Optimizing Your Job Search Strategy as an International Student

Finding a job can be intimidating, especially for international students facing unique obstacles like work authorization and visa sponsorship. Finding and applying to jobs abroad can be a challenging process, and some employers are reluctant to front the costs of sponsoring international students for permanent positions. So how do you increase your chances of landing the perfect job in the country of your dreams?Luckily, the right framework and job search strategies can help anyone overcome these challenges and receive an offer to work in the U.S.

Managing expectations

Many international students arrive in the U.S. with expectations that don’t quite match the reality of their situation. For instance, some students assume that employers will reach out directly with internship offers or full-time opportunities. They take a passive approach and wait for companies to come to them, only to be disappointed when they don’t hear anything. What’s the problem here?

Unless you’re looking exclusively for on-campus employment, employers won’t come to you.

Once you arrive in the U.S., it’s your job to build a network and reach out to prospective employers. Most companies won’t come looking for entry-level candidates, so it’s up to you to build an effective job search strategy. The Career Services Office at your university can provide you with a variety of resources, information, and even leads on networking events.

Looking for jobs

When looking for jobs, it’s important to focus on your interests as well as your value to potential employers. Employers are looking for value in the following areas:

  • Professional experience – This includes internship experience, part-time or full-time roles, academic projects, and relevant degrees or classes.
  • Industry knowledge – Do you have specific knowledge of a particular industry because of your past academic or work experiences?
  • Functional experience – What roles are you best suited for? Consider any experience or skill you have in areas such as marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.
  • Culture – Most companies want to maintain a specific company culture or identity, and they prefer candidates that fit this culture.

INTERNATIONAL ADVANTAGE: Now more than ever, U.S. companies are emphasizing diversity in the workplace. This makes applicants from foreign countries and underrepresented minorities especially attractive, especially if they speak multiple languages or have specialized regional experience or knowledge.

It’s also important to target companies with plenty of employment opportunities and a proven record of sponsoring entry-level international candidates. You can use the following opportunity assessment matrix to gauge the best target employers.

How do you go about finding open jobs? While traditional job boards can be a helpful place to start, they should never be your only search tool. Most open positions at U.S. companies are never even advertised on job boards – more often that not, entry-level and mid-level jobs are filled through networking or internal referrals. If you’ve worked or interned for a U.S. company in the past, you can reach out to your contacts there to request an internal referral for open positions in the company. For the rest of us, it’s time to network.


While networking can seem intimidating, it’s ultimately the best way to find new job opportunities and meet potential contacts at target companies. Luckily, there are plenty of different ways to network (including on Interstride). Networking opportunities include:

  • LinkedIn
  • Existing professional and personal network
  • On-campus career fairs, clubs, and employer events
  • University job postings
  • Off-campus networking and recruiting events

At the end of the day, networking just means meeting new people, learning about their company, and collecting their contact information.

While it can be scary to put yourself out there, recruiters at career fairs and off-campus events are there to help you. When it comes to individual networking outside of a set recruitment event, most people are happy to talk about their jobs and offer advice to young professionals.

Before you reach out to employers and potential contacts at target companies, it’s important to focus on connecting with hiring managers rather than human resources teams.

What’s the difference?

Hiring managers are typically department heads or business division leads who make final hiring decisions. Human resources employees usually screen candidates and provide administrative support to hiring managers, but they don’t make the final call.

Furthermore, hiring managers are the ones with the authority to lobby for your visa sponsorship. So while you may speak with HR representatives during a preliminary phone screen, hiring managers are the real networking powerhouses.

Alright – you’ve gone to some networking events, met some people, and collected some phone numbers and email addresses. Now what?

Informational interviews

Once you’ve met contacts at some of your target employers, you can learn more about the company and develop a professional relationship with your contact by requesting and attending an informational interview.

These are not formal interviews, even if you’ve already applied to a job at the company where your contact works. In fact, you should almost never ask for a job up front during an informational interview.

Rather, these interviews are more like short meetings where you can get to know your contact and gather information about the company. So how do you go about requesting an informational interview?

  1. Reach out to a company contact through any of your networking channels (someone you find on LinkedIn, someone you meet at an event, etc.). Send them a short and simple email inquiring about their availability for a brief phone call or in-person
  2. Prepare a set of questions for the meeting. Focus on your contact’s work history, their role at the company, and any other information you find
  3. Meet with your contact. Be courteous, ask plenty of questions, and don’t ask for a
  4. Send a follow-up email to thank the contact for their
  5. If you find relevant job openings at the contact’s company, you can apply for these roles and request an internal referral of your

Internal referrals are a way for existing employees to refer or recommend candidates that could be a strong fit for the open role. Because of this referral, the candidate’s resume is pushed to the top of the “pile” and receives extra attention from the hiring team.

