Guidance for International Students on Career Planning
Career development for international students starts at US universities: When you study in the US as an international student, you also have the option to work for US employers at the same time! But how do you find your first internship or job in the US? Where can you find helpful advice about international student careers?
Shorelight is here to help! In this guide, you will learn about the differences in US employment, internships, documents required for job applications, how to approach job interviews, and options for long-term training. And at many Shorelight universities, our friendly expert career counselors are available to support international student careers from day one with personalized guidance, programs focusing on career development for international students, and more.
Career Development Assistance for International Students
With the help of a Shorelight advisor, you can start adjusting to life in the US while learning about in-demand skills that top employers seek out. Your advisor will guide you on how to build these skills and help you find opportunities for internships or part-time jobs. They also support you when you create a resume and cover letter, along with helping you apply for jobs and prepare for interviews.
You can also access application assistance support for international students and connect with US employers to find the right job for your career. Additionally, advisors work with you on the best ways to follow the working conditions listed on your student visa to maintain your status as an international student.
Understanding US Employment
There are a wide variety of jobs for international students you can apply for in the US, with different expectations depending on the type of role and specific employers that interest you. Understanding the different job types is an important step toward finding the right role for you.
A full-time job in the US requires between 32 to 40 hours of work per week. In the US, many students move on to full-time jobs after graduating from university to begin their careers. As full-time jobs require a high level of commitment and work, it can be challenging for students to balance full-time work alongside their undergraduate university studies.
As an international student, you are typically not allowed to work in a full-time job while your university or college’s academic semester is in progress. Depending on your student visa, you may be allowed to work full time when your semester is on break, such as during summer (if you are not enrolled in summer semester classes).
With a part-time job, you can typically work 10 or more hours per week, although some part-time jobs may require anywhere between 20 to 39 hours per week. Because time commitments can vary so drastically, it is important to know what an employer expects from part-time employees as early in the application process as possible.
Part-time jobs usually provide a source of income for many students. Students may take on a part-time job during their studies to help pay for their expenses or for personal reasons. Students usually use part-time jobs to gain working experience, build their resume, and to foster connections and references that may help when moving on to full-time employment.
As an international student, your visa allows you to work at a part-time job while you study, but only for a maximum 20 hours per week. Generally, because of their lesser time commitment compared to full-time jobs, part-time jobs may be easier to manage alongside your studies.
On-Campus vs Off-Campus Employment
Keep in mind that student visas also determine if you can work at on-campus jobs for international students. This refers to any job that is performed on your university or college’s premises and directly serves the school or its students. If your student visa does permit you to work off campus during specific periods, you are usually required to get approval from your university and/or college advisors first.
There are some specific rules, varying by visa type: With Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, students with a F-1 visa can work off campus after completing one academic year of study. However, J-1 visa students are allowed to work off campus only if they receive authorization from their sponsor and university.
Internships are a great way to gain work experience, as many academic degree programs feature internship or co-op requirements as part of your studies. Internships allow you to gain experience by offering short-term work assignments with a local organization, usually as a junior-level employee, often with course credit. Whether internships are optional or required for your degree, be sure to work with your advisors to comply with any visa work restrictions.
Virtual internships are becoming a popular option among students and employers: They can be accessible anywhere, and offer increased opportunities, especially for companies that may not have a physical location near college campuses. Virtual internships give international students the chance to gain the same experience as an in-person internship from the comfort of your home and the possibility to work at organizations far away from where you live. They may require work authorization; speak to your Shorelight career advisor for specifics about virtual internship requirements for the roles that interest you.
Through Career Premium, students at Shorelight universities can begin virtual internships with top US companies and gain work experience. You can attend professional online bootcamps, receive direct guidance from career coaches, and work on real projects to develop highly valued skills. After you complete your internship, you will receive a certificate of completion signed by your employer.
Job Search Support for International Students
Shorelight supports international student careers by providing dedicated career development international services. In many cases, Shorelight advisors can help support your internship and job search in the US while you study, often with jobs for international students at local employers who work directly with the university.
Job boards—Browse hiring notices from organizations that are actively seeking to work with students from your university.
Networking events—Attend job fairs and career expos, connect with local organizations near your university, and learn more about the opportunities available to you.
Skill workshops—Learn from industry experts and work toward becoming a professional through workshops designed to help support career development for international students.
Connecting with recruiters—Collaborate with recruiters from top organizations and find the ideal job or internship that will help you get started on your career.
Shorelight also supports students in adjusting to their life in the US through campus transition services, career counseling for international students, support with choosing master’s degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs, and more.
Creating a Resume and Cover Letter
In the US, when you apply for a job or internship, you are required to submit your resume. A resume is similar to a CV (curriculum vitae) and is a one-page document listing your professional experiences and qualifications. A cover letter is your written statement for the job you are applying for, and should be specifically tailored for each particular role and employer.
The requirements for resumes and cover letters to US employers can be very different from what many international students are familiar with and are very important for international student careers. Shorelight advisors support you in creating your resume and cover letter according to US professional standards, including how you can maintain and update these documents with future additions to your portfolio.
Resume Writing Advice
As resumes are much shorter than CVs (which are usually at least three pages long), you need to limit the amount of information included, while still mentioning your qualifications, skills, and experiences. Remember to focus on skills most relevant to the job when choosing between listing hard skills vs soft skills.
