Career development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: The “S Word” (Sponsorship)…and Keeping Students Motivated (Post 4)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

The whole sponsorship process can seem overwhelming, confusing, and daunting. I’ve seen many a career adviser’s face go blank (with a slight hint of “YIKES!”) when asked about this process from an international student seeking work in the United States. Here is the good news: you don’t have to know everything! As a career adviser, you simply need to understand the sponsorship basics, connect the student to the correct resource/office, discuss strategies and resources for the career search, and provide hope (and not just the mushy “you can do it!” stuff…I mean concrete hope in the form of proof through past successes). Not too scary, right?

Step one. Find the visa services office at your institution. Check out their website, and find a contact you can use to connect with students, to answer occasional questions. Your institution’s visa services office will have information on a variety of issues, including optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT), along with other links, and instructions for various processes. If your institution (or company) does not have a specific office or website for this, Duke University’s website is very helpful. Every year or so, my office has our visa services contact visit during a staff meeting to review the sponsorship process and current trends or changes, and answer questions.

Step two. Find resources you can provide international students with to help them with the U.S. job/internship search. I mentioned a few books and other resources that are very helpful in my first post in this series. I have two additional online resources that I find super beneficial…and my students LOVE them too.

GoinGlobal—This is a paid service that some of you may not have (don’t worry, I have a free resource below that is also very helpful), that provides tons of great information including companies that have petitioned for H1-B’s in the past (clues to international student friendly companies); country guides with employment and internship job sites, cultural job search information, top companies, and industry and employment trends.

MyVisaJobs—This is a free resource with information on work authorization (e.g., H-1B and student visas); links to attorneys categorized by state; and databases for finding companies that have petitioned for H-1B’s each year—you can search by employer, city, state, industry, job title, or by if the petition was certified, withdrawn, or denied. Great stuff!

Now, to the third and final step. Provide hope to your student. The information students can garner from the above links gets them motivated, but connecting them to others that have found work in the United States successfully provides great hope. Not only does this type of connection/networking provide hope, but it also provides instruction, direction, and the potential for a wonderful mentorship opportunity. Creating a database of international alums working in the United States, will be highly beneficial to you as you’ll be able to connect these alums to current students and invite them to panels or other special events. These alums can also be a great resource to you, and entry into a stronger relationship with their employer. If you don’t have a spreadsheet or database, you can certainly use LinkedIn (I especially like the “Find Alumni” trick I wrote about in my second post under “Ideas and Resources”).

I hope my posts on assisting international students with the US job search have been helpful to you. I’d love to hear about other strategies and resources that have worked for you—if you have any, please share the love by leaving a comment!

Find Ross Wade’s other blogs on working with international students. Part 1, part 2, part 3. Get Quick Tips for Assisting International Students on NACEWeb.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: Confusion and Anxiety Regarding Networking and Building Professional Relationships (Post 3)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

A couple of days ago I had a career advising session with an international student. He was very anxious and was “losing a lot of sleep” over the fact that he had graduated a month ago, had not found a job, and was worried he would not find anything in the United States by the time his optional practical training (OPT) started in the next few weeks. I had seen this student several times before, and his resume was strong, and he had substantial experience that would make him a strong candidate for various opportunities in environmental engineering. I asked him to tell me about his job search.

“I spend hours looking and applying to jobs online,” he said. “I’ve applied to over 50 jobs in the past month, and I’ve heard nothing back. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Will you look at my resume again?”

I reviewed his resume again. Yep…it still looked good. I asked him if he had done any networking.

“Oh yes, I’ve used LinkedIn and the alumni database to find contacts at companies with open jobs,” he said. “I reach out to them. In my e-mails I introduce myself and ask them to refer me for the position or tell me about any other opportunities.”

I hear this all of the time. In my experience many international students feel very uncomfortable networking for various reasons:

1. They lack confidence in their English language skills;

2. The job search in their home country does not necessitate “networking”—in fact employers may reach out to them to offer positions;

3. They are unaware of resources to use to find alumni or networking leads;

4. They don’t understand the nuts and bolts of networking, and that it is a long-term process with the goal of developing relationships that later lead to jobs. (And this isn’t just an issue with international students; it is an issue for ALL students.)

In order to motivate international students to start networking early (and not view networking as a last-minute, short-term thing), I try to reframe what networking is to them. I tell them that networking is about learning and serving through creating and sustaining professional relationships. I also use a bank analogy that seems to resonate with them. I tell them, “Networking is like creating a bank account, you must make deposits before you can make a withdrawal. Bank accounts, like professional relationships, grow with time and investment.”

Instead of “networking” I use the phrase “information gathering” with students, highlighting how to begin a professional relationship by learning from someone else (e.g., alumni, professionals) via informational interviews. I talk with them about asking the interviewee questions that will create future opportunities to serve them (i.e., sending the interviewee relevant articles or updates on how their feedback has helped).

Now…I know most of you reading this post are, like, “Duh…Ross. I already understand what networking is. Give me some tips I can use!”

