Career Tips for International Students

The 3 Things First-Year International Students should do


Many international students strive for academic excellence while pursuing higher education in the U.S. While this is a great goal, several international students become so focused on academics that they neglect to network with people in the field they dream of pursuing.

Unfortunately, the online job application process yields few results. And because many have not used their time in college to make meaningful connections with business professionals, they have a smaller chance of getting referred when looking for a job. With a limited time frame after graduation (90 days unemployment window) and high competition in the U.S., this is often a stressful time for international students who wish to stay and work in the U.S. Sadly, many end up having to pack their bags and go home.

However, international students do not need to go through the stress of beating the clock after graduation! All of these problems can be solved if international students start doing the following in the early stages of their college program:

  1. Network with people at school and outside their school
  2. Build meaningful connections
  3. Engage professionals as their mentors

Some of you reading this article may be thinking that you don’t have anyone to help you achieve your career goals. But did you know that approximately 44 million american adults who are not mentoring a young person say they would seriously consider mentoring? This means that there are lots of people who are willing to become your mentor and help you grow your career. You only need to know how to approach them. (Click here to tweet)

What is Mentorship?

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. Start asking yourself, “who do I know?” and “who can I connect with?” Think about any “super connectors” you may have, which are people you already know that can connect you with someone else. In my blog, “Build Your Network in the U.S. as International Students”, I talk about the different networking ways that international students can strive to make meaningful connections with business professionals in the U.S.

How Can I Find a Mentor?

There is an old saying that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. This means that you want to make sure you’re doing the best you can by being active and engaged in areas that you are interested in. So when someone gives you the opportunity to shine, show up. Even though the assignment is out of your comfort zone or you have a busy schedule, try your best to fully engage in opportunities presented to you remembering that nothing great ever comes easy. Free your mind to all possibilities, be genuine, and make people see you and realize your potential so that you can begin creating opportunities for mentorship to happen.

How Do I Start Engaging Someone as My Mentor?

Showing interest in a person that shares similar passions with you can be a good way to start a connection with them. There is no need to ask someone to be your mentor, but you can ask them for a one-on-one where you can share why you’re interested in connecting. You may be nervous connecting with your mentor for the first time and are not sure how to start or end a conversation, but remember to be calm, professional, and yourself. Most importantly, take the time to get to know your mentor as a person.

Ask them questions that give them an opportunity to tell their story, their successes and even their failures. Learn from them. And also give them an opportunity to learn from you and some of your experiences. By being genuine with your mentor, you will be able to create a strong and trusting connection with them. It is this meaningful connection that will help you get referrals and connect you to other professionals in your field.

When looking for a mentor, keep in mind that you don’t have to form a mentorship with the CEO of a top company. Simply make connections with people who inspire you and will help you grow. Although it’s great to connect with people in the career you are pursuing, cross industry mentorships can also be very helpful. For example, if you are a business/ economics student, a political science professor may realize your potential and want to connect with you. Through this connection, the political science professor can help connect you to other people, who in turn can help you achieve your goals. You never know who or what the person you are connecting with knows. So be open minded and ready to grow!

How Can I Make My Mentorships Long Lasting?

In order to have long lasting mentorships, you should strive to be a good mentee. This means that you should set expectations of yourself. Three key areas to recognize are:

1. Don’t Waste Their Time

Before you find a mentor, you need to identify what you want. Take the time to figure out what your goals and aspirations are. Remember, mentors are meant to help guide you by giving advice and not by telling you what your goals should be. Before you ask for a meeting with your mentor you should know what questions you want to ask them and what topics you would like to discuss. Doing a bit of research before you meet is a good way for you to avoid asking obvious questions when you meet with your mentor.

2. Be a Giver, Not a Taker

When you begin building meaningful connections and engaging in mentorships ask yourself “Why should this person invest their time in me?”. There is no end date to having a mentorship. Meaningful relationships are an ongoing process that can take up to a year or more to build and strengthen. So take the time to follow up with your mentor and really learn from them and also show your mentors how they can learn from you. Share with them about your experience as an international student, find opportunities to help them out, and suggest new thoughts and ideas in conversation. Think about ways you can contribute to your mentor by showing them that you are worth their time and consideration.

3. Be a Go-Getter

Having grown up in Thailand and in Asian culture, I have noticed that we tend to be very humble and put ourselves below people who have a more senior title than ourselves. It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. that I discovered it doesn’t have to be that way because Americans appreciate young and ambitious professionals. So if you come from a culture similar to mine as an international student, remember that it is ok to challenge your mentor’s arguments and to express your thoughts. Show your mentor that you have the ability to formulate your own well informed opinions, are an ambitious and hardworking leader, and that you have the passion and the drive to achieve your goals. But also remember to do these things in a respectful and professional manner.

How Can I Benefit from Having a Mentor?

A strong relationship between you and your mentor can help you expand your network with industry professionals and give you referrals for potential jobs and internships. This is especially important for international students who are often tripped up by immigration questions during the traditional job application process. By building strong mentorships, you increase your chances of getting referrals which can help you jump over the immigration question hurdles. Having more than one mentor is also a good way to expand your knowledge and increase your chances of getting referrals. The more connections you have, the better.

Get out there, start networking, forming meaningful connections, and engaging in mentorships. As international students, every year and every day counts so make the most of it!

Remember that people want to engage with you. People want to see you grow. It is up to you to create those opportunities for yourself to engage with business professionals who can later be your mentors so that by your second year in the U.S., you can have referrals and land an internship.