Resumes and cover letters

No matter what kind of company you’re applying to, most initial applications will ask for a resume and a cover letter.

It’s important to cater your resume to the exact type of role you’re applying to. Don’t include any information that seems irrelevant, and try not to exceed a page or two at most. If you’re applying to jobs in two different sectors (or even two slightly different roles), your resume may look completely different for each application.

Similarly, each cover letter you write should be totally unique. While you can start with a base template for each role you apply to, it’s important to demonstrate a specific interest in each individual role. Employers like to see that an applicant has done their research on company policies, achievements, and culture. Furthermore, the relevant skills that make you an attractive candidate for a corporate finance role might be completely different from the skills you need to succeed in an FP&A analyst role.

If possible, direct your cover letter to the hiring manager or division lead who will ultimately be reading your application.

Work Authorization

Even if you find the perfect job, you’ll need work authorization from the U.S. government if you

want to work in the United States. The type of work authorization you’ll need depends on a few different factors, but it’s important to learn about every type of authorization so you know which options might be relevant during the course of your education. Your International Student Services Office will have all the information you need, but here’s a quick primer on some common work authorizations for international students:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – temporary work authorization that allows F-1 students to accept part-time or full-time employment in their academic field after one year of full-time study (i.e., internships)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) – temporary 12-month work authorization for graduated F-1 students to gain practical work experience related to their field
  • STEM extension – a 24-month OPT extension for graduated F-1 students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM)

H-1B & Green Card – long-term work authorization options. H-1B visas, which are subject to annual quotas, allow international employees to work in the U.S. for up to six years. Green cards, also known as Permanent Resident Cards, allow people to live and work permanently in the U.S.

Backup options

No matter how much energy you put into your job search, there is no guarantee that you will be able to work in the U.S. That’s mainly because the H-1B visa—which is typically the work authorization required after you complete your Optional Practical Training (OPT)—is lottery- based and capped at an annual quota.

If you are unsuccessful in your visa process, you have a few different options:

  • Explore other visa and immigration options – Consult your immigration lawyer to look at other immigration options that might be applicable to your situation (i.e., OL, L1, NIW).
  • Ask your future employer to relocate you to their international offices – If you receive a job offer from a U.S. company but don’t win the H-1B lottery, you can request that your employer relocate you to one of their international locations. Oftentimes, multinational companies can easily relocate a candidate to their London or Toronto offices.
  • Explore international options – Seek out opportunities in countries with less stringent immigration processes. For instance, Canada has favorable immigration policies and plenty of opportunities for high-skilled international students and

As an international student, staying flexible is the key to success! Continue to build your professional network wherever you can, and remember that the value of your U.S. education is global – the scale of your future work will most likely be global as well, regardless of where you work.

Hunting for the perfect U.S. job can be a tricky process, but it’s important to remain focused, stay positive, and keep pursuing new opportunities wherever they arise.

Creating Opportunities Through Professional Networking

For many international students nearing the end of their studies, there comes a time to find employment. The process of finding a job can be a bit challenging but creating opportunities through professional networks can really help.Professional networking is so important, in fact, that more than 80% of all professionals say that their own professional networks helped them achieve success. How is that possible? Less than 30% of all job vacancies are actually published for job seekers to find.

Keep reading to learn how professional networking can help you land that dream job.

Be a Part of Your Professional Network

Before getting into what a professional network is, how to build one, and how you can benefit from building one, it is a good idea to consider the ‘why’.

Professional networks are created by groups of like-minded people. They are comprised of like-minding people interested in finding opportunities, strengthening their careers, and building a sense of professional security.

Given the obvious benefits that come from networking, it may seem like everyone is there to take all that they can from their network.

However, there is another side to the coin. Networks are built through human interaction and relationships. That means, for a professional network to be successful, its members should focus as much on giving as they do on taking.

Essentially, each member of the network should provide some value to the rest of the network. When a person is successful in offering value, the network will also work for them.

Getting Started With Your Professional Network

Getting started with your professional network can be as simple as taking a register of all the people that you know. Fellow classmates, professors, friends, family, and anyone else you have met along the way can be added to your list.

Consider how each of the people on your list relates to your professional goals. Sometimes the connection is clear, other times it is not. Even if you cannot see a direct link between a person on your list and your aims, it is good not to disregard people from your list too soon. It is common for opportunities to come from unexpected places.

