Searching for a job as an international student is completely different from searching as an American citizen or a legal resident. Following are some tips and things I wish I had known early in the MMS program. This blog post assumes that you are an international student who wants to find a job in the USA.

Know Your OPT and H1-B Visa Situation

After you graduate, you’re able to work for a year on your Optional Practical Training (OPT) status. You have to apply for this. Go to the international student workshops that the MMS program provides and they will kindly guide you through the process.

You’ll be allowed to work for a year on a job that’s related to your degree. But after that, you will need sponsorship from a company for your H1-B visa to work legally in the USA. Every year, there is a quota of H1-B visas that the US government issues, and the new quota is released in April. That means if you apply too late, the number of H1-B visas that are issued may run out. Even if you have a company willing to sponsor your H1-B visa, you may not be able to get it, and you might lose that job offer.

This is really complicated to grasp at first, but to put it differently, being an international means that it’s best to secure a job at a company willing to sponsor you BEFORE April. That way, your company can file for sponsorship when there are a lot of H1-B visas available. Also, if you do not get a job by April, you should at least apply for an internship, which will allow you to stay in the US. An internship may be the one thing that will legally allow you to remain in the US so that you can continue to search for a full-time job.

Target Specific Companies

There are three kinds of companies that are best to target:

  1. Startups. They are flexible and if you make yourself useful enough, they may be more likely to sponsor you because the cost of hiring a new person and training him/her is higher.
  2. Mid-sized companies. These companies are also more flexible and have less strict hiring policies. Network your way into them and see if they have sponsored any international employees in the past. My Visa Jobs is a great site that shows how many employees companies sponsor.
  3. Companies that are known to hire internationals. Some companies prefer internationals, and do not even ask what your citizenship is. Find them and network your way into them!

It’s more difficult to get sponsored by large corporations because they have detailed hiring policies built into their system, and it’s very difficult for them to be flexible and change the system for one person. So unless you know someone in a very powerful position it may be hard to bend the rules.

Think About What You Really Want

What do you really want? Is working in the US a priority regardless of the job function or industry? Would you rather go back to your home country if you don’t get your dream job? It’s important to get your priorities straight because if not, you’ll have trouble organizing the entire job search process. Things may get confusing and you might lose balance! The key to a successful job search is to know what you want, and to plan accordingly.

Network, Network, Network

Most of the career sites that I’ve applied to ask two very scary (at least to me they are) questions: 1) Are you authorized to work for any company in the US? 2) Will you require visa sponsorship in the future? These questions are designed to filter internationals because sponsorship costs money, and most companies don’t want that to happen. A lot of companies that I applied to rejected me immediately, and didn’t consider me as a candidate because I answered honestly to these questions. So networking is key! You need to get in a good word so your application will be considered. This goes for the US citizens and green card holders too, but it’s more important for internationals because otherwise, it’s virtually impossible to get noticed because of our visa status.

Good Luck!

If I knew these four things, I would have tried much harder in the beginning of the year, before the H1-B visa process started in April 2012. I just started working with a startup in NYC so hopefully, I will be able to work here permanently. It’s really tough searching for a job in the US as an international, but with persistence I’m sure the efforts will pay off. Good luck to all the internationals seeking a job in the States!

Learn more about MMS career resources for international students.