Timing is key. This was what Maria Khalil had to say when asked how she secured a job at Jack In The Box right after graduating from Chapman University. Khalil, who hails from Lebanon, made sure that all her documents were in order for her Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as soon as applications opened up.
At Chapman, Khalil saw two master’s degrees to completion, but it was her Master’s in Food Science that played a bigger role in getting her the job. “As a specialized candidate and having developed my skills in the food safety realm, I was aiming for technical roles from the get-go to maximize my chances of convincing my employer to sponsor my H-1B and PERM.”
Though the degree was considered to be in the STEM field, Khalil did not utilize the STEM Opt Extension, “Very early on in my negotiations with my employer, I highlighted how important it was for me to be supported from an immigration perspective. Since that expectation was set, I quickly asked to be sponsored for an H-1B to make it in time before the first 2021 lottery. My employer kindly agreed and supported the process, so I never ended up using my STEM extension. I work for an amazing company.”
Avoid miscommunication by setting the stage
For Khalil, letting her potential employers know that she would need support from an immigration standpoint helped her filter out companies that were not willing to go the extra mile and focus on companies that do.
“I was honest about the pros and cons of the employer signing up for this journey with me. This was a key decision for me and enabled me to continue advocating for myself within a complex immigration system. As a December 2020 graduate, I secured my H1B and got it stamped in October 2021, ending up only using less than a year of my OPT,” she said.
“I immediately referenced the list of connections I had made over the years, and I got to work. I messaged everyone I knew letting them know that I am actively job searching, and I was always specific about what I was looking for in terms of roles,” Khalil shared.
This piece of advice was something Khalil learned from Marcelo Barros, the founder of The International Advantage*. The MBA graduate had always been an avid LinkedIn user, and as such, followed hashtags that related to her situation — OPT, CPT, H-1B, immigration just to name a few. She stumbled upon one of Barros’ educational posts on certain laws pertaining to the H-1B visa and that one post led her down the rabbit hole.
Expect the best, plan for the worst
“It was a wealth of knowledge. I am so grateful to Marcelo Barros and the community he created,” the 26-year-old said. “I specifically remember feeling so much hope that people like Marcelo exist, because I noticed how many people he was directly helping. He’s always commenting and supporting international’s posts, constantly creating a space for us to interact with each other in the comments section, he was always sharing resources about job searching, navigating complex immigration laws.”
Barros was telling her — as well as thousands of other international students in his following — to do the exact opposite of what Khalil was taught to do during her graduate program. Instead of skirting around her immigration status, she was encouraged to embrace her international identity as it was a unique strength that no one else had. Slowly but surely, Khalil began to agree with this notion, “International students are so incredibly brave, resilient and strong. The decision to leave your home, your family, your childhood friends, your food, your culture, and your language for the unknown is a real challenge to overcome.”
From then on, Khalil began to brand herself as an international student advocate. “I figured that if I wanted a chance of being sponsored, I needed to let my prospective employers know that this is an expectation I have in any role I take,” she explained. Though this did narrow her list of options, it was nothing short of pleasing to find out that there are tons of companies in the US willing to hire and sponsor international talent. One of those companies was Jack In The Box, where Khalil landed a full-time job.
“As far as the lottery stress go, I personally did not experience a lot of stress because I knew I still had a back-up plan (my OPT + the option for extension). “I think having the back-up plan made me feel safer and more secure. It would definitely feel different and more worried if my OPT was running out and the lottery was my only option.”
Months of job searching led to Khalil eventually being scouted directly by a recruiter from Jack In The Box. The recruiter in question found Khalil through LinkedIn, because of a post she shared within her own network, asking for their help in spreading the word about her job search at the time.
Khalil swears by covering your bases when it comes to a job search. It could start as early as choosing the degree you want to undertake — the Chapman graduate studied a Master’s in Food Science to give herself a stronger and more advanced foundation in the Food Safety field whereas her MBA experience exposed her to the business aspect of the F&B industry such as operations, logistics, and the supply chain.
Now, she has spent a little over two years there as a Food Analyst, where she gathers various streams of the company’s stores’ food safety data to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Khalil also interprets that data, gleans insights, and presents them to management alongside recommendations on how they can best support their stores given their performance, company resources, and operational challenges.
Khalil spent a year and nine months as a Food Analyst before she was promoted to Senior Food Analyst. She credits her success to her tumultuous journey as an international student: “I was always curious to learn and I am glad I have maintained that curiosity over the years. It allowed me to sign up for internships that were not directly related to my field, which gave me transferable skills that I still use in my role today. Hiring managers are more likely to hire you if you are curious about the role, the company, or the opportunity. Mainly, it allowed me to put myself out there in a stress-free way, and approach new situations with curiosity, rather than with fear.”
Culture shock is real, Khalil said, as adjusting to life in a new country as an adult can take a very long time for some. You would have to make new friends, find new connections, and assimilate. These experiences, however, shaped her into the person that she is today — strong, smart, an accomplished employee, and most importantly, qualified to lead. All she needed was a company that sees these qualities and values them.
To this day, as an H-1B winner, Khalil still engages with Barros’ posts on LinkedIn. “It is thanks to the community Marcelo created of over 45,000 active LinkedIn users that I have met many individuals who have helped me, and now whom I want to help in return, whether through simple conversations or by connecting them with others. “I always make it a point to highlight Marcelo’s work because I do want international students to know that there are specialized career resources to help us achieve the American dream, and that there are people like Marcelo who sincerely care about our success in the US.”
*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. The International Advantage partners with firms such as Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Uber, etc, to help them recruit ambitious international students. Barros encourages international students who seek US jobs or internships to read The International Advantage Get Noticed Get Hired! designed to help foreign students beat visa odds and secure US employment. Finally, since the international graduating class of 2023 is graduating into a particularly challenging job market, Barros encourages US universities to offer additional job search support for these students this Summer.