At this point in the year, international students like myself are starting to think about what to do for the summer. If you’re an international student and you haven’t started thinking about it yet, you should.
It’s not always easy to find a good internship or summer job that will provide you with valuable work experience, a good line on your resume, the chance to be in a different part of the country, and networking opportunities in your field.
But here’s one thing I learned from my experience finding work last summer: If you’re capable of getting admitted to an American university, you’re also capable of finding some decent work experience for the summer. You just have to apply the same dedication in how you research job opportunities and prepare your resumes.
And you should also have the same willingness to rely on the resources available to you, including people who have been through it before. Having gotten used to relying entirely on myself, I didn’t take advantage of other resources that could have helped me. In the end I did get a job I really liked working at a school in California, but it cost me a lot more pain than it needed to.
I talked to a bunch of my friends to find out what advice they could give me (and you!) for applying to jobs and internships this summer, and here’s some of what they suggested and some of what I learned through my own experiences.
You might be surprised at how much you need to modify your resume to fit American standards. When I first decided to apply to internships in the U.S., a good friend of mine, who is American, showed me her CV and then spent at least an hour explaining how and why I had to make certain changes in my resume.
I was actually converting my resume into a CV, which is what you’re expected to submit for teaching positions, and I had to add lots of stuff, such as minor part-time jobs, presentations, conferences, projects I've been working on, etc. Now my CV runs 4 pages and it will become longer in the future.
But this is not the best format for everyone’s resume. For college students, probably, your education is the biggest asset, so it should come in the beginning of the resume. It's so different for different cases. That's why university career centers can be very helpful in compiling your resume - they'll help you get the right emphasis and format for your resume.
Finding Job Openings
When I started looking for summer jobs last year, I knew I wanted to do something related to teaching English as a second language. I started out just looking on websites that post job listings, and found some that were specific to ESL teaching. And ultimately this is how I ended up finding my job.
I think the fact that I found some specialized job sites was important. The internet is the biggest pool to fish out a job, but the search can be overwhelming if you don’t narrow it down. You can ask your professors if there are some specialized websites containing job offers for your particular field.
But, actually, among my friends I was the only one who found a job this way. Most people I know got their summer jobs through networking. You’ve probably heard of the importance of being “in the right place at the right time,” but it also helps a lot to be connected to “the right people.”
One of my friends contacted the organization she had worked for in her home country, and they offered her a paid summer internship. Some other guys asked their fellow countrymen and got referred to particular websites or people.
I hope I’ll be able to use networking to help me get a job for this summer. The head teacher at the school where I ended up working last summer said she would recommend me for a job at another school she used to work at.
I should just mention career fairs as a resource for finding out about jobs. My university, like many others, holds a career fair a few times a year and invites employers from different fields to talk about their job opportunities.
The people representing their companies at the fairs were knowledgeable enough to answer my questions, but I found the companies represented were mostly looking for business, engineering and communication majors – which are not what I study. It’s probably better if you can find a more specialized career fair; for example, my university arranged a trip for graduate students to attend an international development career fair in Washington, D.C.
A standard career fair (Photo: Gabe Chmielewski/Mays Communications)
This is probably the biggest piece of advice I wish I had taken when I was job hunting last year. I started my search in mid-April, which turned out to be too late.
Several times I found myself in the situation when I had gone through a tiring process of completing an application only to discover that the job I wanted to get had been already given to someone else. I found out that sometimes employers don’t indicate the exact closing date for applications, and leave the job posting up even if the position’s already been filled.
I got in touch with the company where I ended up working in late May, and applied to work as an English teacher for international students. But all the positions had already been assigned by the time I submitted my application. The company ended up offering me a position as a welfare leader instead. I did like the job, but it wasn’t what I had been hoping to get.
Also keep in mind...
When it comes to summer employment for international students, there are two main factors to consider: whether you will get paid for the work you will be doing (many internships are unpaid) and whether you are eligible to work for that particular organization (many employ only U.S. citizens and green card holders).
Private businesses are usually the most flexible about money and eligibility issues. In fact, most of my friends and I got their employment within private sector.
And one final thought. You might get rejected. Everybody gets rejected at some point while looking for a job. I know I did, and I’m sure I will again. Don’t let rejections frustrate you. Instead, analyze critically why you haven’t been offered this job, learn your lesson, and continue your search.
Good luck with all your endeavors! Trust yourself and believe in the best!
P.S. – Thanks to everybody who inspired me in writing this article and helped me by offering their suggestions!