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Working in the USA

Looking for employment in the States after graduation? These tips will take the work out of finding a job

By Ron Chepesiuk

For many international students, the United States is considered the land of job opportunity—an excellent place to gain experience and to launch an engineering or computer science career. After all, many of the leading technology companies are based here, and, according to salary surveys, are willing to pay top dollar for talented graduates.

Nevertheless, international students worry that it will be more difficult for them to find employment than it is for their American counterparts. So how can they increase their chances of finding a good job in the United States?

It's important to remember that regardless of your homeland, most students find it challenging to get their foot through the door of the job market. But, because of a variety of factors, international students have to work as hard, if not harder, to ensure success.

"An international student may have excellent grades and graduated from a good American university, but that alone won't convince a prospective employer he has the best candidate for a job,” says Steven Rothberg, a Canadian who attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and later founded the Minneapolis-based CollegeRecruiter.com. “That's just the beginning. You have to show that you can add value to the company.“

But international students have some disadvantages when entering the playing field. The obvious one is the language. “Frankly, many international students—particularly those in the engineering and computer science disciplines—have a hard time communicating in English. This can be a serious obstacle in the job interviewing process,” says Bob Santore, executive vice president with Comforce, a Redmond, Wash.-based information technology recruiting firm that's placed hundreds of international students with U.S. companies. “If you have a problem communicating in the job interview, an employer might wonder if communication is going to be a problem in the workplace as well.“

But while language skills are important, social skills are even more so. “I find that a lot of international students need more help with their job interview preparation than do Americans,” Santore explains.

International students can further hurt their employment chances by not getting work experience while in school. Several sources noted that international students don't apply for internships often enough. “It's so expensive to go to school in the U.S. that many international students try to graduate as fast they can,” Rothberg says.

Often, finding a job can be harder for an international student simply because some employers will say, “Why bother,” given the time, effort and paperwork involved in the hiring process. “It doesn't happen that much, but it has been a consideration for employers inexperienced in hiring international students,” Santore reveals.

So, yes, there are factors at work that make it tough. But good things will happen in the job market to prepared people. The fact is, many opportunities are available to level the job-hunting playing field for you.

So to increase your chances, consider this advice from those wise in the ways of the job market:

Work harder to improve your language skills.

Watch more television shows-in English, that is. Hire a tutor or take a four to six week immersion course, if you can afford one. Take an English course, or several, if necessary. And, as Thomas Jacob explains, “Hang out with and around Americans. Too many international students like to hang with their own native language speaking kind. That won't help them get the skills they need to succeed in the job market.” Jacob, who is from England but works in New York City in high finance, is a 1998 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Network more

The old axiom—it's who you know that often gets you a job—is true. “A friend's father, an aunt, a brother can all be great networking sources, but you have to talk to them,” says Mary Spaeth, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based AngleTechnology LLC, who adds, “And don't forget your professors. They generally have amazing professional networks as well.” Rothberg encourages international students to contact the alumni office at their university and get the names and phone numbers of alum from their homeland who majored in engineering and computer science. “Call and offer to take them for coffee or dinner if they live close enough,” Rothberg says. “Tell them you know about their successful career and that you want to get where they're going. Ask them for some tips and advice on how to do it. I get a call once a year from a Canadian student studying at the University of Minnesota who does exactly that. I'm flattered and, of course, I help.“

Get some work experience

Check your university to see what internships and other experience-gathering opportunities are available. Quiz your professors and classmates. “Go to your country's consulate and get a list of companies from your homeland that have operations in the U.S.,” Jacob advises. “Then call them to see if they offer internships in your major.“

Milk your career placement center's resources

Studies show that only about 14% of university students use the career placement center. Don't be one of those deadbeats. The center can help prepare you for a job interview. For example, they'll do mock interviews with you and tape them so you can critique your performance.

Attend job fairs

This is an excellent opportunity if a student's personal resources and contacts are limited, Spaeth says. “International students should be working hard to turn themselves into business professionals from the first day they step foot on an American university campus,” she advises.

So is it tougher to find a job in the U.S.? The answer, my friend, is really up to you.

Ron Chepesiuk is a journalist based in Rock Hill, S.C.

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