The next step is to make a list of professional networking events that are related to your career goals. Whether you are looking for virtual networking events or meetings to attend in person, knowing which events are available to you can prove very useful.

Types of Professional Networking

According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, there are three main categories that professional networking falls into. Networking can be operational, personal, and strategic. It is essential to understand the various aspects of professional networking so that you can create a network that meets your range of goals.

Operational Networking

Operational networking describes connections that are made within classrooms, workplaces, clubs, and peer groups. These networks work to support current tasks and goals for all members of the network.

Personal Networking

Personal networking describes connections made that enrich a person’s development. These are the types of connections that can often provide surprise opportunities. They are the members of your network who provide value but that value may not be directly related to current work or plans.

Strategic Networking

Strategic networking takes place when connections are made for the advancement of future goals. People in these groups are the ones who will serve a future purpose and may not help with anything at the moment.

Attending Professional Networking Events

Attending professional networking events can be one of the best ways to bring new people and ideas into your circle. From the new connections that you create, there are often doors that begin to open.

The professional networking events that you attend can focus on any kind of networking that suits your needs. Building personal and strategic connections is a common goal for many people attending networking events.

Find the Right Professional Networks

There are many ways to attend professional networking events and it is possible to build a network online without a specific event.

Virtual networking events often take place on networking websites, like Facebook and LinkedIn. These allow for specific groups of people to ‘mingle’ online and share ideas.

Universities often host job fairs and networking events, both in person and online.

In addition, many alumni groups and student associations hold events that help with network building.

No matter what your present and future goals happen to be, regularly attending the right mix of networking events will help you find success.

What Happens After Professional Networking Events?

Once you have completed a networking event, there are some important steps to take. Steps that will help you make the most of the connections that you made.

Review – The first step is to review the people and information that you gained from the event. Organize the contact information that you collected and write down how each of the people on your list can help you achieve your goals.

It is also crucial to make a note of what you can offer to each of the new people on your contact list. Remember the give and take? You will find that your network will serve you much better when you are cognizant of the needs of its members.

Follow Up – After recording all of the necessary information and taking any notes that you deem important to the process, it is time to make contact with your new network one more time.

How you follow up will largely depend on the situation at hand. Emails and social media messages are popular choices. With your chosen method, send a message to each new person on your list. Remind them that you appreciate meeting them. This is also a good time to bring up any value you can add to their lives. They will see how maintaining a relationship with you will be worth their time.

Related Questions

What are professional networks?

Professional networks are groups of people connected by a common interest, such as a specific industry or profession. Taking part in professional networks with other like-minded people creates new opportunities for employment. A well-networked professional may also have access to more resources as a result of the connections they share with others.

What are some professional network examples?

Professional networks can take on many forms. They provide opportunities for personal growth, professional growth, and future prospects. Some examples include international student groups with similar career goals, clubs for alumni, employee associations, etc.

What is not an example of professional networking?

Most professionals would not consider collecting contact information for professionals in your field to be networking. Unless, of course, you do it in a mutually communicative way. Preferably, you should collect contact information in person or at a virtual networking event. Other examples include attending webinars and going to job interviews.

How to Legally Work in the U.S. as an International Student

Most international students studying in the U.S. have an F-1 visa, which allows you to enter the country as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, or a number of other academic institutions and training programs. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.

When studying in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, getting a job is a great way to gain work experience while also earning money to put towards tuition or living expenses. However, regulations on your F-1 visa may limit where and when you can work. 

During the first academic year, students can only work on-campus; after the first year, the range of legal job opportunities broadens to include Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training.

Depending on how long you have been studying in the US, you may be legally allowed to work in all or only one of the three main ways. 

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment is the easiest option for F-1 students, and is the only legal option for those in their first academic year. On-campus employment can take place on the school’s campus or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. This includes typical student jobs in the libraries, dining halls, dorms, or other on-campus locations along with certain off-campus locations affiliated with the school, such as research labs.

The hours for on-campus employment are limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session, but students can work full-time when school is out of session. You are allowed to work in more than one on-campus job, but their combined hours each week still cannot be more than 20.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

After the first academic year, F-1 students are allowed to do Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which is training that is a required part of your school’s curriculum and relates to your major of study. CPT is meant to give you actual experience in your major, like an internship, co-op, or practicum, and can be full-time with no hourly limit each week.

Some schools may offer Day 1 CPT, which allows students to do CPT from the first day of their program instead of waiting one year. The number of programs offering this is low, and it typically only applies to master’s and doctoral degree programs, but it may be an option for some F-1 students.

