As an international student, working in the US helps you gain valuable professional experience that can lead to even more opportunities. But how do international students get jobs in the US? Finding a job in the US can be challenging especially if you are unsure where to get started — or are unfamiliar with the application process.
This guide helps you understand job search strategies for international students, including how to find a job in the USA for international students, the American job search process, and more.
Job Search Strategies for International Students
Many international students use the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to gain work experience in the US. OPT status helps international students with a F-1 visa gain work experience after graduation. Your Designated School Official (DSO) will recommend OPT in SEVIS and provide you with a I-20 form with the DSO’s recommendation. OPT applies for both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
Since OPT was initiated in 2008, the number of international students working in the US has increased by 400%!
So, how do international students get a job in the US? If you are not familiar with how to search for a job in the US (or in general), the best way to begin is to start preparing a job search strategy, as this type of plan gives you structure and guidelines to follow as you explore different job opportunities – and narrows your focus so you can find the right option for you.
Helpful job search strategies for international students include:
Strengthening your skillset — No matter what your chosen industry or career is, developing in-demand skills or pursuing certifications can help you.
As you gain new skills, you will qualify for more opportunities in more advanced roles – and you’ll also stand out to employers. You are much more likely to be considered as a potential candidate if you have the skills and knowledge relevant to the job that interests you.
Focusing on your digital presence — In addition to your CV and cover letter, work on having a strong digital presence to display your work, such as on major employment websites in the US, like LinkedIn, Monster, or Indeed. This matches your profile with prospective employers looking to hire candidates like you.
Your digital presence could also be in writing research blogs or social media content that is relevant to your area of study, or even sharing interesting content on LinkedIn. Building your digital presence communicates your identity and personality as both a professional and an individual, which gives employers a sense of whether you are a good fit for their business.
While keeping this in mind, it is also important to make your job search plan as detailed as possible. So, you also need a strong understanding of the different parts of the American job search process.
Get to Know the American Job Search Process
To find a job for international students, ticking all the boxes in the job search process is important. The job search process is usually the same for most applicants across different industries and job types — by understanding this process, you can start preparing for each step to improve your chances of landing your dream job.
In the US, all applicants are required to submit a resume or CV (curriculum vitae) along with a cover letter — employers usually expect each of these documents to be tailored for different job roles. Internships are also a common start to many students’ working lives, as it adds to their professional portfolios.
Each of these requirements may differ slightly depending on whether you are applying for a full-time, part-time, or internship role, so be sure to adjust your plan accordingly.
A resume is a one-page document that highlights your work experience, skills, and qualifications to prospective employers. As your resume is your first impression with employers, it is important that it is well organized, with no errors. Because many resumes are glanced through quickly, particularly for job roles with many applicants, your resume should stand out and catch the eye of employers, encouraging them to look further into your profile and call you in for an interview.
If you are not sure how to create a resume, have a look at our resume tips that go over what resumes look like and which areas you need to include.
A cover letter is an opportunity for you to capture the attention of your hiring manager by introducing yourself and sharing your professional journey or background in more detail beyond what is covered in your resume or CV. In your cover letter, explain why you are a great fit for the role and showcase what makes you unique.
To write a good cover letter:
Research your job role
Identify who you are addressing it to
Have a strong beginning
Keep it brief and relevant
Tailor your messaging directly to the job role
Remember, your cover letter is a supplement to your resume, not a repetition of it. Highlight your achievements that may be relevant to the role you are applying for and explain why you are a good match for the company.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) states that graduating seniors with internship experience are 20% more likely to get a job offer than those without. Including an internship as part of your career action plan can give you a significantly higher chance of employers noticing you and considering you a strong candidate.
There are plenty of internship job search strategies for international students, as many internship and externship roles are specifically tailored for college and university students. For example, there are dedicated employment sites in the US which list unpaid and paid internships for you to consider, such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com and Internships.com. These websites list job offers from companies all over the country and also have resume and cover letter tools that you might find useful.
Once you have identified a role that interests you, along with your resume and cover letter, practice for an internship interview. The employer may conduct your interview on the phone, over videoconference, or in person, depending on the organization.
