9 Things International Students Can Do to Stand Out at Career Fairs and Conferences

International students often feel like career fairs are a waste of time and money. The reason for such disappointment is that, historically, the majority of companies participating at these events don’t sponsor international students and therefore aren’t willing to speak with them. The good news is there are still several specific strategies international students can take to ensure they get the most out of their time at these conferences.

One such conference that’s right around the corner is the National Black MBA Association Conference, which will take place in Detroit from September 25 to 29. Many international MBAs across the U.S. will try their luck at this event, and here are nine things they can do to make the conference worthwhile.

1. Expand your network.

Connect with 10 international students from different schools. Start creating a strong network of international students outside your program who may have the same career interests you do. Find ways to keep in touch with these students during your studies. Help each other out along the way.

2. Meet professionals from different schools.

Introduce yourself to three career services professionals from universities other than your own. Ask these professionals how they feel the career fair is going for their international students. Also, share with them any success stories or tips you feel have generated good results for you so they can share your learning with their students. Be brave, friendly, and outgoing. Career services professionals tend to be very approachable.

3. Speak with lesser-known firms.

While everyone is in line to speak with Microsoft and Amazon, talk with recruiters from smaller firms that might not be getting much foot traffic. Individuals at these firms might be able to spend a little bit more time with you, maybe even reviewing your resume and giving you a few tips. Even if the company doesn’t sponsor, ask their recruiters questions like: “What’s the number one mistake they see attendees make when approaching career conferences?” and “How do you know whether or not you want to stay in touch with a student?

4. Find out who gets interview slots.

Similarly, find out from recruiters what makes them offer someone an interview slot. In other words, find out what they’re really looking for in candidates. It’s smart to leverage career fairs to become as informed of a job seeker as you can.

5. Ask yourself if you would hire yourself.

When talking with companies that are international student-friendly, after discussing your qualifications with recruiters, ask yourself two questions: Would I hire yourself? and What kind of impression do I give when I speak with recruiters?

6. Differentiate yourself and lead with value.

When it comes to making a first impression, differentiation is the name of the game. Don’t introduce yourself to recruiters by saying “Hi, my name is Marcelo Barros, and I’m a first-year MBA student from the University of Oregon studying finance.” Your name, the fact that you’re getting an MBA, and your school name are all irrelevant. Sell yourself, not your school or degree. Instead, try something like this: “Thank you for supporting the National Black MBA Association. I came to this conference specifically to speak with your firm because I’m aware you’re expanding internationally by acquiring small firms in emerging markets, and I have a lot of experience putting together M&A deals. Do you think I could help someone in your finance department over the summer with these types of projects?” Lead with value and show you can be a problem solver for firms you decide to target at the conference.

7. Be a problem solver.

Commit to being a conference attendee who is a problem solver as opposed to an international MBA who needs a full-time job, an internship, or, worse, sponsorship. Needing a job or an internship is not attractive. And remember that employers care about their needs first and then yours. And, of course, speak with every company that sponsors.

8. Be the sponsorship exception.

If you offer differentiated value to a firm’s recruiters, try to convince them that it might make sense for their firm to deviate from their “we don’t sponsor” policy and consider hiring you. You could say, “It seems you have a policy not to sponsor. Do you ever make exceptions for superior candidates?” The odds may be against you, but give it shot. You have nothing to lose, and along the way you’ll be getting fit for the job search race.

9. Sell global mobility.

Tell firms you talk to that you’re globally mobile and willing to go where the hot opportunities are. Make it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to want to work with you. Even if your desired goal is an H-1B job in the U.S., approach firms with a high degree of flexibility and take it from there. Ask recruiters questions such as, “Can you help me investigate job opportunities with your firm in Asia?”

Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage Get Noticed Get Hired!. He partners with university career centers to help international students get hired. Learn more at The International Advantage.

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