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The bad news for international students looking to work in the U.S. after graduation is employers are clearly in the driver’s seat. When a job opening hits the Internet, employers are typically flooded with hundreds of resumes, giving them several strong candidates to choose from. The good news is international students can do several things right now to quickly gain job-search muscle strength and increase their chances of securing a great H-1B job upon graduation.
Below are nine steps that international students can start to take now that will help them avoid the dreaded “degree but no job” scenario.
1. Identify your strengths
Be highly introspective early on in your studies. You know yourself better than anyone else, so identify the type of problems you’re particularly skilled at helping U.S. employers solve. The unique way of thinking that often only multicultural individuals are capable of is of great interest to U.S. employers. Move your job search forward from an initial position of strength, and translate sought after competencies into tangible value for the employers you’re targeting.
2. Work around your weaknesses
It would be a mistake to spend too much time working on correcting your deficiencies. Instead, work around your weaknesses. Your focus should be on polishing your innate strengths so they can be U.S.-ready. For example, while your English skills might not be perfect, remind yourself of your fluency in mathematics, which can generate a ton of value for employers. Also remember that, to be valuable, raw mathematical knowledge will need to be converted into useful applications for employers.
3. Find mentors and partners
Effective coaching and mentoring early in your studies will set the pace for an effective job search race ahead. So quickly identify individuals who understand the subtitles of your pre-U.S. professional experiences and strengths, and who really want you to see you hired. Your university career center is a great starting point to find mentors, but don’t stop there. Faculty members and even second-year students from your department can be just as effective. Reach out often and ask for help. Whenever possible, work with individuals who can provide creative solutions that might help you address common visa challenges you’ll most likely experience.
4. Provide employers with creative solutions
Get into the habit of learning how to provide creative and alternative solutions to help the employers you’re targeting grow. Don’t be a status quo job seeker; international students are capable of more. Be known for providing superior ideas and insights to the firms you’re targeting, as opposed to making recommendations employers may have heard innumerous times before. Show U.S. employers that you’re a better thinker than your competition, and fully leverage your natural ability to see objects, people, challenges, and opportunities from multiple perspectives.
Early in your studies, seek ways to put your existing skills to the test in the U.S. by finding and getting involved with short-term volunteer projects. For example, approach one of your professors and say, “I’m very familiar with the topic of your latest research. Are you currently working on something similar? I could help you validate your survey research findings if you want.” Engaging in activities that allow you to demonstrate your proficiency in certain areas helps you create contacts who could eventually help you get hired.
6. Create—and increase—weekly goals
Give yourself weekly job-search goals. And once you’re consistently achieving your goals, increase the difficulty level. For example, if you’ve been consistently achieving your goal of having two conversations a week with professionals in your field of study, add to that a conversation with a high-level executive with managerial responsibility. This will increase your goal of two conversations a week to three. It’s important to always challenge yourself so you don’t stop growing muscle power as a job seeker.
7. Allow time to recover
Much like muscles need time to recover from workouts to grow, you need to take a break from time to time from job searching. But don’t take too many breaks. Be creative and recover from your own job searching by, say, coaching a student who’s struggling to find a job and needs effective assistance to overcome visa challenges. Helping someone get hired will make you become a better job seeker yourself, in addition to helping you feel good.
8. Be realistic
Google and Apple have their pick of software developers and attract the best in the industry, possibly the world. If you’re still performing at a level where you occasionally write buggy code that’s hard to maintain, you’ll likely not succeed at getting a software developer role at a top Silicon Valley firm. That said, no matter what your career interests are, know where you stand compared to those who’ll be applying for the same jobs you’re seeking. Ask your contacts: “How does my profile compare to those who are also seeking the same jobs I want?” Get informed early on in your studies so you don’t waste time applying for jobs you never had a chance of getting in the first place.
9. Double down on your international advantages
Bill Gates had acquired much programming practice by the time he had reached his early twenties. When he got to Harvard he quickly realized that he knew much more than his professors and dropped out of school. For Gates, programming was a core competency he’d already mastered before he reached college, and this competency allowed him to be enormously successful. Answer this question: What is your core competency that would make you hirable in the U.S. today before you take a single course? In other words, what are your international advantages and how can you best utilize them to make you an unstoppable job seeker?
Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm specializing in providing job search training for international students who seek U.S. jobs. He is also the author of The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a job search guide for international students.
Next stops for The International Advantage include: College of William and Mary (Nov. 6th), Concordia University (Nov. 10th), New York University (Nov. 12th), and Babson College (Dec. 4th).
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