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The International Student’s Guide to Internships

For US college students an internship is a road towards a career. For international students, an internship can open the door to a new life. Not only do you learn (and get paid) while exploring new career possibilities, you will gain first-hand experience of American culture and its work ethics. Whether you’re considering an internship in the next couple years or actively looking for one now, we’ve assembled some helpful advice to get you started. Read on to learn how you network, authorize, communicate, focus, and connect for success:

Network

Connect with other international students, online or in person. Ask questions and use resources to seek out information about internship opportunities.

Explore Facebook groups, the AIESEC website, and popular resources for US employment like LinkedIn and Internships.com.

Reach out to the alumni network of your school. These include not only graduates from your field but former international students. They’ll often be happy to give you the advice they wish they’d heard when they were younger.

Authorize

Know the forms and authorizations you need to legally accept work. Do you need to apply for CPT (curricular practical training)? Give yourself time to be approved. Is your new position an internship…or a job? Internships are available to most international students with CPT authorization but a proper job (with proper pay) may require OPT authorization, which requires extra paperwork.

Clarify your work and student status with potential employers or contact their human resources departments beforehand to make sure you have the proper authorizations for your position (a hiring manager may not know the answers to these questions). It will be your responsibility to make sure you are authorized to take on a specific internship.

Manage your deadlines from the federal government, your school, and your potential employer. Create a spreadsheet to manage each deadline and set up reminders for when they’re due. Use the resources at ice.gov to find paperwork for all your necessary authorizations.

Communicate

Talk with a campus advisor about internship options. Seek out email addresses, phone numbers, and other methods of contact through your school’s website and reach out to these advisors with your intentions (reach out to multiple people if possible).

Craft unique but short emails when introducing yourself — and do not copy multiple people onto a single email! Be clear about submission deadlines, your specialties, and areas of interest.

Focus

Identify companies that need people who do what you do. Start with your skills, then companies that have a need in those areas.

Build a résumé that reflects your skills clearly and accurately. Proofread it then show it to colleagues and friends. Make it clear that you are highlighting the relevant skills for the job in question. Read and review sample résumés while revising.

Interview strategically: be prepared to discuss your interest in the company as well as the relevance of that internship to your major and your future plans. Your interview is in some ways more important than your résumé. Use this interview checklist as you plan your personal strategy.

Connect

Build friendships — the new personal and professional connections available at your job are just as important as your practical skills. Introduce yourself, talk to others, and find out their interests. Participate in office social programs where appropriate.

Exchange email addresses after you leave and stay in touch with your co-workers, even if only to thank them for a positive experience. This is how you build a professional network. You never know who may become a hiring manager at your next dream job…

The world of international student internships is competitive and challenging. But it’s filled with rewards for those who are persistent, friendly, and organized. Go out there and start building your dream career.