If you’re an international student hoping to work in the United States after completing your undergraduate degree, you have a few hurdles ahead of you. The way I see things, you have three major hurdles to overcome:
- Through coursework and practical experience, mastering the content knowledge required within your chosen field
- Becoming comfortable articulating your value to prospective employers and network contacts
- Employer’s willingness to hire international candidates
You have control over hurdles one and two, which in turn can have a positive impact on hurdle three.
Most of the international students with whom I have had the pleasure of working have had little to no trouble mastering the content knowledge within their field – they have typically excelled in their courses and, when given the opportunity, often stand out as interns or researchers. So, in terms of hurdles, the first one seems to be a less daunting one.
Hurdle number two seems to be the one that really stumbles a lot of international students. My first suggestion would be to make sure you’re staying in close contact with your school’s international student advisor and are familiar with the most current regulations for OPT (Optional Practical Training), CPT (Curricular Practical Training), H1Bs and green cards. For some employers, the idea of hiring an international student may appear more complicated than it really is. It’s important that you have a clear understanding of your work authorization and are able to communicate this to potential employers. Possibly even more important is that you are able to articulate your skills, experiences and knowledge clearly and persuasively. Too often I work with very talented, bright and eager international students who are either uncomfortable talking about themselves, uncertain if it’s appropriate to do so, or both! My blunt response to these concerns? Yes, it’s appropriate to talk about yourself, so get comfortable doing it! As a woman born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, only moving to the United States in 2001, I fully appreciate the concern that you might come across as boastful, or worse, if you talk about your talents and skills to an employer. Typically, North American employers expect you to know how you can benefit their organization. They want you to have thought through your worth and then prove that worth to them by providing examples. Some of this is accomplished in your resume and cover letter, much more is shared during interviews and networking interactions. There are certainly ways to talk about yourself without sounding, or feeling, boastful (I’ll likely discuss this further in a separate post). The key is to give yourself permission to talk about why you’re special and uniquely qualified for the position for which you’ve applied.
Once you’ve overcome hurdles one and two, you will have done your best to positively impact the employer’s willingness to hire you – which is hurdle number three. Keep in mind that in some cases, some employers are simply not in a position to hire international students, likely due to company policy. If you know this about an employer in advance, I’d strongly encourage you not to use your valuable time and energy trying to change the employer’s mind. Instead, turn your attention to networking with alums of your institution, with other internationals who have landed employment in the U.S., and with members of professional associations within your field. Also, take advantage of resources available through your institution’s Career Center and international student services office. For example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is hosting an International Student Virtual Career Fair. Student sign-up will begin on December 1, 2008, so check with your institution’s Career Center to see if they will be participating.
As I mentioned earlier, I came to work in the United States in 2001, and was an immigrant to Canada when I was a child. The issues faced by international students are near and dear to my heart. If you are an international student, either studying in the US or Canada, I’d love to hear from you!