Here are a few tips to prepare for your internship interview:
Have a friend conduct a mock interview — Anticipate particular questions and prepare answers in advance.
Speak to previous interns — They may give you insider information on company policies, best practices, and more.
Dress appropriately — Consider the company and industry and identify which types of clothes will make the best impression. When in doubt, a professional suit or upscale business casual are smart choices.
Prepare some questions of your own — Having questions for your potential employer will show you are interested and enthusiastic about the internship role.
Follow up — Send a thank you message to the staff who interviewed you. After a few days, you can politely follow up with the hiring manager and check the status of your application.
When learning how to get a job for international students, it is normal to be nervous, especially during an interview. Remember: Preparation, like practicing in advance, can make things more manageable and familiar – and may help you perform better during the real interview!
Whether you are looking for an internship or a full-time or part-time job, it can be challenging to find the right opportunity. This is where networking can be a big help.
Make Networking a Priority
Networking involves connecting with your peers, university alumni, lecturers, and industry professionals. As you have career conversations with your connections and build a positive reputation with them, you will share information about your career objectives, which they may remember if they encounter a related opportunity you can benefit from. Additionally, more experienced connections can give you in-depth and first-hand industry insights that can help you develop your own industry knowledge and skills.
Here is why you should make networking a priority:
Networking can give you an inside track on available jobs before the general public is aware of them.
Networking provides a pathway to connect with powerful professionals and build resourceful contacts.
Networking offer an opportunity to practice your interviewing, English-language, and overall communication skills.
If you are looking for a networking opportunity, participating in formal and informal events at your university is the easiest way to begin. Many institutions hold career fairs that bring together professionals from a variety of different industries.
As part of your research process when developing a job search strategy for international students, you may find that some businesses are more likely to hire international employees than others. These can be great options to consider for your job search.
Research International Employee-Friendly Businesses
Companies may choose to specifically hire international employees for a variety of reasons — they may be planning to open a new international branch, need language support in a specific country, or are looking for a new perspective on current operations. Regardless of their reason, internationally friendly companies can offer great opportunities for international students like you to begin your career.
The following companies are recognized as Fortune’s top 10 most diverse workplaces in the US:
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
Marriott International Inc.
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
% of Minorities
Source: Fortune, 2019
When you search “find a job for international student”, try looking for more companies related to the industry that most appeals to you! You may already have some companies in mind, or you may find companies that already have a branch in your own home country.
Look for Companies that Have Operations in Your Home Country
Employers who have operations in your home country can be a great gateway for international students. As a potential employee, you can offer your first-hand perspective and knowledge to support their operations in your country.
This is an especially valuable opportunity if you plan to return to your home country to pursue your career. As hiring and training is an expensive process, employers are eager to invest their time and money toward recruits who will be a part of their organization for a long period of time.
Now that you have an understanding of how to begin searching for a job, you may be eager to get started with sending in your resume and applications – but it is also important to be aware of your work limitations while you are in the US as an international student.
Understand Your Off-Campus Work Authorization and Employment Visa Options
As an international student in the US, always remember that there are certain restrictions to work that you must follow to maintain your student visa. To be able to work in the US, you must have the appropriate authorization documents and a visa that permits you to work. This is a critical element, as it defines which jobs roles you can accept and how many hours you can work per week.
The US has multiple opportunities for working while studying which can be a great fit for international students, depending on your future plans:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows international students with a F-1 visa to work through employment training and paid internships in their relevant field of study. CPT may be required as part of specific academic programs and is authorized by your university Designated School Official (DSO) in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS). If your program involves CPT, it will be printed on your I-20 form — this is your proof to show that you are eligible for CPT employment.
With CPT, you are eligible to work full time for 20 hours or more per week and part time for 20 hours or fewer per week. However, keep in mind that if you work for 12 months full time with CPT, you will not be eligible for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorizes international students with a F-1 visa to work in the US before or after graduation.
To be authorized for your employment, you are required to mail a completed “Application for Employment Authorization,” known as Form I-765, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If your Form I-765 is approved, USCIS.gov will send you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) mentioning your start date.
