Finding Opportunities and Applying to Jobs in the U.S.

UVA Career Center – July 8th, 2015

This information is designed to assist you, the international student, with the job search process. This guide is particularly targeted towards students in F-1 or J-1 visa status.  However, other foreign nationals or those with newly acquired American citizenship may find some of the information included to be both relevant and useful.  

In addition to this content, international students should also contact the International Studies Office (ISO) before seeking any form of employment (paid or unpaid) whether as a student or in preparation for graduation so that you are aware of all applicable restrictions, requirements and deadlines.  Remember it is your responsibility to connect with ISO to obtain the most current information as the rules are constantly changing.

Looking for a job while working hard to finish a degree can be rather overwhelming.  The best way to approach this dilemma is to start organizing and utilizing your resources the year before you graduate.  Your job search strategy should include: 

  • Exploring Resources
  • Gaining Experience 
  • Networking Your Way to a Job
  • Preparing Country-Specific Resumes and Cover Letters

Exploring Resources

  1. UVA Career Center is a great place to start your research.  The UVA Career Center has a large number of resources online to assist you in researching various industries, generating a list of prospective employers and finding actual job listings. 
  2. Handshake is a database which includes externship, internship, part-time and full-time job postings, and provides access to On Grounds Interviewing (OGI).
  3. Career Insider by VAULT includes an internship database which lists opportunities open to international students. Also a great resource for industry overviews, profiles of top career paths and tips on resumes/cover letters and interviewing.
  4. Going Global provides information on domestic as well as international employment opportunities, to include guides for working in over 20 countries. It is also a great resource for researching U.S. companies who have filed H1B visa petitions in the last year.

Gaining Experience

Gaining relevant work experience, in addition to your degree, will make you a more competitive job candidate.  Internships during the summer are a great way to build skills and augment your classroom experience.  Your internship should be related to your declared major or your principal field of study.  If you plan to work in the U.S. after graduating and decide to use some of your OPT to do an internship in the U.S. while still a student, you should seek out internship opportunities with companies that have a history of sponsoring employees who are on a work visa.  That way, you will be building a relationship with an organization that is more likely to hire you for a full-time position upon graduating.  Many employers favor applicants for their entry-level positions who went through their internship programs.    

Check out the UVA Internship Center!

Faculty may be in a position to provide work opportunities during the academic year and summer months through grants or their departmental budgets.  Check with your faculty advisor to see if there are any opportunities in your department.

NOTE:  In exploring any of the opportunities mentioned above, always check with the International Student Advisor to confirm your eligibility for work authorization.  Unlawful employment can also include engaging in unpaid work.  

Networking Your Way to a Job

In seeking advice from any career counselor in the United States, you will undoubtedly be advised about the benefits of interviewing for information and networking as a means to finding a suitable job.   Indeed, it is common to find employment as a result of having the right connections.  The ability to make connections with people, or networking, is a skill you can begin developing while on Grounds.

Begin talking with faculty members and fellow students.  

Many faculty members have worked outside of the university context and maintain professional contacts with their former colleagues.  In addition, start building relationships with upperclassmen and attend networking functions where alumni will be in attendance.   It will prove to be helpful for you to connect with people who have already successfully found employment here in the U.S. and can provide you with insight about the process.  The best way to find companies that are willing to hire international students is to talk to other international students and alumni, since companies who have hired international students in the past are likely to continue to do so.

Join Professional Organizations

Joining a professional association related to your field of interest is also a wonderful way to make connections with those who can provide you with sound advice about how to find jobs in a particular field.  Visit the websites of these organizations to request information on their publications, student rates, chapters and conferences.  

Don't Give Up

Many international students are discouraged because they believe that they have no network in the United States, as their connections are with people in their home countries.  It is important to understand that in the U.S. a network is actively developed and does not connote long-standing, life-long relationships based on family ties or status in the community.  Anyone can develop a network with some knowledge of the process. Be as creative as possible in developing your network.  Ideas:

  • Do you have a community host or language partner who can provide you with information or a referral?  
  • Have you joined a student organization related to your field of interest?  
  • Have you attended a career fair or asked an employer for her business card?

Preparing Resumes and Cover Letters

A well-prepared resume and cover letter are essential to getting a job interview.  For a U.S. job search, your resume and cover letter must conform to basic, generally accepted standards.  The U.S. resume is succinct, including only information which is relevant to an employer's needs.  Personal information is usually excluded.  The resume is also limited to one page in most cases.

Remember, it is your responsibility to ease the concerns that employers may have about hiring you.  This means you should provide the following information on your resume and/or cover letter:

  • Test scores (TOEFL and/or SATs, particularly verbal or writing scores)
  • Writing and English courses completed
  • Descriptions highlighting your communication skills (where applicable)
  • “Translated written and spoken English daily for 2 years.”  
  • “Tutored other international students in reading, writing and speaking English.”
  • “Gave 15 minute PowerPoint presentation on paper entitled ________ before an audience of 50”  
  • Frame of reference for foreign employers and schools:
    • # 1 research institution in India
    • Second largest technology manufacturer in Europe
    • A $10 million marketing firm

On the other hand, it is also your responsibility to highlight the qualities that make you unique.  

  • International experience 
    • “Lived in Ghana for 10 years and U.K. for 7 years.”
    • “Traveled extensively throughout South and Latin America.”
    • “Developed a solid understanding and appreciation for Russian culture and customs.”
  • Language skills
  • Fluent in English, native speaker of Chinese and proficient in French

Your resume should be free of spelling and grammatical errors.  After you have developed a resume, bring it to the UVA Career Center to have a career counselor review it with you to ensure that the writing style and the content conforms to employers' expectations.

Preparing for an Interview

The interview is your opportunity to convince the employer that you are the right person for the job.  In most instances, an employer is expecting you to articulate your future career goals and past accomplishments.  The interviewer is assessing you according to values such as self-confidence, initiative, directness, and individualism.  You must learn to become comfortable with the idea of marketing yourself to an employer.

Verbal and Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal behavior may also be a barrier to successful communication with an interviewer.  Eye contact, physical distance, personal appearance and manner of dress all communicate things about you to an interviewer.  It is important that you understand exactly what you are communicating.

Understanding and mastering appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication before an interview is essential.  The UVA Career Center offers programs, books and videos on interviewing.  Once you are feeling more comfortable with the process, schedule a mock interview with a counselor.  The counselor will make suggestions for improving your technique.  Remember, the more practice you have, the more prepared and relaxed you will be when the time comes for an employment interview.  

Research the Employer

Preparation for an interview always includes doing research about the employer.  Also, the interviewer will expect you to have questions about the job or the organization.  It is helpful to have those prepared in advance.

REMEMBER: Always consult with the International Student Advisor to make sure that you understand the parameters of your visa status.  Not only is this essential information for you to have as you determine your goals for employment, but you will have to clearly and accurately explain your status to most employers during the interview process.    

Following Up With Employers

After having an interview, it is always appropriate to follow-up with a thank-you note.  In this follow-up correspondence, you can reiterate your interest in the position and emphasize the skills and abilities you would be bringing to the employer.  This type of correspondence is not considered being pushy.  In fact, if an employer does not hear from you after an interview, the assumption may be that you are not sincerely interested in the job.