-1 students
CPT for F-1 students
Work Opportunities for J-1 Students
Academic Training Authorization for J-1 Students

HURDLE #2: COMMUNICATION SKILLS

If you plan to look for a job in the US after graduation, it is imperative that you feel comfortable communicating in English. If you feel like your English is shaky, there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your language skills and become a more confident English speaker:

  • Get out of your comfort zone! It is tempting to hang out only with other students who are from your own country and speak whichever language you are most comfortable with. Language skills take practice, so make a conscious effort to spend time conversing with native English speakers.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up in class or give a presentation. These are great opportunities to practice your communication skills.
  • Read books or watch TV shows or movies in English. This will help you in two ways: it will improve your language skills by listening to English spoken by native speakers, and it will give you some popular culture references to bridge some cultural gaps that you may experience. Plus, these are fun activities that will give you a little break from school work!
  • Apply for tutoring jobs or instructional assistant positions. This is a great way to practice explaining things in English succinctly and clearly.
  • Take an English language class. Some local options can be found in the links below.

American Language Program @ Columbia

International English Language Institute @ Hunter

4 Free Tools to Help International Students Improve English Skills

HURDLE #3: CULTURAL DIFFERENCES & EXPECTATIONS IN THE JOB SEARCH PROCESS

American employers may expect their employees to present and comport themselves differently than employers elsewhere, since the behaviors that employers value tend to vary from country to country. Generally, American employers expect you as a potential employee to:

  • Be punctual. When an employer tells you to be somewhere at a certain time, be there at that time or even a few minutes early. Employers are busy and should not have to wait for you to arrive!
  • Be well-groomed. The tech industry tends to run casual, but you should still look polished for your interview. Stick to business casual dress (or suits for banking/finance firms), keep your hair neat and clean, avoid strong colognes or body washes, and be sure to shower before your interview!
  • Have a good, strong handshake.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Communicate your goals confidently. Be prepared to answer questions about where you see yourself in a few years.
  • Admit your own weaknesses and thoughtfully examine how to improve on them.
  • FOLLOW UP! You may be nervous to e-mail or call an employer after an interview for fear of seeming pushy or aggressive. But employers in the U.S. view the follow-up as a sign of your enthusiasm and interest in the position. At minimum, a quick e-mail thanking them for the interview is expected, and it is OK to ask for a timeline of when you can expect a decision.

It is illegal for employers in the U.S. to ask you about:

  • Your visa type
  • Gender or sexuality
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Age
  • Disabilities
  • Religion
  • Marital status

THE GOOD NEWS

It’s important to focus on the positives and not get bogged down in the difficult aspects of the job search. Despite the hurdles listed above, there are some advantages to being an international student.  In this ever more global economy, employers value bilingual employees who have experience in other countries. You can also use your experience of moving to another country to stress your flexibility, adaptability, independence, and resourcefulness: all characteristics that employers value!