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Finding a new job is never easy. Perhaps no group has more dizzying hoops to jump through than international students looking for employment in the U.S.

There are, of course, the normal woes of the job-searching student: being an entry-level candidate with (probably) little experience and splitting your time job-searching with already demanding schoolwork. You’re also living in a foreign nation with a work culture different than your home. Not to mention all the extra forms, documents, authorizations, and general bureaucratic rigmarole that come with your visa status.

Don’t get overwhelmed though!

Make a plan and stick to it, seeking help for potential problems well before those problems arise. Since you’re here reading this, you’re off to a good start.

The Job Search - Where and how to look

Percentage of Employers with International Student Hiring Plans

  1. Research

    Searching for a job as an international student is all about managing your expectations. The fact of the matter is that any job offer you receive is going to come with a slew of extra paperwork and complication, and companies might not be willing or able to go through that to hire an entry-level employee.

    If you need help cutting through the noise, your Zippia profile has a feature that allows you to only search for employers that are visa-friendly. That will keep you from wasting valuable time applying to places that are never going to hire you simply because of your visa status. And with over 500,000 available jobs from these visa-friendly companies listed on Zippia, your options are still quite plentiful.

  2. Become Familiar with the folks at your International Students Office and Career Center

    We’ll do our best to answer the big questions in this article, but we can’t escape the fact that every situation is different. Your school’s International Students Office (ISO) is an invaluable resource for every step of the process. It’s never too early to start building a relationship with counselors at this office, even if you just go in to introduce yourself. These are people that are there to help with every stage of your job hunt; from helping land your first on-campus job to getting you on your way to an H1-B visa after graduation, you’ll be best friends with your whole ISO by the end of your college career.

    Another important resource is your school’s career center. While they may not have as much a grasp on the nitty-gritty of international work regulations, they’re still there to help with any student’s job search. Make use of them!

Your Network Might Be Bigger Than You Think

  1. Networking

    You may have an idea of networking in your head: smarmy businessmen swapping business cards in a Las Vegas convention center, but really it’s about making use of the people you know and the people who know you. That might sound extra-hard when you’re in a foreign country but start with the basics. As a student, you have a built-in network on your campus:

  2. Professors

    Your professors are an excellent resource for finding work experience relevant to your course of study, providing positive reference letters, and pointing you to more people to beef up your network. A word of advice: build genuine relationships with professors whom you respect from day one. Nobody likes a person who only turns up when they need a favor. Go to their office hours, ask and answer questions in class, and seek opportunities to discuss their work and how it relates to your passions. Perfect exam results aren’t memorable for the professor; a student who regularly pokes their head into the teacher’s office for informal chats is much more likely to be remembered (and recommended).

  3. Alumni Career Networks

    Your school probably has an alumni career service, an online platform that will give you access to alumni already working in the field you want to join. Advisors here have specifically volunteered to give you a leg up on the competition, so whether you’re just looking for answers to general questions about your career path, get help writing the perfect cover letter, or practicing for a real-world interview in the industry, these people have the experience you need.

  4. Career Fairs

    Career Fairs on your school’s campus are a low-pressure way to quickly get your name and face out there with a slew of potential employers. While “going in blind” can’t hurt, you’ll spend your time more productively if you research the companies attending the event that interest you. Prepare some questions and a quick “elevator pitch” that tells companies what value you can add. Make sure to get the contact information of any recruiters that you speak to and be sure to send them a brief note as soon as possible after leaving the event.

  5. Get involved

    College campuses are rife with student groups and clubs. Find one (or a few) that interest you and, ideally, are related to your field of study. It’s a great way to make friends and casually expand your network. Fellow students might not have all the answers about getting you a job, but they might be able to direct you to someone who does. Or they may have job-seeking experience that’s valuable to your job search. Not to mention that involvement in clubs related to your field will come in handy when you’re preparing your resume.

  6. Folks from Home

    Just because you’re in the U.S., doesn’t mean the network you have in your home country is worthless. On the contrary, people back home that work for international companies might be a serious “in” for you.

How To Complete Your American Style Resume

Crafting a stellar resume is an important step in landing a job in the U.S. We have loads of tips available here, but here are some points that are especially important to keep in mind for foreign students:

  1. It’s not a CV

    While the words “resume” and “curriculum vitae” (CV) typically refer to the same thing in the international community, there’s a world of difference between the two in the U.S. Understanding these differences is crucial to your success in crafting the most impressive resume you can.

  2. Keep it concise

    American employers don’t want to read about your whole life story; they want to see only the information about you that’s relevant for the available position. One A4 page is what you’re working with here. Past employment, relevant experience/accomplishments, and educational background, in that order. Start with your most recent experiences for each category.

