International Students and the Job Search

by Rosita Smith

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Many international students look for a permanent job in the United States after completing their undergraduate degree. The process is seldom easy for any student, but if you’re unfamiliar with American practices, it can be particularly confusing.

To begin with, there may be a lack of understanding of U.S. employment regulations. Recent international grads may also be unsure of their role as the job seeker. However, you have a distinct advantage as an international student: you have unique experiences and skills, which set you apart from your American peers.

Where to start

Like the rules regarding studying in the United States, there are guidelines for working in America, such as work visa requirements. Once you have decided to remain in the States to work, you should contact the international student services office on campus to make an appointment with a representative from the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). International students should always obtain employment-related information from an experienced immigration attorney or a campus USCIS representative—advice from other sources may be inaccurate. In addition to helping fill out necessary forms, the USCIS representative knows the costs associated with working in the United States.

Skills and the job search

Finding the right school requires lots of research, and finding the right job does too. Start by using the Internet and American publications to find out if your degree and/or skills are currently in demand in the U.S. job market. An advanced degree, highly marketable skills, or extensive experience will make the job search easier. You should also learn all you can about your targeted field. Some good places to start include talking to professors, reading industry publications, and attending professional conferences.

Role of employers

Employers use several resources to find future employees, including college recruitment, job fairs, Internet job boards, newspapers, trade publications, employee referrals, and employment agencies. Try to take advantage of these opportunities, particularly college fairs and recruitment events.

Networking is another great avenue to employment. Just being open to meeting with people—without pushing your résumé and qualifications on them—can lead to an interview. Even if networking does not result in immediate employment, it can lead to more information about the industry, which is also helpful.

Strong communication skills

The first step to a job is a well-prepared résumé, but you need to convey your interest and ability during the interview too. A strong grasp of the English language and culture is very helpful in this area.

When you’re being interviewed, you need to positively promote yourself and talk with confidence about your education, relevant skills, and related experiences. Of course, self-promotion is rarely easy for anyone, but it can be especially difficult if you come from a culture where talking about oneself is considered inappropriate. When interviewing in the United States, however, people are expected to explain their credentials—why they are suitable for the position.

You should also be sensitive to the interviewer’s verbal and nonverbal cues. Some international students may not realize when their accent is causing them to be misunderstood, and interviewers may be too embarrassed or impatient to ask for clarification. For example, if your interviewer’s followup questions do not match your responses, this may signal confusion. If this happens and you are a non-native English speaker, you should bring this to the interviewer’s attention. In the United States, it is also necessary to express proper nonverbal communication. Always look directly at the interviewer in order to portray confidence and honesty.

Interview etiquette may be difficult to grasp at first, but with some practice, the process becomes less intimidating. It is helpful to rehearse responses with friends, a parent, or a school career counselor before the actual interview. You may even practice alone with a mirror! (Sample questions can be found using the Internet.) Be sure to take advantage of any career workshops offered at your university or even during secondary school to get some exposure to basic interviewing techniques.

Getting involved with campus and community activities also strengthens language skills, and the more you practice speaking English, the better. These activities are also a great way to make networking contacts, and they provide ample exposure to U.S. customs and culture.

Career center

The career center can be a valuable resource in the job search; however, some employers using the career center won’t interview students who are not U.S. citizens. Fortunately, there are still other ways to benefit from the campus career center. Primarily, you can work with the career services staff to develop a job search strategy. Career centers also coordinate campus career fairs, company information sessions, and other special events, and you can use these opportunities to practice your networking skills. With a detailed plan of action, you can find a job worth writing home about.

By Ailynn Infante
Ailynn Infante