Job Search Tips for New International Students

Published: Jul 12, 2017

 Education       Grad School       Interviewing       Job Search       MBA       Networking       Technology       
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Each year, business school career service professionals from around the world gather at the MBA Career Services and Employer Global Conference. This year, the event took place in San Francisco, from June 27 to June 30. Attending the conference were more than 500 professionals, including international student career expert Marcelo Barros. This week, Vault spoke with Barros about his experience as a presenter at the conference, what came out of the conference that could benefit international students, and what new international students should do when they arrive at U.S. schools later this summer. Below is an excerpt from that conversation. 

VAULT: What was new at the conference this year? Any new trends in the career services space as far as international student job search support is concerned? 

BARROS: What didn’t exist four or five years ago was the acknowledgment from career services professionals that the job search needs of international MS students can differ significantly from those of international MBAs. We used to treat these student populations as the same, but I think that’s starting to change. Compared to MBAs, many MS international students are very light on work experience and, in some cases, have zero work experience. Therefore, the job search strategies an international MS student might take can differ significantly from international MBAs with four or five years of work experience. 

There was a lot of talk at MBA CSEA about how to best support MS programs in general, many of which are highly international. MBAs are still top of mind for business schools, but given the volume of MS students and the growth prospects of MS programs, we should continue to see more focus on this population going forward. I believe we’ll also see the development of specialized job search training options focused on the unique needs of international MS students. The focus on international students continues, and career services professionals were once again asking themselves in San Francisco: How can we best address the complex job search needs of our international students? 

VAULT: You led one of the breakout sessions at the conference. What topics did you cover that might help international students secure jobs in the U.S.? 

BARROS: I partnered with one of the schools I work with, Texas Christian University, and with the help of TCU MBA Career Coach Ashley Feldhues, I led a session that focused on the value of a framework called ISEL and how it can be used to help international students get noticed and hired. I’ve had a lot of success with the ISEL framework in terms of providing students with a simple and repeatable way for them to identify competitive advantages. ISEL stands for Interests, Skills, Experience, and Language. I believe the ISEL helps international students become informed job seekers by taking an honest inventory of themselves in terms of what they may be able to offer U.S. employers. 

VAULT: The new class of international students will arrive at U.S. universities next month. Where do we stand on the topic of international students and their quest for jobs in the U.S. after graduation? Has anything changed since we last spoke? 

BARROS: I think there’s less speculation these days from both university personnel and international students around what may happen with the H-1B program. Most of the individuals I work with believe our hands are tied and the chips will fall where they may as far as the H-1B program is concerned. There’s little value in trying to anticipate what may or may not happen. My message to the first group of international students under the Trump administration is be prepared to work extra hard to secure a U.S.-based position after graduation if that’s what you want. It’s always been hard for international students to land U.S. positions. What’s different now is that the pool of jobs open to international students seems to be smaller than ever. Many of the 20-plus universities that I work with have reported a decrease in the number of job postings open to international students. The employer community remains obviously anxious, and many will only roll the dice on an international hire if they need to. 

VAULT: What are the first things international students should do when arriving at U.S. universities with respect to the job search? Should they be trying to get internships? Should they be doing any specific networking? Researching the visa process? 

BARROS: There’s a period of adaptation that normally happens when a student goes abroad to pursue a college degree. So much is different, and international students have to process a lot of new data. It’s quite tiresome. I usually say that international brains never rest. In regards to the job search process in particular, there are five strategies that can give international job seekers a fast start in the race towards a job in the U.S.: 

1. Understand your competitive advantages early on. Ask yourself: what do I do better than others? International students should let their natural strengths guide their efforts towards finding a job in the U.S job. Focus on understanding where you shine as a professional versus agonizing about having to choose between finance or consulting, for example. Use the ISEL framework to help you. 

2. Don’t underutilize your main skills when job searching. Focus on jobs that maximize what you do best. Similarly, keep your skills fresh and ahead of your peers.

3. Maximize pre-U.S. work experiences. In theory you‘ll go further as an international job seeker if you maximize the value of any work experience you obtained prior to coming to the U.S. Pay careful attention to the “E” portion of your ISEL profile. 

4. Play the long haul game if you want to stay in the U.S. Many former international students such as myself who today are U.S. citizens have made strategic career decisions with an eye towards the final prize: permanent residency or, even better, U.S. citizenship. Build the strongest ISEL profile you can and try to secure your H-1B. If you are lucky enough to join the U.S. workforce after graduation, you can then calmly decide what’s next for you career-wise. Your first job out of school will not define you or your career. 

5. Have a healthy disregard for President Trump’s views on immigration. Believe in yourself and push forward in a very strategic and focused way. Remember that U.S. employers need the traits that many international students have. If you get a U.S. master’s degree, you’d be competing for one of the 85,000 H-1B visas that are allocated every year. Success is more than possible. 

Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, a firm specializing in providing job search training for international students. He is also the author of The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a job search guide for international students. 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, connect with him via LinkedIn.