  3. Don’t be afraid to show off

    Depending on your home country, you may come from a culture where brandishing one’s accomplishments is seen as immodest and disrespectful. Or where the team comes before the individual. The U.S. is all about individualism and a typical employer will want to see why YOU are a valuable asset and what impact YOU have personally made in your past endeavors.

  4. Skip the basics

    It’s not a good idea to list English as a skill when applying for a job in the U.S. – employers at most companies are going to take that as a given. So skip the TOEFL scores and stick to relevant experience and other impressive areas of your education. In the same vein, don’t write about your visa status here; there’s plenty of time to go over that later on in the process, and employers might find it offputting.

  5. Contextualize any experience from your home country

    While it’s not a good idea to list your international address on your resume, that doesn’t mean you should forget about your home country. If you’ve had pertinent experience at home, include it on your resume. Just keep in mind that American employers have probably never heard of the companies from your home country, so be ready to give them a frame of reference to make their understanding clearer. For example, “third-biggest solar panel manufacturer in Asia,” “top five universities in South America,” or “the Egyptian version of Walmart.”

  6. Tailor each resume for the recipient

    A CV is a comprehensive list of your life’s work and, as such, doesn’t change from company to company. A resume, on the other hand, should be tailored to suit the company to which you’re applying. A good idea is to have a “base resume” that forms your bedrock of crucial information and then make modifications to that depending on what job you’re applying for and how to package yourself for that specific job.

How To Complete Your American Style Cover Letter

In addition to your resume, most companies will ask for a cover letter.

  1. Keep it on topic

    It’s important to keep this short, with a maximum length of one page. Ideally, you’ll want less than half a page. While your resume will answer the “who, what, when, where,” questions, the cover letter is your chance to answer the “how” and “why” questions - why are you the ideal candidate for the position and how will you perform your job once you’re there? Showcase your communication skills with clear and concise writing that makes connections between your past experience, your passion for the field and the position, and your future goals.

  2. Do your homework

    Research who’s going to be reading this so you can address your cover letter appropriately. You should also know as much as you can about the company and the position, so keep researching until you feel confident that you can write your cover letter like an insider amongst peers instead of an outsider begging to be let in. Like your resume, your cover letter should be tailored to the specific company and position you’re applying for.

  3. Keep the tone right

    Don’t recycle information from your resume and don’t be afraid to inject some of your personality, but be wary of going too over-the-top funny or cute. Think of your cover letter as the written form of your elevator pitch – get in and get out with 200 words, aiming for a good middle-ground of engaging but skimmable. Always get a second (or third, fourth) pair of eyes on what you’ve written to make sure your cover letter is free of grammatical and spelling mistakes, has proper formatting, and reads well.

Nailing The Interview - Expectations Of An American Interviewer

Interviewing is always a bit nerve-wracking, but being an international student comes with its own set of unique challenges. Different cultures have different expectations for behavior than the U.S., language fluency may be a hurdle, experience from your home country may be difficult to contextualize, and there’s a big elephant in the room regarding your visa status.

  1. Culture

    Body language plays a big role in how your interviewer will see you. Are you making direct eye contact? Did you give a firm handshake? Are you standing/sitting straight and leaning forward to show interest, while maintaining proper personal space? These may also be desired behaviors in your home country, but if they’re not, be cognizant that you want to answer “yes” to all of the questions above.

  2. English fluency

    If you’re not entirely comfortable with English, the Q+A part of an interview can be tough, so it’s important to come prepared. Long silences are a no-no, as are wasted “ers” and “ahs.” Interviewers want to see that you are quick to articulate answers that are eloquent and relay information economically.

  3. Don’t be afraid to brag

    As for content, you should stress your self-reliance and the impact that you’ve had at fostering positive changes in your previous experience. Some cultures might be uncomfortable taking credit for team efforts, but American employers will want to hear what value you added, so it’s not the time to be modest! Emphasize why your international experience is an asset to the company. Your fluency in multiple languages, competence in intercultural communication, and adaptability to new environments are a few strong qualities that you can mention. If you’re applying to an international company, especially one with ties to your home country, you can highlight these qualities more ardently.

  4. The elephant in the room – your visa status

    The question of your visa status is bound to come up at some point – be prepared for it. Don’t be nervous or act like you’re caught doing something wrong when this question inevitably comes up. Don’t get bogged down in too many details; simply provide clear and concise information regarding your status and your work eligibility honestly and confidently. We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of these answers in a bit, but if you’re unsure about how exactly to respond to these questions in your specific situation, seek guidance from your school’s ISO. On the flip side, if this question never comes up, it may be a good idea to bring it up before a job offer is extended. Don’t make the whole interview about it, but prepare a brief shpiel on what your deal is, legally speaking. If you show you’re motivated to work for them and knowledgeable about ways to help that come about, you’ve just demonstrated you’re willing to go the extra mile for the opportunity.

