The pressure is on for the international class of 2018 who’ve received their degrees but haven’t yet secured U.S. employment. Although international students don’t need job offers to apply for their Employment Authorization Document (which allows them to work in the U.S.), if an international student isn't employed within 90 days of the start date listed on their EAD, the student is considered out of status. The consequences of this are serious, and include denial of future immigration benefits and even deportation.
So in order to help international students manage what's a very tense part of their journey in the U.S., below are some tips on what they can do this summer to maintain their immigration status, secure U.S. employment, and keep the American dream alive.
1. Apply for the right jobs.
Only apply for jobs for which you have a chance to be in the top 10 percent of the applicant pool. If a job requires three years of experience as a financial analyst and all you have on your resume is a summer internship at a small bank and a full-time job that’s not related to finance, don’t apply. Instead, focus your time and effort on roles that closely match your profile.
2. Leverage pre-U.S. work experience to the max.
International graduate students in particular should spend a minimum of 50 percent of their efforts applying for types of jobs they’ve held previously in order to be immediately perceived as competitive applicants in the eyes of employers.
3. Postpone plans to change careers.
Until international students can find stability and regain control, it’s best not to attempt to drastically change careers or apply for jobs that are a long shot. Time is not on your side as an international student with a degree but not job.
4. Propose solutions.
Contact five alumni from your school that you’ve met during your studies and think of ways to improve upon something their firm is doing. For example, you could say something like you believe you could help an alumnus’ firm generate a plan to hire and train resellers in China and improve their market share there, since you’re familiar with China, having grown up there. You could then ask if you could prepare a proposal regarding this topic for someone to review and to be connected with the right person who would review it.
5. Remember where you’re from.
Business is global and highly interconnected. When possible, focus on firms and jobs that fully leverage the international aspect of your profile. Similarly, former international students from the country you’re from are always good resources to connect with and get advice. Reach out to these individuals and go beyond your alumni network.
6. Engage with friends.
Connect with those who care about you the most, even if you haven’t talked with them in awhile. Your professors, career services staff, and even your neighbors may be great choices. Be honest and clear with these individuals about the pressure you’re under and make it easy for them to help you. For example, tell them you’re eager to consider short-term work arrangements that fully leverage your strengths. And ask if there’s anyone they can think of who could use some help analyzing the statistics of their web site, adding that you have experience doing that and so could make an immediate impact.
7. Consider post-graduation internships, even unpaid ones.
Remember that under current Optional Practicum Training (OPT) rules, you can accept unpaid work related to your field of study. This may not be an exciting option for a recent international graduate with a lot of school debt, but given the pressure you might be under, it’s an option you may need to consider, and sooner than later. If you already have your EAD card on hand, manage your 90-day unemployment window conservatively and make sure you have a plan to find some type employment if you wish to remain in the U.S. Also, remember part-time OPT work related to your field of study is also acceptable.
8. Lead with value and great ideas.
If you’re emailing me because you believe I might be able to hire you as an intern, don’t write something like, “Hi Marcelo, I’m looking for an internship in marketing. Are you hiring any interns at the moment?” Instead, write something like: “Hi Marcelo, I have specific ideas regarding how to grow your International Advantage program. I understand your company vision and believe you’d find my insights interesting. I’ve followed your company for a while now and think I could help by improving your social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Would you be free sometime in the next few days to have a 15-minute conversation about this?”
Make me want to talk to you because you have something valuable to say. Manage your anxiety and think about how you’ve been contacting people to explore job opportunities.
9. Target small off-the-radar companies.
A lot of the best summer employment opportunities for international students will be found in rapidly growing companies that don't yet have brand name recognition. For some people, hitching onto a rising star is a better strategy than attempting to land job with an established company that could have a long hiring cycle. Small firms hire fast, are always looking for good help, and many consider internationals if they think you can help them grow.
10. Look beyond the sunny states.
While some states and cities have historically grabbed large quantities of available H-1Bs (California is number one in terms of H-1B visa allocations), it’s smart to target firms and jobs located parts of the U.S. where others aren’t looking. Many U.S. recent college grads might not be excited about a job in South Dakota, for example. A greater need to attract quality applicants may cause an employer to be more motivated about sponsoring and, who knows, maybe even help you secure your green card in the future.
Marcelo Barros is originally from Brazil. Drawing on two decades of experience, Barros wrote The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a book used by many U.S. universities which gives international students advice on how to navigate the U.S. work visa system and find the job they want. You can learn more about Barros' work with over 40 U.S. universities by connecting with him via LinkedIn.
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