Is there still time for international students to find their summer internships?
I teach job search skills to international students in the U.S. Many of them are grad students with work experience. Yet recently, they came to me hopeless. They said things like: “That Fortune 500 company I’m targeting has stopped receiving applications,” and “I’ve sent my resumes everywhere for the past few months and heard nothing back from them.”
This reminds me of when I first moved to Chicago from Thailand. I’d had 10 years of work experience from big corporations, and an MBA from a top business school. So I thought that getting a job here shouldn’t be too hard.
I was totally wrong. As an immigrant, getting my foot in the door was not easy at all. I went out networking, I asked for referrals, I applied online. I did everything that someone who’s looking for a job is supposed to do. After receiving lots of rejections before I realized that it’s not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it. I strategically changed my approach and a few months later landed a consulting position earning a six-figure salary with one of the Big Four.
For international students, the challenge is even bigger. There are so many rules to follow and deadlines to watch for. But don’t give up. You can still find an internship or a job in less than 60 days if you plan your search strategically.
1. Ask Yourself, “Why do I want this internship?”
What made you set out on your internship journey in the first place? If it’s not merely a course requirement, then the most popular and appropriate answer is, and should be, “to gain experience.”
NACE’s 2018 job outlook survey reports that internship experience is a top deciding factor, be it an internship with the same company or industry experience. Even general work experience has a higher influence than GPA in deciding between two equally qualified candidates. In the past, a person’s major was the top influence.
Think about your internship in terms of the experience you would get out of it.
Does it help you gain industry knowledge?
Does it give you the opportunity to solve actual problems? (By the way, problem-solving skills is the top attribute that employers seek on a candidate’s resume)
Will you get to interact with others to practice teamwork and communication skills?
Will you be able to put this job on your resume and proudly talk about what you have achieved at it?
What stories will you tell your future full-time employer during your interviews?
After all, they won’t need to hear how big your company was, what kind of cool product they made, or how splendid your office was. They want to hear what impact you have made during your internship.
2. Plan and Prioritize
Create a time-based plan. Begin with your desired internship landing date. Work backward to insert activities such as defining your career goal, doing job market research, developing your resume, and so on. Remember to prioritize tasks carefully so that you won’t waste time on unnecessary items.
3. Be Realistic, Be Focused
Now that you know you need to secure an internship in a very short time frame, it’s time to define your goals. I know it’s experience you are looking for, but that won’t take you far unless you have a solid vision. Go back to those experience-related questions in section 1 one more time. This time, be realistic in evaluating your current situation. Do you have time to enter those corporate internship programs?
My suggestion for you is to look into small businesses and start-ups. They are normally easier to approach and have a flatter hierarchy that will move you through the hiring process more quickly.
Also, be focused.
Which industry do you plan to work in long-term? Which position are you targeting?
Finally, don’t forget to set a SMART goal for every step in your internship game plan. Those goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-limited.
4. Brand yourself
What is your area of expertise? What is your passion? Can someone say something about your expertise and experience within the first 30 seconds when he or she looks at your resume or LinkedIn?
Your career brand includes your education, knowledge, skills, achievements, experience, interests, and values.While building your career brand is a long-haul, ongoing process, it is communicated through your professional profiles such as your resume and your LinkedIn profile.
When preparing your profile for a job, clearly and realistically state your target job title. Talk about the skills and experience that the job requires of you. Talk about what motivates you to pursue this job, and what you can do to help the employer reach their goals.
Don’t forget your two most important assets as a foreigner: your mother tongue and your multicultural experience.
These four steps can be accomplished in the first week of your game plan.
5. Go to the right places
This is when you start looking for internship opportunities. Plan to do all the search in three to four weeks.
Many international students are not familiar with the support system that U.S universities offer. I encourage you to visit your career services center as often as you can, while talking to your academic and international advisors about all career-related matters.
Talk to your professors. Many of them have industry experience and an extended network of professionals. Many others have projects that you might want to help with.
Don’t forget to go to alumni events. Remember, alumni don’t just come back to campus to reminisce about their college days. They are there to network and pay forward by helping some motivated students.
Communicate your career brand to your career services advisors, your professors, and the alumni you meet. Make them remember you as a strong candidate, and they might just become your advocates when the right opportunity comes up!
Go to industry conventions and events at co-working spaces. If you live in Chicago, check out 1871, which houses more than 400 digital startups, MHub if you target manufacturing, and 2112 if you are in the creative industry.
Join a professional organization such as Ascend (non-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in North America), SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management), or ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America). Check out what events or workshops are going on, and go to them.
The only place online that I encourage you to go is LinkedIn. More and more employers are turning to LinkedIn for skilled candidates. It’s a powerful tool for connecting with the greatest professionals and finding the most quality jobs.If you do not already have a LinkedIn profile, create one and learn how to navigate it as soon as possible.
Need some tips on building your LinkedIn profile? Please leave your email below and I will send our Guidebook on “How to become a recruiter magnet with an optimized LinkedIn profile” to your inbox.
Finally, don’t forget that you need at least 1-2 weeks to clear your CPT paperwork before starting your internship. Please contact your international student services office (ISSO) at your school for more information.
I hope that June greets you with the internship offer that you so well deserve!
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