View From Campus: Student Work in the U.S. Part II: After Studies
In a previous post we focused on opportunities for international students in F-1 visa status to work while in the United States while they’re studying. In this post we take you through the opportunities they have after they finish their studies.
For some people, knowing how a story ends before they begin reading a book can be an obsession. When it comes to learning what lies ahead for international students after graduation from university in the United States, students and parents are eager to know the ending as well.
By law, after completion of their studies, F-1 students have either 12 months (for non-STEM degrees) or up to 36 months for STEM degrees of Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorisation possible per degree level for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level students. There are 240 different Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) academic degree programs that can qualify international students for the 3 years of work. The challenge is finding the job that makes sense.
Where to start?
When starting out the job search Marcelo Barros, founder of The International Advantage, recommends that “savvy international students are not fixated on specific job titles or firms that they may want to work for. Instead, with time on their side, it is preferred that students focus on understanding the various professional fields their careers interests, skills and experiences might be a fit for, and that they may be aware of. It’s all about creating a bigger pool of employment possibilities.”
Also, students who go to sessions on putting together a resume and cover letter that gets sent to prospective employers, are off to a good start. As Nicolle Merrill, founder of GlobalMe School, remarked that cover letters and resumes are “the main tools students use to get an interview with a company. The challenge is that nobody is good at writing (them)…. Even Americans are bad at it.”
Making the most of opportunities
On many college campuses each year, there are job fairs and interview days held that can open the door to the right job. However, students should not go into those fairs without proper preparation. Research is a key first step. Knowing which companies are attending and whether they sponsor international students helps a job seeker focus his/her time on those potential employers that may be a good match.
How international students spend their time with company representatives is critical. Students should know how they want to introduce themselves in 30 seconds. Ms. Merrill recommends that international students “practice your professional story. Know what you’re going to tell recruiters when they ask you to tell them about yourself.”
Ms. Merrill has an important suggestion on how to take the next step: “Follow up by connecting with recruiters on LinkedIn and sending them a personal message. You never know where a connection might lead in the future.”
Searching for jobs as a non-STEM graduate
While the majority of international students in the United States are studying in the STEM fields, and have additional time available to them to work, a sizeable number are not STEM students. Barros suggests that these students “should create a competitive profile by creatively strengthening their profile with an eye towards the skills that are in demand by U.S employers.”
Merrill goes further indicating “there will be much more networking and research involved. It also takes longer to find the right role, so students need to plan for a 6-9 month search to see results…. For non-STEM students, I recommend targeting nonprofits or universities.” In addition focusing on higher education institutions, Merrill suggests “students should also target roles in less competitive locations. This means targeting less popular cities and regions such as in the Mid-West and South of the United States.”
In the end, there are no guarantees of employment for international students after graduation, but with extensive planning and preparation, significant initiative and follow-up, and meeting the right company, the opportunities exist. Good luck!