The employment search process is challenging for graduate students. It becomes even more difficult when faced with problems that are not directly actionable and beyond your control, such as work visa issues for international graduate students seeking career opportunities in the United States. So if you are an international graduate student seeking employment opportunities beyond academe, and especially in the United States, here are some suggestions that may help you to plan strategically for your job search.
Start by soul-searching. That process focuses on identifying what you are good at and what you are passionate about. Passion is something that you develop over time.
How do you know what you are passionate about? Try a variety of experiences. For example, if you are interested in patent law, contact a tech transfer office at your university to find a volunteer position and gain knowledge of the field. University tech transfer offices hire for volunteer and part-time positions, and they often fill those positions with graduate students. (As you may know, international students can work on campus.) Such positions provide experience beyond what you know already, enabling you to realize what you enjoy (or do not enjoy) doing. Of course, experience is also a boost for your résumé. (Check here to learn how to include volunteer experiences on your résumé.)
You can also begin your soul-searching by using free self-assessment tools available online (e.g., here and here) or conducting other assessments, such as MBTI or Clifton Strengths, that may be available at your campus career service offices. Remember to consider how your family or personal situations may impact your soul-searching outcomes. Do you have a partner and/or child? If so, have you considered if they want to remain in the United States after your study? According to an employer I know from an Asian country seeking Ph.D.s for its R&D center, international graduate students often return to their home countries after graduation because of family reasons (e.g., taking care of their parents back home) rather than personal career interests. What does working in America mean to you, your family and your significant others?
Self-exploration processes and designing a career path are relevant for international graduate students generally, including those not seeking a job in the United States. But it can be especially challenging to conduct a job search in America as an international student because of several factors beyond your control (“gravity problems”) that I’ll describe in the following section. Thus, it is advantageous to become confident about your career goals so that you can keep going even when the job search starts to bring you down.
Familiarize yourself with U.S. employment authorization based on your visa status. Consider your response to an employer asking, “Are you eligible to work in the United States?” Your answer should be “Yes!” Because you may apply for work authorization visas, such as curricular practical training (CPT), optional practical training (OPT, for F-1), academic training (AT, for J-1), the nonimmigrant NAFTA professional (TN) visa (for citizens of Canada and Mexico), or H-1B. Of course, you are not legally authorized to work in the United States permanently on these visas -- employment authorization makes you eligible to work only for a certain period of time -- but they allow you to begin the process of acquiring permanent resident status (a green card). It is your responsibility to understand the rules and regulations of your status before applying for internships, part-time jobs or full-time jobs. To learn more about these employment regulations, contact a career counselor. The International Students and Scholars Office adviser at your university is available for you, too. You are not alone in this process!
Once you are aware of your rights and the U.S. employment regulations, it is vital that you understand an employer’s perspective in terms of hiring international talent. It would be a mistake to expect every American employer to know all of these regulations related to hiring international employees. To market yourself to your target employers, it is your responsibility to educate them about the process of hiring an international student. Remember to highlight the distinct values that you can bring.
Find international talent-friendly employers. Once you’ve identified your career interest and familiarized yourself with employment authorization regulations, it is time to develop your career goals. That includes being aware of the field, which you can accomplish by conducting research to identify which employers in your academic area or discipline are interested in hiring international students.
Although you have relevant skills and experience, employers still may not hire you -- and for many different reasons, some of which are beyond your control. It is wise to target employers with a history of hiring international employees on work visas. Such employers are more likely to sponsor you than others who have never hired internationally before.
There are many resources available to help you find international talent-friendly employers, including:
- Myvisajobs.com’s H-1B Visa Reports. You can identify top H-1B visa sponsors by industry, occupation or job title.
- GoingGlobal’s H-1B Plus database (if your university subscribes to its premium services).
- LinkedIn or your university’s alumni relations office. You can search them to identify which employers hired international alumni.
A final word of advice: using the resources I’ve listed above, identify at least 10 international talent-friendly employers in your fields of interest. Once a list of your target employers is ready, gather information about each one to determine whether it is a good match with your distinct skill set, values and career goals. Remember to network with those employers before applying for job postings, as over 80 percent of today’s jobs are usually not advertised. (See here, here and here to learn more about how to build and nurture your professional network.)
Best of luck with your job search in the United States. And please feel free to share any tips or success stories in the comments section below.