You have two options for OPT:
Pre-completion OPT: You can apply after completing one year at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved university. This allows part- or full-time work for 20 hours or fewer per week, before your program ends.
Post-completion OPT: You can apply after completing your degree program. This allows you full-time or part-time work for 20 hours or fewer per week. However, your pre-completion OPT hours will be deducted from your post-completion OPT time credit.
Getting an OPT job is a great opportunity to work in the US after you have graduated and also provides a good opportunity to identify where your professional interests lie, especially for STEM students.
STEM OPT Extension
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students are eligible for a STEM OPT extension, which grants an additional 24 months of OPT.
You are eligible for a STEM OPT extension if:
You are currently engaged in working post-OPT
You were awarded a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level STEM degree from a SEVP-certified college or university in the last 10 years
Your employer is a part of the E-Verify program
The STEM OPT extension is valuable to students who wish to remain in the US and work towards a career in STEM, while also building a future in the US.
Academic Training (AT) is a unique opportunity for J-1 visa students to work or train in their relevant field of study. It is available at any stage of your academic program, either while you are enrolled in school or after you complete your academic program, as long as you maintain valid J-1 status.
If you plan to pursue AT on a J-1 student visa, keep in mind the following:
The approval of the academic dean or advisor and the Exchange Visitor Program Responsible Officer (RO) is required.
Upon approval of your AT application, you will receive a new DS-2019 and an employment authorization letter to present as proof of employment eligibility.
Bachelor’s and master’s degree students are eligible for up to 18 months of academic training or a period equal to the length of the J-1 program.
Doctoral students are eligible for up to 36 months of academic training or a period equal to the length of the J-1 program.
When thinking about how to get a job for international students, the hardest part for many students is feeling overwhelmed at the start of the process. While it is important to be realistic and prepare for some rejections, it is equally important to be proactive and positive during your job search.
The job search process can take a while – it is not unusual if your search takes six months to a year. By starting the process early, you can give yourself more time to prepare for each step without rushing.
Begin by listing your target organizations, identifying when they usually recruit, what type of jobs they have available, and whether those roles suit you. Take note of their requirements, qualifications, and whether you are eligible for their roles. When applying, present yourself as enthusiastic and eager – your proactive and positive attitude will give employers a good impression.
If you are considering training opportunities, calculate your CPT and OPT hours as well to see if they align with prospective roles, as well as any other visa requirements to consider. Once you have gathered all the information you need to make your decision, you can narrow down your options to choose the opportunity that suits you best.
Know the Demand for Your Industry and Polish Those Skills
An important part of how to find a job in the USA for international students is to have a detailed understanding of the industries that interest you. Learn about the work culture, technology, and communication channels in the US, along with the skills expected from applicants. This helps you capitalize on your strengths and work to improve your weaknesses.
Base your research on:
Trending industry developments
Skills and certifications to meet industry changes
Industry impacts on your particular field
Technological and environmental advancement
Culture and work ethics
To stay informed, connect with industry professionals, such as your professors or university faculty. They can guide you as you begin your journey to becoming a professional and can even help you explore potential job opportunities.
There are also many free online learning tools you can access to build your career skills, such as Khan Academy, Duolingo, and Quizlet. Additionally, your Shorelight advisor can direct you to key career development programs that can help you build relevant skills for the industry where you hope to work.
Have a Plan B
Finding a job in the US can be challenging for both international and American students. There are many external factors that might make it difficult for you to land your ideal job and competition for job roles is always increasing. This is why it is important to always have a plan B — a second option you can consider if your first strategy does not work out the way you want.
Create a list of jobs that you are interested in or that you may be skilled in and identify potential employers and job offers for these roles as well. You can apply your job searching strategy to each of these roles, with slight adjustments based on the role and industry you are considering. This will help you keep up momentum during your job search so that you will not slow down if one of your options does not work out.
Working in the US is a rewarding experience for international students – and also develops highly valuable skills that major employers will notice. Shorelight advisors are experts in developing job search strategies for international students, and can help you apply for roles that suit your interests and capabilities the best.
Learn more about how Shorelight can support you with career development services >