Northeastern is special because it has a large number of international students that enrich the culture of and provide a global perspective to our campus. However, international students sometimes express anxiety about the US job search process. “If I want to stay in the US post-graduation, what should I do to prepare and be successful in the US job search?”, is a question I consistently hear from international students. I had the opportunity to sit down with a Northeastern alum, Henry Nsang, who hails from Cameroon, Africa, to provide insight and advice on how to successfully land a US position as an international student. He received his BS in civil engineering and MS in Environmental engineering in 2010 and 2013, respectively, and gained employment from Boston-based construction management and consulting firm, Janey.
What do you do in your current position?
I am a project engineer at Janey, which means that I basically do a little bit of everything. Primarily, I am in charge of cost analysis and project control. I guess the best word to use that sums up everything I do is construction management.
How did you get that position?
Networking. I cannot emphasize networking more—make sure you leverage your network and be truthful about your international student status. This will save the company and you a lot of time if you are just upfront about it. For my current position, Richard Harris, an assistant dean in the College of Engineering who I was able to forge a relationship with, knows my current boss. I checked out the company and was interested in it, so I applied and Mr. Harris was able to put in a good word for me. I had three interviews with the company, and I was very open about my long-term and short-term goals. I know that I want to gain a couple years of work experience here and then go back to Cameroon, and I think they appreciated that I was up front about that. My co-op experience was extremely helpful in my interview since I was able to talk about my work experience and how that directly applied to the position. I could also show that I was adaptable, since I had a background participating in clubs that focused on different things, and I could show that I could manage competing priorities appropriately. So, I would say that gaining experience, co-ops or internships, and being parts of groups and activities are extremely important for the job search process—the more people that can vouch for you and your work, the better.
When did you bring up your international student status?
I was very straightforward and brought it up in the first interview. Integrity is something that anyone would value. Also, the delivery of your international status to the employer is important. Don’t express it as a burden. If you present a problem, also address a solution to the problem. For example, I get about two years of OPT as someone who studied a discipline in a STEM field, so I let my current company know that I do not need sponsorship for at least two years during the interview. At the end of those two years, they would be able to determine if they liked my work enough to sponsor me for an H1B.
How many jobs did you apply to?
I probably sent out 300 applications. I know that is a large number, but I made sure that I was qualified for all the jobs I sent out. I was also looking in areas outside of Boston, which added to my number of applications. I went on about twelve interviews from 7 different companies. I made sure that my LinkedIn profile was spiffed up. I also worked with a recruiter from Aerotek who took my resume, interviewed me, and then started to send my resume out. I found that I got interviews from larger companies who knew about sponsoring. The smaller companies may not be aware that you don’t have to sponsor international students from the beginning. Some people are more informed than others about H1B and OPT.
What advice do you have for international students looking to get a job in the US?
Know exactly what you want and prepare yourself to the best of your ability. Make sure that you have applied for OPT and paid the application fee. You don’t want to get a job offer and then realize that you can’t actually work. Exploit every option you have—LinkedIn was a big tool for me and really supplemented my resume. If you fill it out right and appropriately, you could get job interviews from recruiters through LinkedIn. Also, don’t let a “no” stop you. Sometimes you get rejections, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. A rejection is just a means to an end and part of the entire process. Make sure that you continue to send out applications, and that you match their skill set and what they’re looking for.
Ashley LoBue is a Career Advisor at Northeastern Career Development. A Boston College graduate, Ashley has over 3 years of experience working in higher education and is a proponent for international and experiential education.