In order to do CPT, students must first secure the training opportunity, then gain approval from their Designated School Official (DSO). Students can have more than one CPT authorization at the same time, but keep in mind that one year of full-time CPT will eliminate a student’s Optional Practical Training eligibility.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

In addition to becoming eligible for CPT, F-1 students are also allowed to do Optional Practical Training after their first academic year. OPT is temporary employment that is related to your area of study; the main difference between it and CPT is that OPT can be completed both before or after you graduate, while CPT must be finished before. OPT is also not required to be for an academic objective, unlike CPT.

You will need approval from your DSO in order to do either type of OPT. Pre-completion OPT (done during school) allows for up to 20 hours of work per week; post-completion OPT (done after graduating) allows for both full-time and part-time hours. 

Beyond CPT and OPT

After CPT and OPT expire, F-1 students have a few options. Some seek to continue working in the US by gaining employer sponsorship, while others may register for the F-1 to green card lottery. Once a student’s OPT expires, they have a 60-day grace period to transfer their F-1 record to a new school or program, change their visa status, or leave the United States.

Final Thoughts

Carefully following the rules and requirements of your visa will help you avoid any legal issues when seeking employment. Interstride’s portal can help you find jobs for CPT and OPT. Simply log in to use its resources as you search for work.

Common Scams Every International Student Should Know

Compared to domestic students, international students are at an increased risk for falling victim to scams.

Scams are crimes that involve strangers targeting unsuspecting victims and lying to them in order to illegally receive money or personal information. Oftentimes, the criminal is posing as a government or university official, or a job recruiter.

Being in a new country and unfamiliar with the way its government and institutions operate makes international students more vulnerable. Scam artists can target international students and attempt to deceive the student with immigration scams and job scams. 

Know the red flags

Red flags are warning signs that usually indicate danger ahead. Look out for these common red flags in requests and appeals by email or phone.

  • Emails appear in your spam folder – Common email providers like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook do a pretty good job of screening out scam attempts. In general, you can trust the technology and assume the emails are not worth your time.
  • The email is in English and there are spelling and grammar mistakes
  • The caller or emailer requests unnecessary personal information related to a job opportunity U.S. companies will not ask for your age, gender, birth date, home address or other identifiers in a legitimate recruitment email.
  • The scammer says there is a problem that you didn’t know about – The person might tell you that you are in trouble; you owe money to the government; you have a computer virus; or that there is a problem with one of your online accounts. 
  • The scammer emphasizes immediate action The scammer will often threaten or intimidate you into taking action now, warning that if you don’t you will be in trouble. This doesn’t give you time to verify their identity.
  • The scammer asks you to pay them in a specific way – Regardless of the scam type, usually they want you to pay them in the form of gift cards, money transfers or some other unusual form of payment. 

Watch out for spoofing and phishing tactics

Spoofing is an especially sophisticated deception involving phone numbers and email addresses. Using technology, scam artists can make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate government phone number or contacting you from an official email address.

Consider this victim’s story from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

“A local student received a phone call from the FBI office in La Crosse, WI. The caller told the student that she was being investigated for tax fraud…(A) Google search confirmed that the number was the La Crosse FBI office. She was told that failure to pay would result in her being arrested and immediately deported…She was told to purchase gift cards and give the gift card numbers to the scammers. They immediately transferred the balances.”

Beware that you can not trust someone based on the phone number that appears in your smartphone or even the email address that appears in your inbox.

Phishing is similar to spoofing. It’s when an actual person poses as a trusted source, either via email or phone, to convince you to share your sensitive information with them. 

Many common scams involve phishing or spoofing or both. 

Know the common scams

1) Recruitment scams – Some commission-based recruiters may tell you that you must go through them to get a student visa or gain acceptance to a U.S. school. While you can choose to go through a recruiter, it is not a requirement.

2) Immigration scams – The caller claims to be part of a U.S. government agency such as Homeland Security or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They may ask you to:

  • Pay immigration fees via money transfer
  • Give Form I-9 information over the phone
  • Pay to download free immigration forms

3) Deportation and arrest scams -The caller may claim the student has done something wrong and threaten to arrest or deport the student unless some sort of restitution is made, often through gift cards or wire transfers.

4) Credit Score Scams Finding out your credit score requires you to submit sensitive personal information to credit bureaus. Scammers take advantage of this by setting up “free credit score” services online that steal your personal and financial information and often lead to identity theft. Only use trusted companies, such as your bank or credit union, your credit card company, or the website freecreditreport.com, which is owned by the credit bureau Experian. 

