10 Tips for International Students Entering the U.S. Workforce

With graduation fast approaching at universities across the country, many international students will be entering the U.S workforce for the first time. If you’re one of these students, you might have a fair amount of anxiety around joining the U.S workforce, especially if you’re not used to working with Americans. Depending on the culture in which you grew up, Americans might seem aggressive. And depending on how reserved you are, you might worry about “fitting in.” To help you adjust to life in the U.S. workforce (and to your job in it), here are several tips that come straight from training sessions I’ve led on this very topic.

1. Ask for help. As a new employee, you’ll soon realize there are many things you don’t know. And that’s completely acceptable and expected. So it’s also completely acceptable and expected that you will need to ask questions. Remember: asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of a confident professional.

2. Define KPIs (Key Performance Indictors). When meeting with your manager, it’s important to ask: “How will we measure the results that this project might produce?” In other words, communicate to your manger that you have an impact-driven mentality.

3. Seek input. Teamwork and collaboration are key characteristics of the U.S workforce. Depending on where you’re from you might prefer to work individually. So be careful. Engaging others often to review your work is a good idea, even when you think you’re right. You might ask: “Would you mind providing me with some feedback on the first draft of the marketing plan I created?”

4. Don’t be a robot. Don’t just complete tasks. Think! Ask thoughtful questions about your projects. You might ask: “Who will ultimately be consuming what I will be producing?” Understanding your customer is very important.

5. Own your accent. Some international students worry that they might be too shy for U.S standards. Some worry about their accents. Relax. What you need to do is be approachable. Remember the basics: smile, be thankful, express your gratitude to others often, and always be genuine.

6. Be engaged. You don’t need to feel like you need to speak up all the time. Instead, for example, take notes during meetings and listen attentively. Then, after the meeting, approach a couple of your colleagues and say: “Hi, I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions about the meeting we had today.” Such behavior communicates to others that you’re engaged and curious.

7. Leave your footprint. Strive for excellence and own your work. For example, as an intern, did you create a manual that improved on how your firm handles customer complaints? If so, write on it: Manual produced by Fang Wang, 2016 MBA summer Intern, University of Colorado.

8. Propose solutions. Can you improve upon something your firm is doing? If so, let others know your ideas. Say: “I feel that perhaps there’s an opportunity for us to improve our digital presence by making more use of video. Would you know if this has been attempted before?”

9. Make strategic connections. Don’t just network. Network smart. Are there international individuals in your firm you can speak with? Are there departments in your firm that do business with the part of the world you’re from? Reach out to these people and have interesting and global conversations with them.

10. Provide an international perspective. Are there best practices from your country you might be able to share with those you work with and that might help your firm reach new heights? Get noticed by sharing with others how your global insights might apply to the U.S context.

Marcelo Barros is originally from Brazil. He has worked for Lucent Technologies and Cisco Systems, and as a career coach for international students. Drawing on two decades of experience, Barros wrote The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired!, which gives international students advice on how to navigate the U.S. work visa system and how to find the job they want. You can learn more about Barros and his work and connect with him via LinkedIn.

Beyond B School offers job search training for MBAs. The firm recently faciliated a webinar called Maximize Your Internship: Tools for International Students to Succeed in the Workplace.

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