The View From Campus – How international students can best prepare themselves for jobs (2)

In a previous post, Christopher Connor, Assistant Dean of Graduate Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, shared with some of the resources many U.S. colleges offer their students to prepare them for work. This week we continue our interview, in which he gives us more information on the topic.  

Q: When students finish their studies, what is legally available to students who wish to work?
A: Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than three months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to work for one year.

Q: What is STEM OPT and how can international students qualify for it?
A: STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization available to F-1 students who graduated with U.S. degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. It is important for students to double check with programs they are applying to whether their program is eligible for STEM OPT as it may not always be clear.

Q: Talk about the importance of a resume and cover letter in the job/internship search for international students?
A: Having a well thought out, clear concise resume and cover letter that appropriately showcases and quantifies their abilities is extremely important. The goal is to be recognized with a combination of translatable skills that will differentiate from other students you are in competition with.

Q: When there are jobs/internship fairs on campus, what tips would you suggest students take on board to improve their chances of finding a position?
A: It is important for students to keep in mind that the job search is many cases a relationship building process. Let the company representative talk (but listen) and pick pieces of “common ground” knowledge out of the conversation.. Use the “common ground” to your advantage. Listening is a key ingredient to these interactions.

Q: In your experience, how can international students make themselves standout most when beginning the job search?
A: International students should leverage any resources or events that are made available to them to help promote professional and personal growth. Students should attend job fairs and networking events well before they are ready to actively begin their job search.

Q: Do you feel that prospective employers value what international students can offer their companies?
A: Employers are looking to hire the best qualified candidates for potions and there is a known skills gap for countless positions in the US. Given the gap, International students help bridge that gap by offering many benefits to companies.

Q: Interviews can make or break an international student’s chances of securing their dream job. What advice would you give them as they prepare for this important step?
A: Practice, practice, practice. Make sure to leverage free services such as mock interviews. The more practice you have, the better you will do when it matters most.

Q: If students who are looking to develop a plan B for work after graduation (if not in the U.S.), what would you suggest would be good first step?
A: Keep your options opened. This includes looking not only in the US but in other countries for opportunities including your home country. Starting your career somewhere can help you obtain valuable experience to increase your future career mobility.

The View From Campus – How international students can best prepare themselves for jobs (1)

For many prospective international students considering the United States for higher education, the opportunities for work experience in their field of study is often an important consideration. This month we take a hard look at how U.S. colleges and universities are preparing their international students for work. Christopher Connor, Assistant Dean of Graduate Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, shares what is possible for international students in the United States.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Premier global innovative research university

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Students and faculty from across the globe come to our school to conduct high-impact original research in science and engineering, to become leaders in engineering disciplines and related fields.
Our School also offers the SEAS 360 Professional Development program, a unique cost free professional development training for our undergraduate and graduate students to better prepare them for the workforce.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: – Industrial Engineering
– Civil Engineering
– Chemical Engineering
– Aerospace Engineering
– Computer Science/Computer Engineering

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?
A: India, China, Iran, Taiwan, and S. Korea.

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
A: Our university accepts IELTS for English Language proficiency and requires a minimum 6.5 with no sub score below 6.0. Students meeting this criteria have been successful in completing their graduate studies.

International student work-related questions

Q: What resources are generally available on-campus for students to help prepare them for work?

Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have Career Services offices that offer assistance with:

Power or Soft Skill Development – Many colleges and universities and in some cases individual academic schools/programs offer their students cost-free workshops to develop soft skills or what employers have not deemed “power skills.” In some cases students may even be able to obtain an additional credential such as a certificate or a micro badge to include on their resume.

Career Decision Making – Self assessment tools to examine your values, personality, interests and abilities and making suggestions on which type of careers you might be best suited for.

Resume and Cover Letter Writing – career services offices help students write their resumes and cover letters. Additionally, they conduct workshops and provide one-on-one sessions during which they critique resumes and cover letters.

Interviewing – Campus career offices usually sponsor workshops to help students learn how to present themselves well in a job interview, from what to wear, to what questions to expect.

Recruiting – Career services offices host job fairs during which employers visit the campus to recruit students who are about to graduate. The offices sometimes maintain student files containing letters of recommendation from faculty, which they can then forward to potential employers and graduate schools upon the student’s request.

Networking – Career services can also  help students find networking events, where they can connect with professionals in their potential career.

Internships – Many academic units may have their own separate office that handles internships but career services offices also often work hand-in-hand with companies seeking college interns and internship advisers.

Q: As it stands now, what do international students in the U.S. have available to them to work in their field during studies?
A: US colleges and universities may have funding research, teaching  or student assistantship positions available. Additionally, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa non-immigrant foreign students in the United States while enrolled in a college-level degree program. CPT permission is granted through a college or universities International Students Office or equivalent upon approval of advisor, based on the regulations established by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.


