Navigating Internships as an International Student

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Navigating Internships as an International Student

This is a guest blog post written by Carolina Gouveia.

If you’re an international student, you’re probably thinking “How can I get internships that will lead to a job and visa sponsorship in the US after graduation”? While this process is often daunting, rest assured that you are not alone and some of us do succeed in getting that dream job so we can start building a career here in the US.

Many people don’t understand the hurdles that international students have to go through in order to get a job after graduation. You need to find a job that aligns with your major, within 60 days of graduation, the employer has to be willing to sponsor you (aka. $$), they need to submit a visa on your behalf (and explain why you’re more skilled than an American to do that job), then you’ll enter a lottery system (which in 2016 had more than 230,000 applications on the first day for 65,000 positions!), to then finally get the job!

I know this all sounds super stressful, but don’t be discouraged, international friend. With the right steps in place, you too can be successful and can build a career in the US! Just remember that you’ve already taken all the steps necessary to get an education here, now focus on the next objective at hand!

Roadmap to Graduation

Most college students are unsure of what they want to do after graduation – that’s ok. Try to find what you like, what motivates you and what you’re passionate about doing in your spare time. Typically, colleges have 3-4 month-long summer breaks. Take advantage of those as much as possible. Not all internships have to be in the US. You have a competitive advantage, so use that to search for internships at international companies with offices in the US. They could be a ticket to staying here after graduation.

Do Your Research

We all know how confusing visas can be, and nothing can make you more confident on a topic than doing your research. Make sure you take advantage of the International Student Office at your school and try to learn as much as possible about different visa types and key dates. This is essential to knowing the proper steps to maximize your chances of success!

Highlight Your International Skills

Despite businesses being more globalized, many recruiters are often unfamiliar with the process of hiring international candidates. Mentioning a work visa can often scare them away. That's why it's important for you to know the process and be fully versed in the steps. As the most qualified candidate for the role, they may be flexible to hear your guidance on how to approach certain steps. Use your international background and ability to understand different cultures as a point of differentiation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to close deals not from pitching our business, but simply from being able to welcome a client in a different language and being able to relate on a cultural level. Leverage that as much as possible!

Use The Resources Around You

Network, network, network. We’ve all heard that millions of times – but it’s true! Having connections to alumni, family and friends, and attending events with people in the industry is a key component to finding a job and getting sponsorship. Attend off-campus events as well. Use your international background as a conversation starter. You will not only be able to talk about yourself, but the person will remember you as the “Brazilian girl who lived in China”. The more people you are connected to, the better. People are more likely to hire someone they know and have spoken to, rather than picking from a job site or pile of resumes – so try to make as many connections as possible!

Keep Your Documents Organized

We know how it feels to go through airport customs with a folder containing SEVIS, passports, a letter from your school and other paperwork that you may (or may not) need. Always make sure you have all of your documents organized and keep all of them. In my latest job switch, my employer was unfamiliar with work visas, but since I was knowledgeable about the process and had all of my documents organized I was able to beat a more qualified international candidate because I had my documentation organized and presented them in a timely manner.

It's A Numbers Game

While you may have an ideal company you'd like to work for, it's important that you apply to as many positions that are relevant. You never know which company is looking for a candidate just like you, so making sure your spread your options out it will help you maximize the chances of finding an employer that is willing to go the extra step to sponsor you.

Also, you might feel like you’re swimming upstream in a river full of other qualified candidates during this process, but stay persistent and don’t give up - going through this will make you stronger and more confident than you ever imagined - and that is who employers are looking for.

By setting up a path to success and arming yourself with all of the information necessary to succeed, you too can be able to build a career in the US after graduation! Good luck!

About the Author: Carolina Gouveia is a Business Development Manager at a digital agency. Lina has a background in Account Services working with clients such as Netflix, Lionsgate, Nordstrom, Beats by Dre, and Campbell’s among other Fortune 500 companies. Her agency experience includes WPP and IPG agencies.  You can follow her at @Lina_SGouveia.