Career Tips for International Students

10 Ways to Stay on Top of Job Searching during COVID-19 (and the Trump Administration)

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10 Ways To Stay on Top of Job Searching During COVID-19

Dear Coach Kwan,

I’m an international student who recently graduated in the class of 2020 from a notable university. However, I have limited work experience and minimal connections, but I’m looking for a job in the United States. I know it can be hard for international students to stand out among a crowd, and the pandemic is making me really worried about landing a job. It seems like job markets are failing and I’m anxious I won’t get anything on time, as my OPT is about to start soon and I’m on a very tight timeline. I am looking for some help. What advice can you give about staying strong during COVID-19?

An international 2020 graduate

Without any crisis, an average job opening attracts 250 resumes and only 2 percent of those applicants will be called for an interview. And since the COVID-19 crisis, U.S. internship hiring has been cut in half and the estimates for the 2019-2020 academic year indicate a total of 3,898,000 college graduates in the United States.

That’s the challenge every new graduate in the U.S. faces. For international students, your challenges will double if you go through traditional career search – waiting for the job to be open, applying online, waiting for an interview opportunity. When you receive the first phone call, the recruiter will ask about your immigration status and they may say, “We don’t have a policy to sponsor international students.”

This is a kind of situation that many talented international students usually stumble through and lose their chances to present their skills in front of the hiring managers.

3 Ways of Thinking about the Job Market Right Now

My heart goes out to all of you who just graduated without a job offer in place. With all of the pandemic challenges and the limitation of OPT timeline and unemployment allowance, we are all in a racing mode when searching for jobs. During this pandemic and an ongoing attempt from the Trump administration to impose new restrictions on students who want to work in the United States after graduation on Optional Practical Training (OPT), you are a race car driving on a track where the conditions are more challenging than ever. To win this race, you need to stay:

  1. Strategic,
  2. Resilient and
  3. Mindful.

In this article, I’d like to provide you with ten ways to help you achieve these three ways of thinking.

Being Strategic

1) Monitor the job market.

Monitor the job market on a weekly basis. Look at which industries are hiring and in which parts of the country. Gear toward the industries that are hiring, and stay tuned to our Facebook page as we will share job posting movements by industries every Monday.

2) Know who you need to talk to.

According to, there could be as much as 80 percent of new jobs that are never listed but are instead filled internally or via networking. So stop spending so much time on online job applications–it won’t work! Jobs that are posted at this time might not be hiring. Spend 90 percent of your time finding the right people to connect and build meaningful connections with. Don’t ask for a referral right away; it is the biggest turn off if you want someone to advocate for you during your job search. Be patient, but do it right. Use friendly yet concise messages, and show interest in the person you want to connect with.

3) Use a calendar for time management.

As I’ve been coaching a lot of students, I see that not many young talents have learned how to use their calendar effectively. During your job search, you need to have a clear work plan. For example, which day and time during the week you should look for new job postings: don’t waste time on ones that were posted over a week ago, as jobless numbers have been skyrocketing. Be mindful of when the best time to apply for a job is, and when the best time to connect with people is. Use your calendar wisely.

4) Find a stepping stone.

Many students just focus on big tech firms or consulting firms in their job search. There are lots of companies that are hiring, and many people don’t know about them. Those are the companies you can target. Once you have built your expertise and compelling stories from working in a smaller company, you will have higher chances of getting into those Fortune 500 companies. Some smaller companies also serve well-known clients. This is a golden opportunity for you to build brands working with those top clients as well, in turn building your resume.

Being Resilient

5) Move on after you did your best.

All you need is one win. Never spend days wondering why you didn’t get a result from your interview last week yet, or trying to predict an interviewer’s behavior (for example, thinking they haven’t called because they don’t like you). You are wasting your time putting yourself through that mindset. Do your best in each interview. Send personalized and memorable thank you notes. Then, move onto the next job interview. Job application is not a numbers game (read about that here), but job interviews are. You need to get weekly job interviews; if not, there’s something you need to fix. Each job interview will help you grow and become better at each round.

For many of us international students, English is not our mother tongue. The more interviews you get, the better communicator you will be. You will become at ease about interviewing, and when the right job comes at the right time, it will be yours.

6) Take a small break in between, and know when to do that.

Know your limit, and don’t sweat it if you need to take a break. We can compare the job process to a race car track. In motorsports, a pit stop is a pause for refueling, new tires, repairs, and mechanical adjustments. Just like in the race for landing a job, you need pit stops, too. Stay cool on the race track, or you might crash.

7) Listen to a motivational podcast in the morning.

Wake up early and have a healthy breakfast for a positive mindset. Don’t watch the news right away. At ICAway (i-see-a-way), we have a podcast to help you move forward. You can check it out here. It’s available on Spotify and more!

8) Go to bed with gratitude.

Remember to be grateful, even if you didn’t land something you wanted that day. Studies show that gratitude helps you feel more optimistic, and reduces stress and anxiety. Take a minute to pause for gratitude before bedtime. Think about all the things you may have to be thankful for: you’re healthy, your family is healthy, you have completed a degree. There are so many great things to feel grateful for.

Being Mindful

9) Find a place to feel comfortable and inspired.

I know it’s even harder during this pandemic when you are away from your family. Make sure that you have a support system around you, whether that’s in person or over the phone. When you hit the wall, you can turn to these people to ask for advice. This should be a group of people that are sharing the same situation that you’re in, so you don’t feel you’re alone in this job search game. During our weekly group session for ICAway Talent Platform students, we’re able to share updates of job market trends, special tips, and watchlists on a weekly basis. Our students also share experiences that help encourage many of us to move forward.

10) Celebrate your small milestones.

Jump up and down on small achievements you’ve made each day. One person responded to your message. One interview you got. One meaningful connection you’ve created. All of these will help you move forward in a mindful way. This job process doesn’t need to be a hard and reckless process. See it as an opportunity to help you grow and celebrate.

Lastly, if a career search is your main focus and you are looking for a strategy to find jobs, this is what ICAway /i-see-a-way/ is for.

We have a complete solution that will help you build networking skills and develop a career brand for American employers. Check out our ICAway Talent Platform for more information.

ICAway talent platform - networking, career branding and employability. A complete career coaching solution for international students in the US

About Coach Kwan

Kwan is an experienced human-capital consultant. Her past corporate experience includes global organizations like Deloitte, Accenture, and BMW.

Kwan moved to the U.S. in 2014, earned her Senior Professional HR certification from HRIC and joined one of the world’s most prestigious consulting firms as a Senior Consultant of Human Capital Consulting Practice and managed multiple projects for Fortune 500 clients.

Today, Kwan is the CEO and Founder of ICAway /i-see-a-way/, an educational consulting firm based out of Chicago. Our mission is to be an empowering community for international students and light the way for students to find jobs in the U.S.