“Dos and don’ts” for international student job seekers

When you’re an international student, there are certain hurdles you must jump through when looking for internships or full-time jobs after graduation.

During a recent Handshake Career Event, we talked with two people who have valuable insight on how you can approach these hurdles and succeed in your career search.

Anson Tan, President of the University of San Francisco International Student Association and former Deloitte intern, joined Kelly O’Sullivan, Senior Talent Acquisition Associate at AlphaSights, to talk “dos and don’ts” for international student job seekers. In their conversation, they covered hot topics like:

  • How to find employers hiring for international students
  • What to keep in mind when job searching as an international student (e.g. special deadlines, visa sponsorship, etc.)
  • How to stand out on your application

Watch the full session below:


First, what are internships like for international students? 

Anson: My most recent internship at Deloitte, which I found through Handshake, was 8 weeks long. It allowed me to work with various engagement teams, handle real client work, review and organize paperwork, and complete auditing tasks on actual client accounts, which was exciting!

Are there extra steps international students need to know about when pursuing a US-based role? 

Kelly: All companies are different, but it’s always helpful to understand what exactly your work eligibility is—along with your visa status—so you can define it for recruiters and speak to it in interviews. This also helps you identify what roles are actually available to you. While companies like mine often require at least three years of STEM OPT, they may make exceptions for roles that require a particular language skill. If you’re ineligible to work in a particular company’s US office, ask a recruiter to connect you with a global office—perhaps in your home country—where you might be hireable.

What steps should international students take to secure internships?

Anson: When you’re on the job hunt, it’s essential that you know which companies are open to hiring international students, otherwise you might waste a lot of time. Handshake is great, because it allows you to easily filter for companies that offer visa sponsorship. Once you’ve identified and applied to companies and positions that look like a fit, reach out to recruiters to let them know. And don’t forget: international students are valuable, because they can offer a wealth of knowledge and bridge gaps between countries and cultures. Also, consult your school’s career center (or Google) to find websites that list how many applicants per company have been approved for sponsorship.

Pro-tip: You can use filters when applying on Handshake to see which companies offer visa sponsorship.

How can international students stand out and make themselves a top applicant?

Anson: First, format your resume correctly! Be succinct and truthful, and use keywords from the actual job description to tailor your resume. Talk about all your experience—including transferable skills—and think about what you bring to the table. If you’ve worked at a cafe, that’s great! You can talk about customer service and organizational skills. Also, don’t forget to mention any language proficiencies. This is especially important for international students.

Kelly: Also, be sure to have a growth mindset. Can you take feedback and learn from it? Also, to echo Anson, your language skills are valuable and can give you a boost—or even qualify you for roles you otherwise wouldn’t be hireable for.

Should experience gained outside the US be added to a resume?

Anson: Always. I did my KPMG internship in Singapore because the US office didn’t hire international students. When applying to US companies that did hire international students, I checked which of my skills looked similar to the different job descriptions I was seeing. Key skills will always translate once you bridge any conceptual gaps. Try to focus on the general skills vs. anything that’s too country-specific.

Kelly: It really is all in the framing. If you’ve worked in a variety of settings and spaces, navigated different workplace norms, and communicated across teams, it demonstrates resilience. Frame these skills positively, and don’t be afraid to share how your previous experience makes you unique!

What’s the #1 “do” for international students who are job searching?

Kelly: Search for jobs at global companies. For example, at my company, you’d be joining a group of people who communicate across the globe. If you have a global mindset and are looking for challenges and to drive ideas, companies will notice.

Anson: And definitely reach out to people cold. If you’re looking for a job at a particular company, contact people from your home country who are working there. They may be able to give you advice or a referral, let you know what a company is really like, and help you understand what a company is looking for.

What’s the #1 “don’t” for international students?

Anson:  If you know a company doesn’t offer sponsorship, don’t spend valuable time applying. Even if you slip through the cracks and get an internship, they won’t be able to hire you once you graduate. Focus instead on interning at companies that are able to hire you long term—especially if you’re a junior or senior, and it’s your last summer. If you try to slip through the cracks and get hired, it isn’t really honest and might reflect poorly on you. Just tell the truth, and look for companies that will value you.

Any networking advice for international students who are new to the US? 

Anson: Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Virtual events can be great, because you can attend each one from the comfort of your own home. Work on-campus jobs, join clubs, and meet people outside of your home-country network. Befriend as wide a variety of people as possible, because you never know where it’ll lead. Once you engage with your community, other things will fall into place.

Is meeting with your school’s career services office worthwhile?

Kelly: Absolutely. These offices are so underrated! They can be your best friend, because they may have close relationships with people at companies.

Anson: That said, do your own research beforehand so you know what companies and positions you’re eligible for.

What should international students include on their resume if they have no work experience?

Kelly: If you haven’t had an internship or full-time role yet, you can include club membership and leadership, projects and coursework, and client-service experience. If you’ve been a camp counselor or worked in a restaurant, you already have good skills! Don’t sell yourself short. As you gain more experience, you can take the course work out and replace it with proven experience.

During an interview, is it okay to ask about a company’s history with sponsorship?

Kelly: Definitely. Most recruiters will have an answer as it relates to the position in question, but you may need to speak with another member of the HR team if you have more nuanced visa questions.

Anson: Be honest and upfront about your visa status with recruiters, because they can help you know what you’re actually eligible for. Dishonesty will never help you.

Can you reapply to an internship if you’ve been rejected in the past?

Kelly: It always depends on the situation. If you don’t get your dream internship, wait 6 months and try again. Do some self-reflection on how to improve and tailor your application. Otherwise, you can always apply for a full-time role after graduation!

If a company requires US work authorization, does it mean they won’t sponsor international applicants?

Kelly: It can mean they don’t, but if it’s not explicitly stated, it never hurts to ask a recruiter directly.

Anson: The questions from companies always are: “Are you authorized to work in the US?” and “Will you require sponsorship after graduation?” If you have CPT or OPT from school, you have work authorization. If you require sponsorship, that is specific to your visa type. For all international students, you typically do require sponsorship. So, always find this out before applying.

Should international students apply to multiple positions per company?

Kelly: It definitely depends. At my company, we recruit for specific client services positions that involve particular interests and skill sets. If I were to see someone apply for positions in HR, marketing, finance, and other departments, I’d wonder if they have an actual, genuine interest in each position (which is key for any recruiter). If you see two positions that are similar, ask a recruiter about them, and then apply to the role that’s the strongest fit for you.

By HANDSHAKE TEAM - Employer panel
HANDSHAKE TEAM - Employer panel