Strategies for Seeking Employment in the U.S. as an International Student

Dreama Johnson

THE DUAL LOCATION JOB SEARCH

Knowing the challenges and misconceptions you may face as an international student is paramount. While it is not impossible to find full-time opportunities in the U.S., it is becoming more difficult.  With these added complexities, it is important that you not only plan to search for opportunities in the U.S., but also look for positions in your home country/region.  Depending on your interests, you may also want to consider other countries as well. Searching in both the U.S. and your home country at the same time is a strategy known as the Dual Location Job Search. Below you will find strategies for searching in the U.S. but be sure to check out our post on searching in your home country or a third country. In addition to reading this post, you can also visit the Career Center to customize these steps to your individual search!

Strategies for seeking employment in the U.S.

The job search in the U.S. requires research, reflection and implementing these strategies:

Be Informed

Recognizing that employers will have misconceptions about hiring international students can provide you the opportunity to best articulate why you are the right fit for an employer in a manner that helps alleviate misconceptions. For example, if you know that employers may be hesitant to hire international students because they perceive the process to petition for a visa as too complex, during a networking conversation or an interview, you might take the opportunity to educate an employer on the steps it takes to file a petition helping them to see that it is not as difficult of a process as they may think. If you know that employers may be concerned about an international student applicant’s commitment to the job, you can emphasize in your interview your intention for wanting to learn and grow over time with that particular company.

Perfect Your English Skills

If you have concerns about your ability to effectively communicate (both orally and on paper) in English with employers, take steps to practice and increase your English language abilities. Look for organizations and resources at the University where you can continue to hone your speaking and writing skills. Consider participating in the Volunteers with International Students and Scholars, and Staff Program (VISAS). Visit caelc.virginia.edu/visas-connect. Also, consider ways you can incorporate practice into your everyday life: joining a student organization, participating during class discussions, joining a study group, or volunteering in the community are great ways to increase your skills.

Employers with an International Focus or Presence

Strong employment prospects may be with organizations that have an international focus. You may also find success with U.S. companies that have an international presence/office in other countries. Keep in mind that U.S. institutions of higher education may be an option. Your international experience, language, and cultural fluency may make you a very appealing candidate to these organizations. In addition, if your U.S. work authorization is delayed, you may be able to continue to work at one of their branches outside of the U.S.

Seek Exposure to Industries in Demand

As an international student, you may find the job search process less difficult if you study or gain exposure to subjects in demand. Currently firms in the U.S. desire skilled workers, particularly in the areas of Systems Analysis and Programming, Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology, Business, Finance, Renewable Energy and some Healthcare fields. If you are not majoring in one of these areas, consider developing computer skills (programming, word processing, spreadsheet design), quantitative skills (statistics, economics) and/or scientific skills (lab research) through elective classes, independent studies, or extracurricular activities to make yourself a more marketable applicant.

Articulate the Unique Benefits of Hiring an International Student

Because you are searching for employment in the U.S., you may feel that, in order to be successful in your job search, you will need to assimilate to be more like U.S. applicants. While there are some customs and cultural barriers that you will need to consider (see the next section), your experience as an international student is just as important when articulating your fit to an employer. Consider how you might convey to an employer the unique advantages you can bring to a company as an international student. For example, in a resume, cover letter, or in an interview, discuss your language skills as well as your ability to adapt to new cultures and environments as you have done in attending a university in another country.

EXPLORE RESOURCES

The UVA Career Center is a great place to start your research. The 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. To schedule an appointment, please call +1(434) 924-8900 or sign up via Handshake. For up-to-date information on appointments and drop-in hours, please call the Career Center or visit our website at career.virginia.edu.

Handshake

A database which includes externship, internship, part-time and full-time job postings, and provides access to On Grounds Interviewing (OGI). There are thousands of postings in Handshake for both the US and abroad.  You can also tailor your search to review postings where employers have indicated they are willing to consider international applicants.  When searching in Handshake filter by “US work authorization optional.”

Handshake also includes the following resources:

· 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.

· GoinGlobal - Provides information on domestic, as well as international employment opportunities, and includes guides for working in over 20 countries. Also a great resource for researching U.S. companies who have filed H1B visa petitions in the last year.

· myvisajobs.com - Online database of American employers that historically petitioned for   H1-B visas to sponsor international employees

· h1base.com - Includes US immigration details, H1-B visa information, and employment opportunities

GAIN 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. If you plan to intern in the U.S., your internship must 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 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to conduct an internship in the U.S. while still a student, one strategy you may want to try is to seek out internship opportunities with companies that have a history of sponsoring employees who are on a work visa. By doing this, you will be building a relationship with an organization that may hire you for a full-time position upon graduating. Many employers favor applicants for their entry-level positions who went through their internship programs.

The Career Center has extensive resources for researching internship opportunities. Internship opportunities may vary tremendously depending on your area of interest, and may be paid or unpaid. Schedule an appointment or stop by drop-in hours to have a more in-depth discussion with a career counselor about your search.

Externships are short-term job shadowing experiences (one day to three weeks in length) which enable students to clarify their career goals, gain “real world” experience, and get their foot in the door for competitive internships and jobs. Students participating in externships are not paid by the employer and must supply their own housing, food, and transportation; however, the networking opportunities provided by this kind of experience make them highly valuable. More information on externships is available on the Career Center website.

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.

NETWORK YOUR WAY TO A JOB

In seeking advice from any career counselor in the U.S., you will be advised about the benefits of interviewing for information and networking as a means to finding a suitable job. In the U.S. 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.  Know you can reach out to U.S. employers to ask about international student hiring practices.

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, local chapters, and conferences. For the names of professional associations, speak with a faculty member in your department, or use the Career Center resource “What Can I Do With This Major?” under the Resource library in Handshake.

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 imply 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. 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 their business card?