How Work Experience Can Transform Your Prospects

 

Image courtesy of Matthew Ragan CC 2.0 Flickr

 

Work experiences can vary greatly – sometimes you’ll be thrown right in at the deep end, and others you’ll have to seek out challenges. Wherever you find yourself during university or after graduating, here are four things to remember to make work experience work for you.

 

Contacts

Make contacts. Lots of them.

Work experience is your opportunity to meet those people who might be hiring you one day. If you show willingness to learn and enthusiasm for the line of work, your employer will remember you as a safe pair of hands – someone reliable. So, you’re increasing your employability with every good impression you make.

 

Learn the ropes

Being able to try your hand at the job is unquestionably good. Ok, you might not be performing surgery or presenting a case in court just yet – but being in that environment (hospital or court) will expose you to how things are done and the different expectations there are on different roles.

Even if you are only supporting someone else’s work, or shadowing them, being familiar with the surroundings will make future employers more likely to look favourably at your application.

This is particularly good for when you’re interviewed for that dream job. If you can back up your grades and enthusiasm with evidence that you have worked in the field in some capacity, the interviewer will see that you are serious about your chosen career.

 

See if it’s for you

Work experience isn’t just for the opportunity to break into a career; it’s your chance to see if the work is something you’d enjoy doing long-term. It’s a good idea to speak to the people who are doing the job already, buy them a coffee and take five minutes to ask them about the drawbacks as well as the advantages. You’ll be getting a clearer picture of whether the career is really for you or not.

 

What you still need to learn

There will always be a gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. You’ll not have all the skills or knowledge to just walk into your dream job. So use work experience to get a picture of the things you can do to improve and then go away and work on them.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

To throw somebody in a the deep end
Form : Phrase (refers to the deep end of a swimming pool, as opposed to the shallow end)
Meaning : To make someone do something difficult, especially a job, without much help.
Example : “On my first day at school I had to present to the whole class. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end!”

 

A safe pair of hands
Form : phrase
Meaning : Someone who can be trusted to do a good job
Example : I left Sandy in charge of the shop while I’m on holiday – she’s a safe pair of hands. 

 

(Learn) the ropes
Form : phrase
Meaning : To become familiar/skillful at doing something
Example : It took me a while to learn the ropes, but now I’m a skilled photographer.  

 

 

Try ones hand at something
Form : phrase
Meaning : To have a go at something (new)
Example : I’d like to try my hand at sailing one day. I’ve never done it before.  

 

 

 

A drawback
Form : noun
Meaning : A disadvantage. A feature that makes something less appealing.
Example : The main drawback of working in a bar is the unsociable hours.  

 

How to Choose a Career (You Will Enjoy)

icecream

Image courtesy of Melody Hansen (CC Flickr)

 

Choice Anxiety

Choosing a career, like many things in life, can seem like a daunting prospect. In some countries you’re expected to have an idea of what you want to do as early as 14 years old!

After that it’s hard work towards a university place and finally off to 50 years of work in your chosen profession. This can seem like a lot of pressure and to make big life decisions before you’re really aware of these things!

At such young ages, it is often our parents who have a large say in what we’re doing – though that’s not always the case or indeed a bad thing! But some realism is needed here, as we can’t always know how our tastes, opinions and curiosities will change as we move into adulthood and the world of work.

But how to find a career that you enjoy in the long run? There’s no one answer, but here are a few suggestions…

 

It’s ok to be confused

I think this is often overlooked, but it can help to ease the anxiety that we (and society) place on finding that ‘dream’ job. Perhaps it’s hard not to feel pressure when you see friends or siblings doing well, but I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people are confused – even if they don’t look it! So don’t pile extra pressure on yourself.

 

Find what you like to do – this will help

It’s not particularly surprising, but finding the thing(s) that make you happy is a breakthrough in itself. The more you do, the more likely opportunities to get paid for it will come along. This won’t work for everything, of course, but think in the same ‘ball-park’ and things will become clearer.

 

Transferrable skills

Perhaps the idea of a career is outdated, except for truly vocational and highly specialised professions, such as doctor or lawyer. So, studying medicine or law might be the only way for someone to work in those two professions, of course.

But studying either law or medicine will undoubtedly give you skills and knowledge that could be applied elsewhere – as a health correspondent or legal adviser in the charity sector for instance.

The most important thing here is that there are a multitude of careers and jobs out there that required a range of skills. If you’re not sure what you want to do in the long-term – don’t worry! So long as you are picking up transferrable skills and keeping an interest in a wide range of things, something will happen further down the line.

 

Try it out

Shop around. Be bold. Ask for advice and make it easy for people to let you help out. Talk to people who are doing the sorts of jobs you’re interested in and ask them how they got there. Impress them with your curiosity and knowledge! All of these things will give you a better idea of what’s required for certain careers and what the reality of the day-to-day work is.

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