October 20, 2017

Helping International Students in the U.S. Prepare for a Successful Career

Having business interests with an international focus has provided me with the opportunity to work with international students attending college or university in the United States. I learned that international students desiring to work in the U.S. after completing their academic program must navigate various challenges U.S.-born or naturalized students may not necessarily encounter. Such challenges include understanding the American work culture that may be drastically different than their home country's work culture or questions an employer in the U.S. may and may not ask during the hiring process.

Therefore, when Yan Tang, a business professional with years of experience working with American companies in China, shared her idea with me of creating a business that will provide customized career training for international students to help them prepare for a successful career, I agreed to help her form such a company. CareerLight, LLC was duly formed in the State of Washington on July 13, 2017.

Mohand Alturky, Ms. Tang, and I decided CareerLight's first program would be a workshop to help international students attending higher education institutions throughout the greater Seattle area to navigate the job search process, understand the recruiting timeline, receive advice on becoming a high-quality candidate, and learn from experienced business professionals.

Photo: Mohand Alturky
Moderated by Marjalena Santos, Director of Human Resources & Compliance at TRInternational, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based chemical trading company, I served on a distinguished panel that included Randy Massengale, an adjunct professor and chairman of the leadership certification program at the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, and Matthew Bateman, a data and design specialist with several years of supporting startups and community initiatives around the world.

Noting that most international students perform a vast amount of research when deciding which American higher educational institution to attend, Mr. Massengale recommended that these students perform the same amount of research in the companies they may want to work for upon graduation (or as an intern during their academic program). Such research includes visiting the company's website and searching online for news articles. Job candidates should ask themselves: why that company and why that position?

Mr. Bateman spoke about the importance for international students to tell their stories to hiring managers. He also recommended to the workshop's attendees explore Remote.com, which promotes itself "the leading community for remote and freelance work." In addition, Mr. Bateman correctly emphasized the importance for job candidates to follow-up after communicating with employers and hiring managers.

Mr. Bateman also noted that career advisors are available through Seattle University Career Services to discuss career exploration, job/internship searches, resume and cover letters and to conduct mock interviews.

Speaking about her experience as an HR manager, Ms. Santos emphasized said the importance of being culturally fit for the team. International students can provide a unique advantage to American companies operating in markets abroad. From her perspective, Ms. Santos said international students must understand the randomness of candidates. Giving a strong first impression to a hiring manager is a necessary to standout from other candidates. This can be done through a variety of ways including showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and making sure the job candidate listens throughout the interview and taking a moment to respond as necessary.

My advice to the workshop attendees focused on the need to understand the employer's perspective that they are trying to find talented people to help solve a problem (or take advantage of an opportunity). This may include developing a product or service, creating a strategic plan to enter a new geographic market, or identifying and mitigating a number of risks a business will encounter. In addition to having a well-constructed resume that clearly lists their qualifications and relevant skills, international students should utilize online platforms such as LinkedIn.

In addition, I informed the international students attending the workshop that they should not assume employers or hiring managers are familiar with rules governing nonimmigrant visas (F-1 or M-1) including the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). According to the USCIS website, the OPT "is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT." International students may need to educate hiring managers about their ability to work as part of the OPT.

The USCIS also provides a STEM OPT Extension for a period of 24 months to students who have earned degrees in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Carol Lwali with Seattle University's Career Services attended the workshop. She noted that the office recently restructured to provide better value to domestic and international students alike including the launch of the Redhawk Network, a career services platform powered by Handshake that connects students and employers to democratize the job finding experience in college and beyond.

The workshop was generously supported by the following sponsors:
  • Center for Global Business at Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics
  • Chinese Business Club at Seattle University
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) at Seattle University
  • International Student Center (ISC) at Seattle University
  • Koba Ethiopian, LLC
  • ROI3, Inc.
  • Seattle University Chinese Students and Scholars Association (SUCSSA)
  • Seattle University International Alumni Chapter
  • Technology and Business Association at the University of Washington (TBAUW)
  • TRInternational, Inc.
  • Yeeko Inc.
Photo: Mohand Alturky
Attendees said they found the workshop informative. According to a survey, attendees commented that they felt empowered as they navigate the confusing and challenging job search process in a culture that is different than their own. Through CareerLight's future training sessions, workshops, and other career support initiatives, I hope international students will be prepared to start a successful career in the U.S.

I invite all international students to regular visit CareerLight's website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, I manage a CareerLight group on LinkedIn, which serves as a venue for sharing ideas and experiences of pursuing a career in the U.S.

What advice do you have for international students who are seeking a job in the U.S.?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies.He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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