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Tips & Resources for International Students

August 26, 2013
Preparing for the US job search? Read about who can help and what you should know about the job/internship search.

Where Can You Go For Help?

There are two departments on campus that every international student should know about, The Berkeley International Office and the Career Center. These two campus departments complement each other to provide you the resources you need to best prepare you for the job and internship search. It's important that you understand and use the resources that both offices offer in order to be successful in the job search.

  • Berkeley International Office (BIO)
    Learn about your legal employment options before you have to explain them to a potential employer!
    The Berkeley International Office's mission is to enhance the academic experiences of international students and scholars by providing the highest levels of knowledge and expertise in advising, immigration services, advocacy, and programming to the UC Berkeley campus community. International students pursuing employment in the US are encouraged to visit the BIO website, attend workshops, and/or see an advisor during drop in hours to learn about obtaining work permission for both internships and jobs after graduation. Learn about your legal employment options before you have to explain them to a potential employer!
  • Career Center
    We're here to help you with all stages of the job and internship process. The Career Center can help you with anything from Career Exploration (what types of careers are you interested in pursuing?) to Job Search Tools (helping you with resumes, job search skills, preparing for the interview and much more). Check out the career counseling options, career programs, and resources specifically for international students.

Job Search & Interviewing Etiquette in the US

First impressions are very important in all personal interactions; they are especially important when you are networking and engaging in professional activities. Keep the following cultural advice/tips in mind to help while you prepare for and engage in US networking and job search activities.

  • Eye Contact - Demonstrating confidence and trustworthiness is extremely important in an interview. Maintaining appropriate eye-contact is one way of demonstrating that. It's okay to look away now and then, you don't want to "stare your interviewer(s) down," but get in the habit of making and maintaining eye contact.
  • Arrive on Time - It's usually a good idea to show up at least a few minutes early to a business interaction or interview so you can be sure that you are not late. Being late to an interview is a huge DON'T. If you are going to be more than 5 minutes late, you should call and let the person know. Remember the phrase in the United States, "Time is money."
  • Appropriate & Illegal Questions - It's generally not a good idea to discuss the topics of age, race, politics, sexual orientation, religion, or other controversial topics during the interview. In some countries, questions about age, race, sex, and marital status are appropriate in the interview; in the US they are illegal.
  • Be Friendly & Courteous to Everyone - From the person at the front desk to the CEO, always be kind, friendly and courteous. This means smile, say please and thank you, and be patient. Many times the front line staff are asked their opinions of candidates, and sometimes they are involved in the hiring committee.
  • Dress Appropriately - It's best to be overly formal rather than overly casual. Look at the boss and dress at that level. Research the company and the industry to get a better sense of what you might wear. Also, neutral dress is appropriate for interviews. This means that you do not want to wear heavy makeup, gaudy jewelry or intense color combinations. For an example of appropriate interview dress, check out our Successful Interviewing Online Workshop.
  • Firm Handshake - Practice your handshake because a firm handshake connotes confidence. Generally you want the webbing between your index finger and your thumb to meet that part of the interview's hand. Remember to give a firm handshake, not a death grip.
  • Tone of Voice - Your tone connotes confidence. It's also important to ensure that the interviewer or business contact can hear you. It's a good idea to practice speaking up "when it doesn't matter" (e.g., at club meetings, by talking to professors, with your friends, etc). If you are uncomfortable with these methods to start, you can practice by speaking in English into an audio recorder and critiquing your tone. Or get together with friends who would also like to improve their English speaking skills and share your feedback with one another.
  • Practice the Difficult Questions - Interview questions can be though, especially if you don't know what to expect and you haven't practiced out loud. Review some of the questions in the Job & Internship Guide, and practice your answers by writing down the key points you want to address in each question. Then you can practice responding to the questions out loud, but DO NOT attempt to memorize your answer. Memorization can make you sound robotic and insincere. Write it down, say it out loud, and get feedback from others. You can schedule a 45 minute appointment with a career counselor to practice and get feedback.
  • Research the Company - Go beyond looking at the company website or you will miss a lot of valuable, contextual information. Network with recruiters at Career Fairs; read articles in the news or review the Career Center's article archives; network with Cal alumni using the @cal Career Network. You can also research employers by taking advantage of your free access (via Callisto), to Employer & Industry Guides, such as Vault and GoinGlobal. In particular, GoinGlobal offers lists of employers who have a history of applying for H1-B Visas.
  • Practice "Selling Yourself" - The concept of "selling yourself" or marking your strengths to an employer is particularly difficult for some international students. You may have been taught that it is rude or arrogant to speak in detail about your strengths, while in the US being able to identify your strong points is very important in business interactions (especially interviews). Remember that practice makes perfect. Practice talking about your strengths, and if you're having trouble getting started, ask your peers for help. Ask your friends what they think your strongest qualities are and why; sometimes it's easier for others to identify strengths that we ourselves can't see clearly.
  • Know your Immigration Status - It is very important that you are ready to educate the employer about your status if the issue of Optional Practical Training, Academic Training, or H-1B comes up. Sometimes employers are confused by immigration laws and visas. If you prepare yourself by understanding your visa status and work authorization options, then you will be able and ready to explain it concisely to employers.

Whether you dream of a career in the United States, in your country of origin or an international career, it may feel a little overwhelming to prepare for your job search. Keep in mind that the Career Center is here to help you through the process, and that each step forward (big or small) is a success.

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This page last updated 8/29/2013 (ag/sb/ssb)