By Li Lin
During the past year, I’ve talked to hundreds of international students in the world, and the most common question they ask me is: “Why can’t I find a job?”
However, they do face many obstacles that Americans and green card holders do not have to face.
Many times, international students simply blame the H-1B system and go so far as to settle based on their own speculation that they were turned down only because of language skills or culture.
As a career coach who has helped clients land jobs as software engineers, financial analysts, UX designers, data scientists, graphic designers, and more, I’ve seen a lot.
And the real three reasons have nothing to do with what you may think.
Reason #1: Rejecting Themselves Before an Employer Can
It’s amazing to me how capable, smart, and talented people can talk themselves out of anything if they are truly scared of the outcome.
International students have 12 months of OPT before they have to find an H-1B to stay in the US, and I understand the stress.
Many of them come from well-to-do backgrounds back home, and some simply opt for the easier option of getting a job in their native countries.
For those that do decide to stay, they are (legitimately so) initiated into the 65,000 visas that are available every year that are finished by the 5th or 6th day of April every year.
And for those who were lucky enough to get a master’s degree in the US, they have 20,000 more spots—better, but not by a huge margin.
I truly believe that many of these candidates stand a great chance of getting a job, if they know how to do it systematically, they will have a great chance of at least landing an interview, getting the offer, and getting a chance at the H-1B lottery, if only they would stop rejecting themselves first.
Reason #2: Fear of Networking with Strangers
One of the great things I admire about international students is their guts to come to a new country, study, and ability to adapt to a new environment.
While I was busy at Berkeley just keeping up with the school work, extracurriculars, I myself did not do as much as I could of in terms of networking.
Imagine the stress for international students!
While back home they may have cultivated a great circle of friends and associates, in a brand new country, their challenges of networking are even more difficult.
But it doesn’t stop the fact that networking is absolutely essential in any job search.
Most of the time it’s the students’ own fear and also cultural barriers — many of my Chinese clients are intimidated when I ask them to network with high level executives, but sometimes that’s precisely the person they need to talk to if they want to get a job.
And during my travels I’ve really come to see how relatively egalitarian American society is, so sometimes there needs to be some shattering of old beliefs in order to succeed in the new environment.
Reason #3: Not Knowing How to Do American Style Self-Promotion
90% of the time my clients have no issues in their technical ability.
But when it comes to behavioral questions, they freeze in fear because sometimes that’s just not a thing in their home country.
Americans take for granted how proud they are of themselves and sometimes immigrants are not used to promoting in the style that Americans do.
However, in order to speak the language that their bosses do, international students MUST learn how to promote themselves so that their employers listen.
Many times, my international students graduated from schools with much higher technical standards than their American counterparts, and they use the same rigid standard of expertise in their home country.
As an example, one of my Indian clients said he only had 2 years of experience,only counting his Masters degree in the US, but in all actuality, we realized from all of his years of software development, he had 7.5 years of experience!
Not all cases are as drastic as this, but many immigrants vastly under-estimate their worth and are way too humble on their phone interviews and on site interviews.
Sometimes it’s just as simple as changing the interview — one of my clients was able to get a job in as fast as 1 week.
So if you are an international student, understand that it’s not JUST about the H-1B status — there are things within your control that you can change as well.
The question is, will you see beyond your present condition to go beyond your comfort zone to get the job that you want?