Job search strategies for international students

Many international students are interested in seeking employment in the United States following graduation. As an international student, you should be aware that this process can be very difficult. The job search process is seldom easy for anyone, but for international students it can be especially confusing. International students must learn about the employment process and the hiring complexities associated with obtaining sponsorship.

According to the U.S. Immigration Law, international students with F-1 visas are eligible to work full-time in the United States for one year post-graduation to continue their “practical training.” After that time, they must obtain sponsorship for an H1-B visa by an employer to continue working in the United States for another one to six years. Because INS laws are complex and occasionally change, it is important that you obtain employment-related guidance ONLY from an experienced immigration attorney or your campus INS representative.

Business Career Services is not an expert resource on immigration issues. Please contact International Student & Scholar Services at 864-3617 for advice, current laws, and details regarding your work eligibility. The KU ISS website also contains valuable information on visas and on international students working in the U.S., including OPT and CPT.  Hiring international students is less familiar, more complicated and more expensive than hiring an U.S. citizen. For employers, this process involves:

  • Petitioning the government for an H1-B
  • Obtaining approval from the Labor Department
  • Hiring an attorney
  • Absorbing some fees

For these reasons, many employers are extremely reluctant to hire international students, especially if your work experience is limited and not directly related to their business.

Additional roadblocks for international students might also include:

  • Perceived lack of commitment to the job – Employers might have a concern that international students will eventually want to return to their home country.  Hiring and training is an expensive process and employers might hesitate to invest their time and money towards international students that might leave.
  • Communication – Employers are often concerned with the communication skills of international students.
  • Lack of relevant work experience – An employer must prove that an international student has skills necessary for the job that were not found in a U.S citizen in order to sponsor for permanent residence.
  • Animosity – Some might feel that international students are taking jobs away from Americans.
  • Slowing economy – In a tight economy, employers are more apt to find an American resource with the skill set that they are needing for a role.

How can you find employment despite these barriers?  The following tips might be helpful.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the American job search process. Be sure that your resume and job search approach is customized to American traditions. Collect handouts and review resources from Business Career Services to better familiarize yourself with the employment process. It may be very different from the procedures that you are accustomed to in your home country.
  2. Participate in mock interviews. A practice interview will prepare you for the real deal, utilize communication skills, and alleviate any anxiety associated with a new experience. The BCS offers mock interviews each semester.
  3. Sell your strengths. International students may have three major strengths to highlight to employers: bilingual abilities, cultural background, and professional experience. Target companies that value these skills.
  4. Concentrate on companies that have operations in your country of origin. These companies may be able to hire you in the United States and eventually facilitate a transfer to your home country.
  5. Know the demand and have the skills. An advanced degree, highly specialized skills, or extensive experience will make your job search easier. Research the skills that are highly sought in the U.S. or within an industry. You may need to relocate to a region of the U.S. where your unique skill set is most in demand.
  6. Use tact. Do not be demanding or aggressive. It is the responsibility of the employer to find an appropriate candidate for his or her company, not to help you find a job. 
  7. Cast your net widely. Utilize all of the avenues that employers leverage to source candidates for their role such as college recruiting, career fairs, newspapers or trade publications, online services, and employment agencies.
  8. Obtain an internship. If your visa permits, obtain an internship to gain some direct and applicable experience in your chosen career field. This experience will come in handy when looking for a full-time job.
  9. Research companies that traditionally hire international students. The INS website houses H1-B special reports which outline the names of companies that have had INS-approved petitions. 
  10. Be proactive. Since your job search process will be difficult, start early. The job search process may take up to one year, so try to begin your search 6 months to one year in advance of when you would like to start working.
  11. Be honest. It is best to make your citizenship status clear in cover letters and discussions. Being upfront about this will make the process more efficient for you and employers.  Disclosing this at the last step in the process will only have negative outcomes.
  12. Use Business Career Services. Leverage our office in your search. We are your advocate and our staff is available to assist you.
  13. Network. It is particularly important for international students to network. Make others participants in your employment search. 
  14. Polish your communication skills. Your English skills will be very important. Be sure that you are comfortable representing yourself. If you struggle with written or oral communication, practice. Join organizations, take an extra class, or join Toastmasters.
  15. Support each other. Get advice from other international students that have had success in their job searches.