“As an international student, how can I stand out in the application process?”
It’s a great question, and one that can lead to rich, engaging conversations. It’s also one of the most frequently asked questions that we respond to in Career & Professional Development.
The internship and job search process is challenging for any seeker, but can be especially tough for an international student. There are many reasons for this, including a limited time to secure employment with a looming deadline. But international students have so much to offer to companies, no matter the industry.
Last year, I had the opportunity to borrow The International Advantage by Marcelo Barros from a colleague of mine. It was such an engaging book that I ended up requesting that our Career Library (Driscoll South, Suite 30) and the University Library (Anderson Academic Commons; HF5382.75.U6 B36 2015) each purchase a copy for our students to learn from. If you haven’t read it yet, and are an international student, I highly recommend it!
One of the most important pieces of advice that Marcelo shares has to do with focusing on what you offer. So often, students will focus on the gaps between their skills and experiences, particularly barriers in communication. While it’s good for us to be realistic about where we have room to grow, it’s even more crucial to hone in on the good. What makes us a top candidate for a specific internship or job? What do we have to offer?
You bring a unique perspective and set of skills that your domestic peers might not have. As an international student spending four (or more) years in a new country, you are an independent, efficient problem-solver who is willing to think quickly and creatively to get to the next step. No matter who you are, where you are from, or what your previous experiences may be, most international students possess these skills because you took the risk to attend college in a new country.
Marcelo Barros lists, at the end of the book, “questions for international minds to consider.” In reflecting on your time in college, and on your job search, he suggests you ask yourself questions such as the four found below (questions adapted from chapter 18 of the International Advantage).
- How might you share your knowledge of both your home country and the US through your own lived experience with an interviewer?
- Going further, what are some of the experiences that you’ve had, both at home and in the US, that have shaped your cultural and global perspectives?
- What surprised you most about moving to the US? How have you grown, what have you learned, and how might you communicate that to someone new?
- How might you use your international background to reimagine a problem or see something in a new way?
In addition to taking time to reflect, do your research on the companies who will be interviewing you. Are they based in the US or elsewhere? Do they have locations in other parts of the world? Do they have connections to your home country? If so, how might you communicate your global knowledge with them?
Your global, lived experience can be compelling; in many cases, it serves as an asset to your candidacy. Your interviewers want to learn about your global experiences, and it is possible to weave your skills – your innovation, comfort with taking risks, creativity, knowledge of multiple languages, and more – into the stories you choose to tell. I challenge you to think deeply about where you’ve lived, what you have learned, and your successes. Consider how you might communicate your answers to the above questions, including how your global experience connects with the mission of the company, in your cover letter and interview.