General Interview Advice For International Students

  1. Review the job description

    Read the job description carefully and keep an eye on keywords about required skills and professional and personal qualities that the position requires. Figure out what the company is looking for in an ideal candidate by using this information.

  2. Research the company

    You should spend some time researching general information about the company. Read their mission statement, know industry standards, practices, and jargon, and learn more about the specific role for which you’re applying. You’ll also want to know something about the person with whom you’re interviewing; what is their role and what do you know about their work that you can bring up organically in the interview?

  3. Identify your skills

    Think about what relevant experience you have that matches up with the position for which you’re applying. Think of anecdotes that back up statements about your skills. For example, if you say “I’m a top-notch app developer,” then follow that up with some concrete evidence like “the first app I developed was downloaded by over 20,000 people on the iTunes store.”

    Don’t mention English as a skill – any company hiring in America is going to take native level English skills as a given. On the other hand, you can and should emphasize being bilingual or multilingual, especially if it’s relevant for the position (if you’ll be working with international clients or distributors, for example). Highlight how your international experience is an asset to the company. Just by moving to a different country for your education, you’ve had an experience that most people haven’t.

    Focus on your resourcefulness, initiative, and adaptability, as well as your knowledge and sensitivity to cross-cultural situations.

  4. Practice

    Friends and family are great resources for honing your interview skills. After answering the the big questions a few times, you won’t be so nervous when they come up in the real interview. If you have a phone interview scheduled, practice on the phone. If it’s going to be a panel interview, have a host of friends shoot rapid-fire questions at you. The career center at your school is another resource you should take advantage of.

  5. Arrive early and prepared

    Nothing says you’re unprofessional more than turning up for the interview late. Show that you’re a serious candidate by arriving fifteen minutes early and greeting everyone with enthusiasm and a smile. Dress professionally – it’s better to err on the side of over-dressing than under-dressing. Also don’t forget to bring everything you’ll need for the interview.

  6. Follow up

    It’s always a good idea to write a “thank you” letter to your interviewer. Don’t put this off too long – your email should be sent within 24 hours of the interview. Make sure it’s clear and concise, but don’t “copy-paste” the same generic note to everyone who interviews you. This is especially important if you met with multiple people during the interview process. Each individual should receive a unique and personalized note that reflects the conversations you had with him or her. Proofread to ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Remember that this is not the time to ask about salary or benefits, but to express gratitude and enthusiasm for the experience. Also, take this time to connect with the interviewer on LinkedIn or other social media.

The Nitty-Gritty - Types of Employment Available For Foreign Students

  1. The F1 Visa

    Most foreign students hold an F1 visa, the U.S. non-immigrant student visa. F1 students are allowed to work, but there are certain conditions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that one must follow. One must maintain their F1 status to work legally in the U.S., regardless of the type of employment.

    On-Campus Employment

    On-campus employment is the most freely available form of work that a foreign student can attain. Work must be on the school’s premises and be done directly for the school. In other words, working for the campus bookstore or cafeteria is fine and dandy, but working on a construction site on-campus is not allowed. In some cases, the job might be off the school’s premises but is educationally affiliated with the school. Generally speaking, on-campus employment is the only type you’ll be eligible for during your first academic year in the U.S.

    Requirements

    You’ll have to file all required forms with the USCIS and receive approval for your employment. Seek guidance for finding a job and getting USCIS approval for it at your school's ISO. Not only are they well-versed in helping you find on-campus work, but they can also help you understand how it can help with financial aid.

    Regulations

    This type of work is limited to part-time, or up to 20 hours a week during the academic year. You are allowed to work full-time, or up to 40 hours a week, during official school holiday or vacation periods, as long as you’re registered for the following semester or period after the break.

  2. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

    Curricular practical training, or CPT, is off-campus training, work, or internships that are directly related to your degree. CPT can only be authorized if the student is earning academic credit for the employment or it’s required for the degree. Most of the time, CPT is undertaken alongside a specific class. Seek guidance from your professors, academic counselors, and your ISO to get more information specific to your case.

    Requirements

    You cannot undertake CPT until completing one academic year (9 months) on a valid F1 visa. The job must be related to your field of student and required for a course that earns academic credit. Note that there is an exception for graduate students when the program has immediate CPT as a requirement.

    1. The first step is to contact your school’s ISO to confirm that you are eligible.
    2. Second, you’ll need to find a job that relates to your field of study and receive a job offer.
    3. Next, request CPT authorization from your school’s ISO and notify the USCIS of your new employment.

    You need a job offer before you can request CPT authorization from the USCIS, so get an early start on this!

