If you’re an international student in grad school looking to land a great job offer after graduation, know that it won’t be easy. So here are four job search strategies that separate international graduate job seekers who receive U.S. job offers from those who don’t.
1. Fully utilize your undergraduate degree.
Having a graduate degree that doesn’t connect with your undergraduate degree might make you look a beginner in the eyes of employers—the same as a candidate with only a bachelor’s degree. So make your graduate degree highly relevant for U.S. employers by connecting it to your undergraduate degree. Realize that it’s your undergraduate degree, obtained outside of the U.S., that could ultimately help you get hired and secure an H-1B visa after you finish graduate school. Leverage the full power of your pre-U.S. education as a key differentiator and target jobs that take full advantage of your complete educational background, not just your new U.S. graduate degree.
2. Correct your lack of practical work experience.
It’s not uncommon for international students to obtain their undergraduate degree in their home country and then immediately come to the U.S. for graduate school. This could be a dangerous scenario because lack of work experience between undergraduate and graduate school is not ideal. Typically, U.S. employers prefer to see a few years of work experience between undergraduate and graduate school.
If you’re hoping to leverage your U.S. graduate degree as a tool to break into a field or industry that you have no work experience in, realize that you’ll probably be competing with candidates with demonstrated work history in your newly targeted field. Also, realize that your newly acquired graduate school theoretical knowledge may not be as important as practical experience. Don’t despair, though. Gain practical work or volunteer experience in your new field during your first year of graduate school. Seek short, unpaid projects as a start. In addition, create your own projects and build a portfolio that signals to future employers that you do know how to confidently apply your newly acquired knowledge graduate school knowledge to solve real-world problems in the field you want to break into.
Meanwhile, test your readiness to transition into your new dream role early in your graduate studies by seeking input from career services and professionals who have the jobs you want. Find out if the change you want to pursue is realistic or not, and adjust your job search strategies accordingly.
3. Move fast.
Most graduate programs at the master’s level are two-year programs. Time will fly, and before you know it, it’ll be graduation time. Although you’ll need some time to get used to taking classes and managing your grades, don’t fail to job search while you’re getting your new life organized in the U.S.
Build a network of contacts working in the field you want to break into after graduate school. Ideally, start creating your new pool of U.S. contacts before you come to the U.S., so when you arrive at your new school you’ve already identified and connected with individuals who might be able to assist you with your job search. Tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter easily allow you to identify contacts early during your graduate studies.
4. Get your foot in the door with a great company that sponsors.
Successful international students who end up creating an exciting life and career for themselves in the U.S. understand that, often, the transition from graduate school into the U.S. workforce can be one of the most difficult steps of all in the life of an immigrant.
An excellent strategy is to identify firms with a global workforce and a history of sponsoring H-1B visas, and then position yourself as a flexible but not desperate job seeker who wants to join the firm in whatever capacity best suits your skills and strengths—and the needs of the firm (myvisajobs.com is a helpful site that allows international students to identify firms that have provided H-1B visas to workers in specific industries and cities, for example).
Another thing to keep in mind is don’t focus your job search on specific job titles. There’s great mobility in corporate America. With results, patience, and some corporate savvy, you can easily migrate to the group and job of your dreams once you get some stability in the U.S. after graduate school. Once you enter corporate America, you’ll discover a ton of roles that look interesting and that excite you, and that you never knew existed while pursuing your graduate degree.
A final note
Last but not least, remind U.S. employers that the U.S. government in 2019 has made it easier for companies to secure H-1Bs for their international graduate hires by providing these workers with preferential treatment via the visa H-1B visa lottery. Read more about this important immigration rule that benefits international graduate students here.
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. Marcelo Barros partners with over 50 U.S. universities to provide extra help to assist their international students with their quest to find U.S. employment via an H-1B visa. The next stops for the International Advantage include: Mason School of Business, College of William and Mary (October 30, 2019), Babson College, Webinar for International MS Students (November 13, 2019), and New York University (Nov. 19, 2019).