As 2017 began and a new administration took over in Washington, D.C., many international students were understandably anxious about their job prospects. Then, this past Friday, President Trump's executive order on immigration made an already tense situation for these students even more uncertain.
And so, to shed some light on the steps international students can be taking now to achieve their ultimate job search goals, Vault again reached out to international student career expert Marcelo Barros. Barros spoke with us about recent legislation that affects both employers and international students, President Trump's executive order, and what students can do to increase their chances of getting jobs in the U.S. upon graduation. What follows are 10 tips for international students that Barros passed along during our conversation.
1. Choose your major carefully.
If you haven’t yet declared your major, and if your goal is to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation, consider a STEM major. In 2016, new legislation was introduced giving certain STEM majors up to 36 months of OPT (Optional Practical Training). OPT allows international students to work in the U.S after graduation. The new 36-month rule provides international STEM workers with more chances of participating in the annual H-1B lottery. Which is great news for U.S. employers, because they normally rely on the H-1B visa to keep international workers on payroll after OPT.
2. Leverage what’s available today.
A new U.S. Department of Homeland rule that was passed in November 2016 just went into effect earlier this month. The rule makes it easier for U.S. employers to retain international talent for the long term, while also giving many international high-skilled workers greater stability and job flexibility. If you’re a former international student waiting in line for a green card, you have reasons to celebrate.
3. Understand employer mentality.
Given the benefits that come from the new three years of OPT for STEM graduates, some employers may only consider international students who have multiple shots at securing an H-1B visa. MBAs, for example, often only have one shot. A STEM graduate may have three. That’s a big difference.
4. Prepare for bad news regarding the H1-B lottery.
If you don’t get picked in the H-1B lottery, not all is lost. Be proactive and discuss with your manager the option of keeping your job but relocating to an office outside the U.S. The Internet and a variety of web conferencing tools have made the option of working virtually easier than ever. You can always fly to the U.S. to attend important meetings. Also, your employer can try to file for your H-1B the following year and/or possibly transfer you back to the U.S. using the L-1 visa, for example. In other words, there are ways to stay on the payroll other than winning the lottery. It makes sense for international students to target firms that have a global footprint in addition to valuing international talent.
5. Secure a job offer early, in the fall, during your last year in school.
This isn’t easy to do but should be the goal of every international job seeker, particularly if you’re a student who only gets one year of OPT. As a graduate student, for example, an early job offer during your last year in school potentially allows your future employer to apply for your H-1B come April, while you’re still in school. Educate your employer about this option; some employers might not be aware of this. Getting a job early is one of the best things international MBAs can do to increase their chances of participating in the H-1B visa lottery more than once.
6. Ignore Internet news about potential changes in the H-1B program.
There’s a lot out there on the web right now about possible changes in the H-1B program. I’ve received many emails from international students with questions on this topic. My opinion? Ignore the rumors. Most bills die and never become laws. Also, there’s probably nothing you can do to drive change, so you might as well focus your energy and time on activities that can get you hired. Worrying about potential changes in the H-1B program will not make you a better job seeker or candidate. It seems clear that the Trump administration is operating under a "Hire American" mindset and that's cause for concern. However, at this point, no changes to the H-1B program have been made, so it's best not to worry about what may or may not happen.
7. Exploit gaps in U.S labor market.
Despite signs that it could be harder for U.S. companies to hire international students, it's important to remember that many international students have the cognitive foundation and drive to provide U.S. employers with skills that might not be easily found in domestic candidates. Social, mobile, cloud, data analytics, artificial intelligence, health care, accounting, and the digitization of everything are all areas of growth where the supply of strong candidates is low compared to the numbers of jobs available. And it’s not just technology. There’s a shortage of qualified teachers in certain parts of the U.S.; many schools have relied on the H-1B program to hire the teachers they need. Pay attention to the blurring of industry lines. There are many ways to skin this cat.
8. Don’t overthink the job search journey. And move fast.
It’s tough for international students to figure out how to live life in a new country and try to get a job here at the same time. I’ve been there. Try not to overcomplicate the job search process, though. You have skills and experiences and hopefully you can find an employer who wants to hire you. Make mistakes as a job seeker but get off to a fast start. Correct yourself along the way. First-generation products are almost never perfect. They get better over time. You are a product. You will get better as a job seeker over time. Realize that your stay in the U.S. is limited as an international student, so get going. Waiting too long to send a LinkedIn invitation to an alumnus because you’re not sure if you have written a good enough email can cost you. Press the send button. Let common sense guide your actions. Favor speed over perfection.
9. Figure out if your language skills are good enough to get you hired.
Many international students from Asia who I’ve worked with tell me the reason they don’t have a job in the U.S. is because of their language skills. However, I find that many of these students definitely speak good enough English in order to get hired. If you’re not achieving the job search results you want, don’t immediately assume it’s because of your language skills. You could be wrong. Your English is probably better than you think, and your lack of results could be due to many other factors. Get comfortable with the notion that it’s okay to be “good enough” in some areas as a job seeker—and language fluency may be one of them. Your English might not be as great as you would like it to be, but smart job seekers compensate and showcase what they do best. If you insist in improving your language skills—sometimes that’s needed—then hire a personal trainer. In other words, hire a qualified language private tutor. And avoid group classes. They don’t help much.
10. Review your ISEL.
Are you fully maximizing the value of each one of your ISEL quadrants (I = Interests, S = Skills, E = Experiences, L = Languages)? International students should assess themselves before job hunting and the ISEL formula is a simple way to start this process. Connect the dots of your ISEL profile and “listen” to the story that your profile is telling you in terms of where you’re most marketable in the U.S. Seek feedback about your ISEL profile from professionals who understand and appreciate the value you may bring to a firm. Figure out how your ISEL compares to the individuals who’ve successfully secured jobs in the industry and functional area you’re interested in. Be a highly informed job seeker.
Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a book that gives international students an edge when job searching. In 2016, Barros conducted job search training for international students at over 20 universities in the U.S. To learn more about how Barros will partner with U.S. universities in 2017 to help international students achieve their job-search goals, connect with him via LinkedIn.
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