I hear ya! Check out some ideas I’ve tried with some success below.

Networking Workshop Activity:

Have students search for a company of interest via an alumni database or LinkedIn, read about the company, find alumni working there, and create a list of questions (not only about the company, but the contact as well) to ask at an informational interview. Then pair the students up, and have them critique each other’s questions.

Next, bring everyone back into a large group and debrief and review some of the questions. Use prompts like: Which questions are the best? Are the questions open-ended, allowing the interviewee to provide plenty of information in her/his response? What questions best create space to serve the interviewee later?

After the question activity, have the students (individually) draft their own informational interview e-mail request. Ask them to pair up and share and critique. Next, bring everyone back into a large group to discuss.

Finally, ask students to create a basic timeline (by month), of when and how to follow up. This will be a very loose timeline as they don’t have an actual “real person” to create the timeline for at this point.

Students will leave feeling more confident now that they have tools, and an action plan to begin networking. I’ve also found adding a small panel of senior international students, that have successfully networked before, answer questions and serve as facilitators during discussions is very helpful (and proves that networking works!).

 Employer Relations Program Idea:

In my experience, most international students really dislike the “cattle call” style career fairs. They don’t feel comfortable with small talk, and feel that talking about themeselves is actually bragging. Overall they feel like they don’t get a chance to really show employers their skills in a meaningful and authentic way. In an effort to help international students connect with employers better (and with incredible support from my manager and colleagues), I tried a different type of employer engagement program, based on the good old science fair (yep—I went old skool, y’all!).

I targeted electrical and computer engineering (ECE) students, and sent them an e-mail about an opportunity to share their most exciting class projects with employers. Students had to sign up, send an abstract about their project, send their resume or LinkedIn URL, and show up the day of the event ready (with their project or poster) to engage with employers and talk about their work.

I also facilitated a networking lunch with the students, employers, faculty, and staff. I scheduled the event, the “Electrical and Computer Engineering Showcase”, the day before the spring career fair to maximize employer attendance. I sent a personal invite to ECE employers (those that had already registered for the career fair AND local companies) to attend this event at no charge to them, and told them to feel free to bring along any alumni working at their company.

The employers loved the idea, and many signed up to attend. The day of the event employers visited every student table to talk about the student projects. I collected feedback from the employers on the students’ conversational skills and projects and asked if, based on the students’ projects, if they’d ever consider hiring one of these new grads (and more than 70 percent said they would!). The employers and students both really enjoyed the event. One student said, “I really had a chance to shine today. We are doing this again next year, right?!”

Share your ideas and strategies for helping international students better understand networking.

This is part three of a series. Don’t miss parts one and two.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students: Lack of Understanding the U.S. Job Search (Post 2)

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke Engineering/Professional Master’s Programs
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Greetings career professionals! I wanted to focus this post (and the next couple of posts) on common challenges I assist my international students with, and provide some strategies and ideas that you can use in your practice.  I’ve even added a couple of ideas that could be a part of your office’s employer outreach strategy.

 CHALLENGE: Lack of understanding the U.S. job search.

I see it over and over again. Students from across the globe begin their U.S. college experience thinking that the job-search process will be just like it is in their home country. Most of the time that process is something like: make great grades, study hard for the final test, and the higher your test score (and grades), the better job you get. And the employers will come to you! It is all about grades, and working toward being top of your class. There is little to no focus on networking or getting hands-on experience (though many of my Chinese students acquire a one month “internship,” which is more like an observational externship experience). Many international students have no idea about the U.S. job search, and that it is focused more on professional experience and relationships than grades.

Sharing this, and having students understand this, is your first and most difficult step. Some students will feel uncomfortable approaching or cold calling professionals to connect, thinking that it is rude or disrespectful; aligning these students with others from their home country that have successfully found careers in the United States normalizes networking…and they can get the scoop on the step-by-step of networking and how their peer or “senior” successfully did this without feeling like they were being disrespectful.

 IDEAS & RESOURCES

  • Create a book club or U.S. job-search working/accountability group for international students that meets every couple of weeks. Daniel Beaudry, has written a wonderful book about the U.S. job search for international students called “Power Ties.” He does a fantastic job of explaining the process of the U.S. job search and networking, while explaining the visa process and all of the “players” such as hiring managers, HR, etc.
  • Teach students how to connect with international alums that were able to find jobs in the United States. Most institutions have an alumni database, but did you know the LinkedIn “Find Alumni” tool is FANTASTIC for this?! I work with graduate students, and have them access the tool (LinkedIn > Network > Find Alumni), and search for alumni of their undergraduate institution (back in their home country), click on who is living in the United States, and sort by industry. Not only does this give them a list of alums they can connect with, but shows the companies and industries most likely to hire international talent. If you are working with undergraduates, have them search under popular universities in their home country (they’ll still be able to access the alums!).
  • A lot of my international students are obsessed with all the big-brand companies (e.g. Deloitte, Google, Exxon), and don’t consider smaller companies. I remind my students that pursuing a big brand company is fine, but don’t forget that a gazillion other international students will be doing the same thing. Smaller companies may have less competition and be less rigid in considering hiring international talent, and accessing hiring managers may be easier. Consider this idea which incorporates educating students and employers (here’s the employer outreach idea I mentioned earlier); do a webinar or panel with employers (that have successfully hired international talent in the past), an immigration lawyer, visa services, and international alums working in the United States to share their insights and experiences from the employer and student point of view. You could invite international students and smaller companies/employers in your area to learn more about this process (a great professional development opportunity for them, and a way to get them interested in your students).
  • Find a mentor or colleague with experience working with international students to help you. This could be someone from your school’s visa services office, international house, or counseling center. I’ve been so lucky to have incredibly smart and experienced colleagues (Carrie Hawes, Jenny Johnson, Bridget Fletcher) help me grow my skills with international students along the way – I’m so grateful to them!

