This is a guest blog post by April Monchik of KnowledgeLink.
So you’re already studying in the United States, and you know that landing an internship here will give you the chance to develop leadership skills that will serve you well, no matter where your career takes you. But how do you land the perfect internship – and make sure that you maximize the opportunity once you’re there?
1) Know your OPT and your CPT. International students can take advantage of the US government’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs, which allow you to gain professional experience at a US company. To qualify, you must be enrolled in a four-year college in the US on an F-1 student visa, and must have completed at least 9 months of study. An OPT internship doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your degree program, and you can either take it while you’re still enrolled in school, or after graduating. An added bonus? There’s no extra burden to the employer for taking on OPT and CPT interns, so definitely let them know this when you’re interviewing to increase your chances of getting an offer.
2) Search with a strategy. Now that you qualify, how do you focus your search on what opportunities are right for you? Think creatively: do you love reading, writing, and words in general? You might want to search for internships in fields like communications, journalism, or marketing. How about numbers, data, and analytics? Finance, computing, and data analysis could all be a good fit. It’s OK if the field or industry you’re interested in isn’t directly connected to your major, but you will want to spend time reading American articles and publications about the field to gain the knowledge that will make you a competitive candidate. And don’t worry too much about the “brand name” of the company: a small employer might be more willing to give you challenging work than a larger one. For help in finding companies, network with your professors, fellow students, guest lecturers, and speakers. Connecting with them on LinkedIn or via e-mail is all it takes to get the conversation started!
3) Put your best foot forward – on paper. Great! You know what you want – now how do you sell yourself to the employer? Your first impression is through your resume. Make sure it’s short (one page or less), powerful (has clear, impactful descriptions of your accomplishments and skills in your education, extracurricular, and work experiences), and in the US style (don’t include a photo or your marital status, for example).
4) Put your best foot forward – in person. The company of your dreams has contacted you, and wants you to come in for an interview! Now is the time for interview practice. Grab a friend or advisor from your college and ask them to conduct a practice interview with you based on the job description you’ve applied for. Be prepared to explain how your educational accomplishments and experiences connect to what’s expected in the job, and how you’ve developed leadership and teamwork skills in class projects or clubs and sports.
5) Impress them after you get the job. Internship success isn’t just about doing good work – it’s about working well with your company’s culture and team. Observe your colleagues closely once you start: are they casual in talk and dress, or more formal? Does each person work quietly at his or her desk, or are spontaneous discussions encouraged? Does everyone come in at 9 and leave at 5, or are long hours the norm? Different industries tend to have different cultures: think of the innovative tech startup versus the conservative financial firm, for example. Aligning your behavior with the work culture will help your colleagues accept, trust, and give you more responsibilities more quickly.