Career Services FAQs for International Students

I don’t have U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.  Will this matter to a prospective employer? 

In general, not being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident adds a level of difficulty to a job search, but there are employers who are willing to hire foreign nationals.   It will depend on the industry and the employer.  Practical Training work authorization offers students who have studied in the U.S. on F-1 visas the opportunity to work for up to twelve months in a field related to their studies; J-1 students may apply for Academic Training.   In general as a foreign national you cannot work for the U.S. federal government, for most other U.S. state and local government entities, or for private employers who receive government contracts.  Avoid companies dependent upon contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense.  Your visa status will be less of an absolute barrier with other types of employers.

If you want to work after graduation for only the period of time covered by your Training, look for employers who will not need to invest heavily in your training and/or who normally experience a high degree of turnover.  These are primarily smaller organizations.

If you hope to remain in the U.S. for longer than the period of your Training, it is especially important to plan ahead with ISSS.  Understand the bases on which you may stay long term and be prepared to explain them to an employer.  For reasons beyond your control, an employer must sponsor you for an H-1 visa in order to hire you, and thus you will impose more paperwork and slightly more expense on an employer than will a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  Ask yourself what you offer to make an employer willing to take this extra trouble.

Why would a U.S. employer hire me? 

Usually, it is because you offer a particular skill set or higher degree of qualification than the employer can otherwise find.  Therefore, most of your job search should target employers for whom you will be an exceptionally strong candidate.  Career Services counselors can help you make this assessment.

Am I authorized to work in the U.S. as an international student? 

Yes, you are. You may come across this question on an application or asked in an interview.  If this is listed as a box to be checked on an application, since you are eligible for OPT or CPT, you may check this box. Remember, although you are authorized to work, you will not be eligible to work for the U.S. Federal government, or for U.S. local and state governments, or any private companies who hold contract entities. However, you will have eligibility for most all other work opportunities.

Are there cultural differences in the job search?

You have already become aware of some American job-hunting practices.  However, when you begin to search for a full-time job, you may need to behave in ways which still do not feel entirely appropriate.  Third-party intermediaries may be less evident in the U.S. than at home.  Most of your search will consist of your direct application to and interaction with employers.

All U.S. job searches will require you to write resumes and likely cover letters as well.  Compared to one you might use at home, a U.S. resume may be more terse, yet include more phrases in which you “sell” your skills and experience.  Cover letters will potentially be more informal, and will be directed more specifically to each employer.

It is in interviews, however, that the greatest differences may appear.  While in your home country it may be important to treat the interviewer with particular deference, extremely deferential behavior may make an American interviewer uncomfortable. American employers expect you to speak confidently about yourself and your success. Making eye contact with even the most senior person will be seen as a sign of confidence, not of disrespect.  By all means be courteous and let the interviewer take the lead.  However, display initiative by volunteering information and asking questions even before you are invited.

Some of these differences may challenge you, but console yourself that many Americans do not find job hunting easy, either.  Career Services advisors offer workshops on job hunting and interviewing in your field.  Take advantage of these sessions, which explain the job search process.

When should I tell an employer about my visa status? 

If you attended school in another country and you don’t say that you are a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, a savvy employer will probably assume that you are in the United States on a student visa.  On an employer’s formal application, if there is a blank for visa status, you need to fill it in with the correct information.  On your resume, you may either make no mention of your visa status or make the most positive statement that you can truthfully make.  For example, “Visa allows 12 months U.S. work authorization ” or “Permanent residency to be awarded within the next four months.”  Needless to say, you should only say things which are true, and you should be prepared to document them.

When should you bring the issue up?  It’s hard to give an exact time, but it should definitely be before an employer offers you a job.  Some employers aren’t necessarily aware of work permission issues, and if someone offers you a job and only then learns that they’ll have to apply for an H-1 visa in order to keep you beyond your Training period, the person may be angry that you didn’t provide this information sooner.  In general, you may want to raise the issue sometime near the end of a positive first interview, or, perhaps, at the time of being invited in for a second interview.  That way, the employer will feel that you are being open about your work situation.  However, if you know that you will be receiving permanent residency status in the near future, make that information known from the outset, because it will mean that your employer will not need to worry about work permission.

If you are already a permanent resident, be sure that your resume says “U.S. permanent resident” in a spot where it cannot be overlooked.

Can I work for a U.S. firm in my home country?

While it may seem natural to work in the U.S. before returning to your home country, most multinational employers, whatever their ownership, prefer that you begin you career at home.  The organization which turns you down for U.S. employment may be glad to refer you to its office which makes international referrals.  Don’t dismiss this option.

How well do I need to speak and write English?

The more that a position requires extensive contact with others, the more important it is that your English communication skills be strong.  If they are not, some last minute tutoring may be helpful.  Employers may use your written English to assess your spoken English, so make cover letters both correct and colloquial.  Unless you’re bilingual in English, it’s a good idea to have a native speaker review each letter. Career Services counselors are happy to review drafts with you.

What can I do to maximize my chances? 

Begin your job search early, and be prepared to devote extensive time to it.  Learn everything you can about the process through which an employer can obtain an H-1 visa for you.  In some cases, you’ll need to be the one to explain the legal process to an employer.  Don’t vaguely tell an employer that it’s “no problem.”  Rather, be prepared to explain exactly what steps are involved. There may be some advantage to having the paperwork handled by a lawyer who is thoroughly familiar with the process.  If you’d be willing to pay any associated fees, let the employer know that.  You can also tell an employer that they can consult with the staff at ISSS for more information about the process.  As an independent third party, ISSS may have more credibility than you will in explaining the process.

Finally, take heart from the fact that many international students do find employment in the U.S.  In addition to the education you’ve received at Penn, you offer all the stamina, perseverance and adaptability it has taken to earn a degree in a foreign country.  These are valuable assets, and ones employers can appreciate.