    Regulations
    • CPT is tied directly to a specific employer for specific dates authorized. You cannot change jobs or shorten or extend the period of your CPT.
    • Upon authorization, you’ll get detailed guidelines on work hours, whether it be part-time or full-time. While in school, you can only work part-time, but during breaks and holidays, you may work full-time.
    • One very important thing to keep in mind is that if you work full-time for more than one year on CPT, you will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  3. Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    Optional practical training (OPT) is much more flexible than on-campus employment or CPT. This type of employment is not affiliated with your school, but it must be directly related to your major. Like all forms of student employment, it’s important to be in constant contact with your school’s ISO throughout the process.

    Requirements
    • You must have completed one academic year (9 months)
    • You must maintain your F1 status throughout your time of employment
    • You must submit your application for OPT before completing all academic work
    • You may not apply for OPT if you have engaged in a year or more of full-time CPT
    1. First, get in touch with your school’s ISO to apply for OPT.
    2. Next, complete Form I-765. This must be endorsed by a designated school official (DSO) within 30 days of the application for your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This can take 90 days or more to acquire.
    3. With your EAD, you may accept employment anywhere in the U.S.
    Regulations
    • You must receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before beginning employment. You do not need a job offer to apply for your OPT EAD.
    • Your employment may be anywhere in the U.S.
    • The USCIS may take up to 90 days to process your EAD application, so get an early start on this (3 months before completing your first academic year is the perfect time to start!)
    • A student is allowed to work on OPT for up to one year of full-time employment. Part-time employment counts toward half of this allotted time. For example, if you work part-time for 4 months, that counts as 2 months of your OPT used.
  4. Stem OPT

    Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) OPT: An additional 24 months of OPT is available to students who graduated with a STEM degree. The Employer must be an E-Verify employer. The student and the prospective employer would be required to complete Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT students) and submit it to your ISO. Once your ISO verifies for completeness, the I-20 will be updated and the student would apply for another EAD with Form I-983.

    Severe Economic Hardship

    If you’ve fallen on tough financial times during your time as a student, you’re eligible to get off-campus work. Several situations might make this an option for you:

    • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment, where the student was not at fault
    • If your home country’s currency has dropped significantly in value since your time as a student began
    • A substantial hike in the cost of tuition or other living expenses
    • Unforeseen changes in the financial situation of your source of support
    • Any other large and unexpected expenses, like medical bills, for example
    Requirements
    • You must have a valid F1 Visa and completed one full academic year (9 months)
    • You must have good academic standing
    • You must prove that the economic hardship is legitimate and beyond your control
    • You must first attempt to find on-campus employment and show that you made the attempt and/or the available jobs are insufficient for your needs
    1. First, get in touch with your school’s ISO to seek further guidance on eligibility requirements
    2. Next, complete Form I-765 to the USCIS and provide any supporting documents that the filing instructions specify. This includes evidence such as affidavits that detail your economic circumstances as well as evidence of your previous attempts for finding work. Your EAD may take more than 90 days to acquire.
    3. After receiving your EAD, you may accept any employment, anywhere in the U.S.
    Regulations

    You may only work part-time (20 hours a week) while school is in session, but full-time hours are acceptable during school breaks.

  5. Employment with International Organization

    The final option for F1 students is the most attractive in its freedom, but also the most uncommon and difficult option. This type of employment must be for a “recognized international organization,” like the World Health Organization or Red Cross.

    Requirements
    • You may not apply until completing one academic year and having good academic standing
    • You must receive a job offer and sponsorship with a recognized organization
    • Employment must be within your field of study
    • You must apply for an EAD from USCIS after receiving your offer and sponsorship. It may take more than 90 days for your application to be processed, so plan ahead.
    1. First, contact your school’s ISO to make sure you're eligible
    2. Next, complete Form I-765 for employment authorization. This must be endorsed by a DSO within the past 30 days.
    3. Once you have your EAD, you’re allowed to work only for the employer and the dates that your EAD authorizes.
    Regulations

    Two big reasons make this option especially attractive:

    • Your job does not need to be for your degree program
    • This time of employment will not take away from your allotted 12 months of post-graduate OPT

Sources

U.S. Citizenship and Immigragtion Services (USCIS).
Foreign Academic Students
Accessed May 27, 2020.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigragtion Services (USCIS).
Students and Employment
Accessed May 27, 2020.
International Student.
Working in the USA
Accessed May 27, 2020.
MiamiOH.
Job-Search Guide for International Students
Accessed May 27, 2020.
NACE Job Outlook 2019.
Job Outlook 2019
Accessed May 27, 2020.
Devon FeuerAuthor
Hendrik PretoriusInterviewed Expert

March 30, 2020