By Joana Scharinger, Career Consultant at Golden Gate University
The journey of an international student can pose many challenges – a possible language barrier, a new culture, limitations due to visa status – just to name a few. One of these challenges can be particularly stressful: the job search. Many international students in the U.S. want to enter the job market either through a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) internship, Optional Practical Training (OPT), or H1B sponsorship, but transitioning from student to worker can be a tough process. Whether you come from India, China, Brazil (my native country), or another part of the world, you will probably find yourself asking the same question: How can I also be competitive in an already super-competitive job market?
If you are a typical international student on a F-1 student visa, you probably have no previous work experience in the U.S. Your goal is to address that as soon as possible. What about the years of experience you had working in your own country? Unfortunately, in most cases, that is not immediately recognized by recruiters as transferable experience, so you will need to add some U.S. experience.
First, here is a bit about me. I am a Golden Gate University (GGU) alumni and former international student. While attending GGU for my Certificate in Conflict Resolution and my master’s degree in Human Resources, I was also a Student Ambassador and Student Assistant on campus. I went through campus employment, CPT, OPT, H1B visa process, and all challenges an international student usually faces. After graduation, I worked for almost five years as a staffing recruiter helping IT companies to expand their teams. In December 2017, I joined the Office of Career Planning at GGU; and now I proudly assist international students in pursuing their career dreams.
As a former international student, I wish I knew then what I know now. I am happy to pass on critical steps you should take to increase the chances of landing a job in the U.S.
- Give Yourself a Head Start
If you are deciding to go to graduate school in the U.S., there are some things to think about in addition to the course of study. For example, think about a city with good transportation because you want to interviews or work without needing a car and feeling safe. Going to school with students from your country may help you feel more integrated, and learn about the specific challenges and solutions to finding work. Some cities are more diverse and more welcoming to those outside the U.S., so that is something to keep in mind.
- Meet with a Career Counselor at Your University
As soon as your classes start, find where the Career Center is located on campus and schedule an appointment with a career counselor. Doing so during the first semester will save you a lot of time and extra pressure in the future. The career counselor will help you plan your next steps and navigate the challenges of your career path as an international student. If you are not sure what kind of field or job to pursue, a career counselor can also assist in clarifying your strengths, passions, and values, as well as help you identify skills necessary for your career success. Remember that a career counselor also can help you in every step of your career path, including preparing you to initiate the H1B visa sponsorship conversation with your employer. As a career counselor, we urge international students to put their resume in a U.S. format and create a stand-out LinkedIn profile.
You have 85% more chance of getting a job through networking than through simply applying online.
- Work on Campus
The F-1 student visa allows you to work part-time on campus, so take advantage of that opportunity! You will get the chance to experience the American work culture, practice your English-speaking skills (if relevant), develop new skills, and get paid! Consider this as an opportunity to build your resume and create a competitive advantage. Getting a job on campus will help your next career move once you look for an internship. Employers will most likely choose someone that has some experience in the U.S. (even if just on campus) over someone that didn’t work during school.
- Build a Network
What is the fastest way to get a job in the US? Networking, networking, networking! You have 85% more chance of getting a job through networking than through simply applying online. Networking is the #1 way to get a job in the US, so start building your connections as soon as possible. By the time you to start applying for an internship or job, you will have already built some key relationships and a support system that can include other students, friends, alumni, professors, and industry professionals. It’s about having and maintaining mutually beneficial connections.
Networking is also a great way to share knowledge, learn about the career paths of industry professionals, and gain good insights into a specific field or job market. The goal is to gather relevant information for your job search or about the field you want to pursue.
Don’t forget to discuss a networking plan with your career counselor, attending networking events, and scheduling informational interviews. Take advantage of the university alumni database or LinkedIn and reach out to former students to build connections. You never know where those contacts can lead – maybe a job “shadowing” experience, an internship, or a first job!
In the U.S., “selling yourself” during an interview is very common and even expected, but that might be considered unprofessional in other countries.
- Get Involved in Campus Groups or Start One!
Employers like to see students that are actively involved on campus. Involvement shows them that you are proactive and also helps develop strong leadership skills. Find out how you can get involved in extra-curricular activities during the first week of classes. Apart from adding to your resume, extra-curricular activities will help you build a sense of community by meeting new people and making friends.
No organizations on campus that interest you? Not a problem – remember that universities are usually dynamic environments. Think about alternative ways to serve your community, such as creating a new student club, contributing to the student newsletter or blog, participating in mentorship programs, attending career development events and conferences, collaborating on a professor’s research project. There are many ways to get involved; you may just need to be creative.
Engaging these activities can impact your career and make an employer chose you over other fresh grads without campus involvement.
- Intern through Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Once you start approaching the end of your program – with an updated resume, strong network, and on-campus job experience – is time to look for your first work experience outside the campus. Even if you plan to obtain the one-year OPT work authorization, you should still consider using the six-month CPT internship authorization. Employers would likely consider anyone that has more experience than you, so getting an internship for credit at the end of your course is valuable. It’s also a great resume builder. If you are studying in an approved STEM field, get a STEM OPT extension — a 24-month period of temporary work training (if the job directly relates to the program of study).
- Learn How to Interview
Depending on the country you come from, you might face some challenges in adjusting to the American style of job hunting and interviewing. For example, some questions that are usually asked in an interview in other countries might be illegal interview questions in the U.S. – such as asking about age or disabilities. Another cultural difference is the self-promotion. In America, “selling yourself” during an interview is very common and even expected, but that might be considered unprofessional in other countries. In addition, you are expected to be very communicative, show a lot of enthusiasm, and make some American “small talk” during the interview process. All those aspects might be considered inappropriate or even disrespectful in other cultures. Ask natives about things you can learn as an immigrant looking for a job.
My Experience at Golden Gate University in San Francisco
Because of some reasons I mentioned at the start, San Francisco was an ideal place to go to school for me because of the international presence here, transportation, and its position as the global leader in technology and other industries. In addition, San Francisco is known for being an open-minded and diverse city, with people, culture, and cuisine from all over the world. Foreigners usually feel welcome here. GGU goes out of its way to make international students comfortable and help them every step of the way with unlimited and free career counseling appointments. At GGU we believe that career is a lifetime journey, so we provide these services, even after graduation! As a former international student, I am glad to be able to give back.