In my next blog posts I’ll discuss the sponsorship process, and address all of the confusion and anxiety many international students face when networking.

What ideas do you have for helping international students better understand the U.S. job search?

Did you miss part one? Read it here, and watch for Ross Wade’s next blog in this series! Coming soon.

Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke Engineering/Professional Master’s Programs
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade

This past year I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of international students—in fact, about 70 percent of my students are international. The master’s program they pursue is only two to three semesters long, and for many of them, peak recruiting season starts two weeks after they enter the United States.

Just think about it for a second…these students get off a plane, in a foreign country, with varying English language skill levels, have no idea how the U.S. job-search works, many have not found a place to live and are unsure of their transportation options, and quite a few are under tremendous stress to succeed academically and find a good job in the United States to assist their family financially back in their home country. Imagine the pressure and anxiety of these students—yikes!

Now, this is of course is a generalization…not all international students face these circumstances, and sure there is that excitement of being in a foreign country and having new experiences…but many international students are faced with some overwhelming tasks—especially finding a job in the United States.

Verbal and non-verbal communication issues can often be a source of stress. Many international students are taught English in a very academic way, so they can pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Practicing English conversationally may not have been a part of their learning experience; this can cause problems in career counseling/advising sessions, programs, and presentations. Non-verbal communication and poor comprehension of workshop materials and career advising information can also be an issue.

Tips:

  • Lose the slang and U.S. pop culture references. This was very difficult for me, and really raised my awareness to how much I used both of these as tools to explain things and be entertaining (I thought my jokes were hilarious! Not to my international students…I got nothing but blank stares. OUCH!). Speak a little slower than you normally would and be very clear in your language, using basic and universal terms.
  • Sometimes students will nod and state they understand your point or instruction. It is helpful to ask them to explain it back to you, as many students may not have understood you, but out of respect did not want to interrupt or ask you to repeat.
  • Professional interviews can be difficult for some international students as they may have low confidence in their English language skills, feel uncomfortable talking about accomplishments, find it difficult to give direct and concise answers, etc. Consider partnering with your institution’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program or international student center to do a mock interview program. Facilitate a workshop on U.S. interviewing skills, and then have students partner up and practice answering questions as an exercise (and practice their handshake!). Students can come to your career center for a formal mock interview and get individualized feedback. Another tip…some international students think a “mock interview” means when they come they will literally be mocked; consider using the phrase “practice interview.” I’ve also found explaining the U.S. interview process, from greeting to closing, is very helpful to international students as in other cultures it can be very different.
  • Like me, you were probably taught not to add too much text to PowerPoint slides. When presenting to international students, it is a GREAT idea to use more text on slides, as, if they have trouble understanding you, they can read the slide as a “communication back-up.” It is also helpful to make slides available prior to your presentation so international students can read through and prepare beforehand.
  • When working with international students one-on-one, I typically open an e-mail to them and type in resources, explanations, and next steps to send after an appointment.
  • Watch for non-verbal communication. I noticed that many of my Chinese students, during practice interviews, sat on the edge of their chairs. Finally, after months of seeing this, I asked why. My student’s answer was simple, “To show you respect.” I had no idea. Instead of nodding up and down, some of my Indian students shake their heads from side to side to non-verbally agree with me or show that they understand; discussing with them how some American employers may not be able to understand if they are indicating yes or no will be help the student be more clear in interview and networking situations.

I’ve learned it is okay to observe behavior and ask about it—my international students are always happy (and often excited) to explain.

Resources

  • The National Career Development Association has a great resource list for working with international students.
  • Channel C, a YouTube profile created by Chinese students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, carries videos about their college experiences and issues in the United States.
  • “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” by Wayne A. Conaway is a wonderful book on international business etiquette and protocol.
  • Visit your institution’s visa services office, to get a tutorial/workshop on the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) process —most of the time it is explained very well on their website. You don’t have to become an expert on this topic, but should know the basics and be able to communicate it clearly (and also be able to share how international students can make an appointment with the visa services office).

 What tips or resources do you have from your experiences working with international students? Let’s get a conversation started, y’all!

This is the first in a series from Ross Wade on working with international students.