5 Job Search Tips for International Students

by Pollak, Lindsey Tuesday, February 22, 2011
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I was struck by a recent front page story in The New York Times that discussed the steady rise in Chinese students applying to U.S. colleges and universities.

While the article focused on how schools like Grinnell College in Iowa actively recruit in China and how an international students can “have an edge if he or she can pay full tuition,” my mind immediately fast-forwarded four years: Will the same universities that wooed these students and took their money help them land jobs when they graduate? No one seems to be talking about this.

Well, no one that is except the students themselves. On almost every campus I visit, international students from China and elsewhere approach me seeking advice on how to land positions in the U.S. once they receive their degrees.

Here are the tips I share, based on research, conversations with successful international workers and my own experience attending grad school in Australia and acquiring a visa to work there for an additional year:

1. Start early. This is good advice for any student (particularly in the current job market), but it’s especially crucial for students from outside the U.S. It will inevitably take longer to find a job with an employer that sponsors employees requiring work visas, so the sooner you start to look for positions, the better chance you’ll have.

2. Become an expert on the laws. Take it upon yourself to become an expert on your situation. The more you personally know about visas, work permits, deadlines, academic requirements, etc. (check out the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website for lots of information) the better decisions you’ll be able to make and the more empowered you’ll feel. Yes, this is a lot of work, but it’s more than worth it.

3. Engage with career services. In addition to doing your own research, seek expert help. Particularly if you attend a school that has a large population of foreign students, your university’s career services office will have lots of experience helping international students. Take advantage of everything they offer! Attend any event specifically for international students, read all information your career services office publishes and set up an appointment with a career counselor to discuss your individual situation.

4. Network. As more and more international students attend U.S. universities, there is a growing community of alumni who have walked in your shoes. Meet these people and ask for their advice! Through your career services office, professors, LinkedIn and Facebook, seek out people a few years older than you who have come from your home country and managed to find jobs in the U.S. They’ll likely be happy to share some tips and possibly even introduce you to the hiring managers at the companies where they landed jobs.

5. Stay positive and confident. While it can be frustrating to go through an international job search and visa application process, remember that you have a lot to offer an employer. Fluency in multiple languages, knowledge of international business practices and a global perspective are all extremely valuable in the workplace right now. Make sure that you are confident in your own abilities so an employer will want to invest in you.