5) Job opportunity scams – In this common scam, someone offers you a great job opportunity, sponsored position or unpaid internship with the promise of future job sponsorship. The scam is that they ask you to pay money in advance or work for free for an extended period in order to receive reimbursed wages. This is a warning sign. Legitimate employers will not ask you to pay money for a job or internship opportunity.

5) Rental listing scams Posing as landlords, a scam artist may get you to place a deposit on a property that does not exist.

6) Prize scams – They say you’ve won money and that you have to pay a fee first. 

7) Check scams – Someone sends you a check and asks you to send a portion back. This is always a scam. Even if your bank deposits the check, don’t be fooled. It can take banks a while to figure out that the check was fake. 

8) Identity theft: This age-old scam is just as common outside the international student community as it is within. Someone will use deception or intimidation to get you to divulge sensitive information such as your birthday, your visa number, or your social security number. They then use your information to open accounts, often with credit card companies, and use your identity to buy goods and services. 

These are just a few of the common scams. Beware that scam artists are coming up with new ideas daily. The bottom line is this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Fight back with a “S.C.A.M.” of your own

Rice University’s Office of International Students and Scholars has agreat suggestion for how to respond. It involves fighting a scam with a “S.C.A.M.”

S.C.A.M. stands for:

  • Stop If you feel you are being pressured to divulge personal information or send a payment, stop.
  • Collect Caller Information Ask for the caller or emailer’s name, agency, and contact info. Say you must verify this information before you proceed further, and hang up.
  • Alert Authorities – Contact your university’s international office or police department to determine if the call or email is a legitimate request.
  • Make a report – Your international office or police department can help you determine the best way to report the scam.

Furthermore, stay in close contact with your international office and be certain to read any emails you receive from them. International offices often send out warnings of specific scams that are ongoing and affecting students at your university. 

Beware but rest assured that by remaining cautious and alert, most scams can be easily avoided.  

How to Get a Job with No Work Experience as an International Student

Finding a job or internship with no work experience is difficult for anyone in the U.S., but it’s especially difficult for international students.

Many international students do not have any professional contacts in the U.S., and they face additional barriers to employment such as language and cultural differences. International students also have to navigate confusing paperwork and processes to be able to legally work in the U.S.

To help with all this, we compiled some tips to make your journey to your first job or internship in the U.S. as smooth as possible. 

How to Get Your First Job or Internship in the U.S.

International students have access to tons of great employment resources through their university. The international student office can help you navigate the requirements of working in the U.S. including how to apply for the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. CPT allows you to work for up to 12 months in a job related to your area of study while you are at university. OPT is similar to CPT but can be used after you graduate while you are still in the U.S. 

For more general information on internships and on-campus jobs, the career center at your university can be a great resource. They have career counselors who assist students in mapping out their academic and career interests and goals. Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student, your school’s career center is worth a visit. 

Learn more about the OPT program for international students from Interstride’s blog.

Networking Is Key

According to recent research, up to 80% of jobs are gained through networking. Networking means interacting with other people to develop professional connections and increase your access to potential job opportunities. Here are 3 tips for networking as an international student in the U.S.:

  • Speak to your faculty and professors for industry connections   Go to your professors’ office hours. They may know of on and off- campus jobs and internships, and share industry connections. Faculty and professors can also provide a recommendation letter or reference for you.
  • Network with international alumni Attend networking events on and off-campus to meet international alumni. Talk to them about their experiences working in the U.S. They may know of companies that are hiring international students. You can also connect with international alumni on LinkedIn or Interstride. Some universities even have mentorship programs to connect you with senior international students and alumni. Inquire at your university’s international student office.
  • Research companies that sponsor and recruit international students More and more companies are starting to see the value in hiring international students. Network with these companies using LinkedIn or by attending job fairs. 

Gaining Work Experience in the US

On-campus jobs are a great way to build up work experience in the U.S. Visit your university’s career center for assistance finding the right on-campus position for you. These positions often correlate with your field of study to help prepare you for your career after graduation. 

For international students with no work experience, It may be worth it to take an unpaid internship. This allows you to build your resume with U.S. locations listed on it. Volunteer experience and academic achievements should be highlighted on an international student’s resume. Career center counselors can help international students with no work experience write a strong resume. 

Find Companies That Are Hiring International Students Now

Log on to the Interstride Portal to find opportunities for on-campus work, internships and companies that are looking to hire international students. Our network was designed by international students, for international students, so we understand the specific challenges that you face when seeking work opportunities in the U.S. That’s why we provide resources and job opportunities for international students even if they have no previous work experience.