How Can International Students Improve Their Chances of Working in the US?

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Having recently conducted job search training for international students at over 20 universities in the US, Barros shares his thoughts on which sectors international students should concentrate on. He also discusses why pitching yourself is an old and outdated concept you should immediately abandon.

Let’s start by talking about Trump fear. This is still the elephant in the room. How should international students prepare for potential changes to the H-1B program?

When providing job search training to international students I try to spend no more than five minutes on this topic. It simply does not warrant much conversation. Why worry about something you cannot control? I also advise students against reading every article they find on potential changes to the H-1B program. International students should focus on the aspects of the job search process they can control.

The current climate of uncertainty may cause companies to become increasingly skeptical about considering international students for roles. However, there may be some good news on this front. Something I point out to international students is that it seems that the top India-based IT companies including TCS, Wipro, and Infosys collectively experienced a drop in approved H1-B petitions in 2016 compared to the previous year. President Trump has tried to come after these firms and as such their hiring practices are shifting. Going forward Indian outsourcing firms may become less dependent on the H1-B program. The reduction in H1-B applications in 2017 (199,000 applications) versus 2016 (236,000 applications) could be explained by the fact that the Indian outsourcing companies filed less H-1B applications. This is excellent news for international students as a reduction in interest from Indian outsourcing firms means there may be more visas left for US employers interested in hiring them. This is the kind of information and trend that is important to analyze correctly

What do you most emphasize when providing job search training to international graduate business students?
At the MBA level I work hard to get our international students to realize that they may already be ready to join corporate America before they take a single MBA course. Before coming to the US these students have already developed sought-after traits and skills that could be immediately utilized by American employers.

We all know that to succeed in business an MBA is not necessarily required. When Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to go create Facebook do you think he was asking himself, ‘Should I get my MBA first before I create a company?’ No, he simply moved his vision forward and embraced his strengths. He was fearless and I work hard to get our international students to be bold and to move fast. Velocity is important when job searching and I often see a lack of urgency in international students on the job market.

Back to the Zuckerberg story – we don’t live in a world (certainly not in the US) where the letters after our name on a business card define us as professionals. This is a concept international students must embrace but many struggle with. The MBA is a superb tool that allows career switchers, in particular, to position themselves favorably in front of prospective employers. The MBA needs to be used correctly. I describe it as the beautiful wrap that goes around the perfect gift. Something you want to open because you feel you’re getting something special.

Are there specific roles or companies that international business students should be targeting? Similarly, which companies or industries are particularly open to considering international MBAs?

Whenever possible it makes sense for international business students to exploit gaps that may exist in the US labor market. Many international students have the cognitive foundation to excel in roles that domestic candidates may not be that interested in. This is often because the job may seem a bit too technical in nature or too quant driven. There are several sectors international students should explore. For example, social, mobile, cloud, data analytics, artificial intelligence, healthcare, accounting, and the digitization of everything are growth areas where the supply of qualified candidates is low. And it’s not just technology. I always ask students to pay attention to the blurring of industry lines. Companies require people who are skilled at helping make sense of the great number of data points they collect from clients. Credit card firms along with airlines and hospitality, for example, have been open to hiring international business students in the past. These are normally good targets.

What other challenges do international business students face when job searching, particularly when they first arrive at US business schools?

The other day I was doing some work with an international MBA from India who was very worried. Graduation was fast approaching and she had only had one or two interviews. Her job prospects did not look good and in her own words, everyone else in her class was making progress but not her.

I took some time to review her profile and my question was: why have you not received at least three job offers? She thought I was joking but I was not. She had a strong profile with skills and work experience that could be easily marketed to the right employers. She had academic training for biotechnology in her home country, and she knew how to properly calculate the costs, risks and rewards that pharmaceutical firms normally incur when they want to enter a new drug market.

This student was sitting on a gold mine in terms of experience and equipped with a desirable skill set but she felt the odds were completely against her. Her belief was that her profile was not competitive enough for her to secure a good H1-B job in the US after graduation. However, with a little bit of help, she has now secured a great job in the US, in her field of choice. She also got lucky and secured her H1-B visa.

Another common issue I see is the pressure international students impose on themselves in order to pitch themselves to others. This is such as outdated and ineffective way to build relationships. However, it is something that is still very prevalent in the minds of international students. I have learned that is takes some time to undo this mindset. International students should consider that while the US is a very sales driven society, nobody actually wants to be sold anything. International students are far better off learning the art of asking good questions and listening attentively instead. Job leads tend to come as a result of good interactions not off the back of a pre-rehearsed sales pitch.

Why is there a lack of self-awareness around what international students may bring to US employers in terms of value?

There are many reasons, but here’s how I like to think about this challenge. US children start hearing the phrase “good job” the minute they are born and they are often told by their parents not to be shy about promoting their talents to the world. It’s a very different story for international students. Many of us have never taken the time to think about what it is we do well. International students may know they achieve academically, but often that is the extent of it. And it gets worse: many have been taught to be humble and not to draw attention to themselves. I tell international students that within the new context they find themselves in, it is crucial to identify with and promote their strengths, in a way they are not necessarily accustomed to.

Any last minute advice to international job seekers?

Remember that companies want job seekers to be connected with their current employees. It should never be understated how far a recommendation can get you. Top firms do not want you to apply for job openings on their website because typically it is an ineffective way for them to find top hires. Companies want you to skip the line as a job seeker.

Marcelo Barros is the author of The International Advantage Get Noticed. Get Hired!, a job search guide for international students, and founder of The International Advantage. Barros partners with university career centers to prepare international students for the US job market. Connect with Barros on LinkedIn.

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