Hard skills are measurable skills that you will use on a regular basis to perform the tasks of a job, such as your skill with coding for a job related to programming. Soft skills are personal traits that are difficult to measure, but are equally important for the overall job you are performing. Soft skills include communication, time management, critical thinking, and more.
Cover Letter Support
Cover letters are customized to each job you apply to, and should link your skills and experiences with the specific responsibilities of the job. The purpose of a cover letter is to give the organization a more detailed overview of yourself and to showcase why you would be the best choice for the job, showing how you would excel in the organization and role.
Most cover letters are kept to one page and briefly cover key areas of the job’s responsibilities and how your professional capabilities allow you to perform well in these areas.
Job Interviews in the US
If employer reviews your application for a job favorably, you will be called in for an interview. An interview is a chance for the organization to learn more about you personally beyond the information on your resume.
Depending on the type of job you want to apply for, you may be required to take one or more employment tests before or even during your interview. These tests are designed to evaluate your skills and knowledge in specific areas and decide if you are a good fit for the job and organization.
Examples of these tests include:
Performance tests—These tests measure your ability to perform certain tasks which are specific to a job, such as a coding test for a programming-related job.
Cognitive tests—These tests aim to measure your ability to explain rationale and critically analyze information and situations.
Personality tests—These tests evaluate your interpersonal skills and what motivates you to identify aspects of your attitude, temperament, and more.
During the interview, you may be asked questions about your previous experiences, knowledge of certain software or processes, why you are applying for the job, and more. The interview helps organizations understand how you present yourself in a professional setting and how well you fit with the organization. Many interviews are one-on-one interviews with yourself and a hiring manager, though depending on the role, team leads or heads of department may be present as well.
Some employers may require you to go through more than one interview. This is usually the case for highly technical jobs which require specific expertise or jobs with a large number of applicants. Multiple interviews are structured to evaluate different skills in each session and can even include group interviews where you are interviewed together with several company representatives.
Interviews are core parts of international student careers, and preparing your interview should be done on a case-by-case basis, as each company handles interviews in their own unique way.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview:
Research the company and learn more about their products or services. Checking their website is a great source of information.
Make sure to dress appropriately. Some companies may prefer formal office attire (a suit and tie), while others may have a more smart-casual oriented attire. You can clarify this with the hiring manager when they contact you for the interview.
Prepare for different interview questions. Some companies may ask questions mainly about your skills and experiences, while other companies focus more on questions about yourself and your personality.
Some common job interview questions can be:
Tell me about yourself
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced at work and how you’ve dealt with it
What are you looking for in a new position?
Why did you choose to apply for this position?
What are you passionate about?
Remember to be appropriately inquisitive during your interview and ask questions about the role and the organization—it shows that you are interested in the job and company. Sending a “thank you” email or message to the hiring manager after finishing your interview is also a great way to show your professionalism and courtesy. This can help you build a positive reputation for your international student career.
Shorelight advisors are experienced in helping international students pursue all types of international student careers. You can work with your advisor to prepare for your interview and learn valuable tips to stand out among other applicants.
You can also prepare by doing a practice interview with a Shorelight advisor. By practicing, you can get used to the interview process and perform better in your actual interview.
Work Visas for International Students
Technically, a student does not receive a work visa, instead their student visa includes a work authorization. As an international student, your student visa (F-1, J-1, or M-1) outlines specific conditions and requirements for working and each visa type has its own conditions. You must follow these conditions at all times in the US to maintain your status as an international student.
Work Visas Extensions
If you want to gain more work experience in the US, you can apply for a work visa extension. (Technically, the student visa is not extended, the Form I-20 and subsequent work authorization associated with the visa is.) Depending on your student visa, you have access to different work visa extensions — students on an F-1 visa can access Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
While these are similar, there are some key differences that can make one choice preferable for certain students. Let us take a look at some of the differences between CPT vs OPT to help you choose the option that best suits you.
With OPT, you can engage in work and training before or after your graduation, and this applies to both bachelor’s and master’s students. Graduates with STEM-related degrees can also apply for a 24-month extension to their OPT, for a total of three years of training or work in the US.
While it is not a mandatory part of your degree, before you apply for OPT you need to receive a recommendation from your Designated School Official (DSO). After receiving a recommendation, your OPT application will be authorized by USCIS.
As OPT gives you the chance to gain experience and build connections after graduation, it is a great choice for students who want to build international graduate careers in the US. If you need help with F-1 visa & OPT extensions, a Shorelight advisor is ready to support you.
CPT is designed to help you gain work experience through employment and internships related to your field of study. Your CPT is usually organized upon admission into a program that includes it, and is authorized by your DSO. When CPT is required as part of an academic degree program, you can only participate in CPT before your graduation. Note, however, that many students are authorized for CPT even if it is not a requirement for their academic program.
If you are looking to gain short-term work experience, CPT is the ideal option: Because your DSO authorizes your training, the application response time is much faster compared to OPT. CPT can also help you improve your performance in class through practical workplace experience.
By studying in the US, you can develop key skills and gain professional experience as you work with multicultural teams and top companies such as Google, Facebook, Tesla, and many more. Working with a Shorelight advisor can help you showcase your talents and qualifications to employers and choose the right opportunity that will allow you to work toward your dream career.
Reach out to a Shorelight advisor today >