Persistence Pays: How International Students Can Find a Great Job in the U.S.

As a recent college graduate, I can tell you that the struggle of landing your first job is real. Long before graduation, you start to wonder: Do I have enough experience? What will my competition have that I don’t? Who is going to take a chance on me?

This is especially true for international students with an F-1 or J-1 visa who decide to seek work in the United States. The issue top of mind is time: If they can’t find a job 90 days after graduation, their visas are revoked.

Like many international students, I thought of my education as an investment. Getting a bachelor’s degree in the States is expensive, but I felt the quality would be better than anything I could’ve received back home. Of course, it came with the added pressure of finding a job where I could earn my money (or at least some of it) back.

I graduated from American University with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in international studies. By the time I graduated I had several relevant work experiences, including a one-year unpaid internship and various on-campus jobs. After applying to many entry level positions that I was qualified for, it was clear that my visa status was standing in my way. Hiring an international student means a load of paperwork for the employer, the risk of losing the employee after a short amount of time and therefore a reduced return on investment.

After months of rejection and unanswered applications, I finally secured a position at Vanguard Communications, a month before I would have had to return to my home country. During the hiring process I debated whether I should tell the employer about my visa status (I was afraid it might make them change their minds about my candidacy) — I decided to be completely honest, which I know was highly appreciated by the employer and worked in my favor. The experience taught me about persistence, being strategic and patience.

Here is some advice from a Latina who beat the visa clock:

  1. Rely on your professors. Make sure that you stand out among your peers by demonstrating a great work ethic in class. Once you have the reputation as a hard worker, it’s easier to ask your professors for career guidance. In my experience, they were willing to give tactical advice as well as help me network with others they knew who were hiring.
  2. Choose the right internship. Internships are probably the experience the potential employer will look at most closely, so be strategic in what makes it on your résumé. Prioritize those that have intriguing job descriptions — not just cushy stipends — and ask questions in your interview to help decipher your day-to-day tasks and overall responsibilities. I was part of a newsroom for a year without pay or stipends, but by the time my internship ended, I had done high-level reporting for TV, print and online. If financial support is essential, there are associations like NAFSA and online scholarship databases like ScholarshipPortal.com and Internships.com that will help you explore funding options.
  3. Take classes that will enhance skills that are valued in your field. If you are able to manage adding one or two more classes to your regular load, take them! In most schools, taking 12 to 15 credits makes you a full-time student, which means tuition does not fluctuate. Choose the class that will give you a practical skill that you know employers are likely looking for. I opted for an advanced reporting class which allowed me to polish my writing skills.
  4. Do the legwork. While a lot is available online (LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor), there is great value in reaching out to people in more personal ways through private messages. Ask them if they have time to meet with you to discuss their jobs or ask for an informational interview with no strings attached. Always follow up with gratitude for their time!

As with anything, getting a job is a step by step process. Be creative and confident, and before you know it, you’ll have landed interviews. Let the employer know that in addition to bringing diversity, bilingualism and an alternative world view to the office, you possess those solid and irreplaceable skills that the job requires. Good luck!