International Students

International students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels face some special challenges when it comes to a U.S. internship, co-op, or entry-level full-time job search.

Like domestic students, you need to use a combination of job search strategies, including:

  • Using the Nittany Lion Careers online job search system
  • Talking to undergraduate or graduate Career Envoys—especially those who are international students—to learn how they were successful in finding jobs
  • Attending University-wide and engineering-focused career events in the spring and fall semesters
  • Using LinkedIn and other social media

However, due to possible restrictions on when and where you are allowed to work, you will likely need to try additional strategies.

Résumés and Documents

American-style résumés, curricula vitae and cover letters may be different from those you would write in your home country.  For example, American résumés never include personal information such as height, weight, marital status, or health status; they also do not include photographs.

Review our information for undergraduate and graduate students to see tips, suggestions, and sample job search documents for a U.S. job search.

Communication

Strong communication and interpersonal skills are key to letting employers know about your background and experience and making a good impression.

If English is not your native language, use every possible opportunitiy to practice.  Global Connections offers a variety of programming to help you with English language and cultural adaptation, including the Conversation Partners program. 

It's also a great idea to get involved with student organizations where you can meet and get to know American students, including:

Networking

Networking is important for any job-seeker, either domestic or international.  Making personal connections with people who may be hiring—or with people who may know someone who is hiring—gives you a competitive advantage over someone who simply completes a job or internship application.

There are many ways to grow your professional network:

Interviewing

Most students find interviewing stressful, whether for an internship, co-op, or entry-level position. 

However, as an international student, you face the additional stressors of cultural differences and (perhaps) difficulty communicating the way you want to in English.

Here are a few tips to for success:

  • Be well prepared going into the interview. Know what the company or organization does and be very familiar with the job requirements. Review the information for undergraduate or graduate students about interviewing, including details about the different types of interviews, common questions, etc.
  • Don’t be late! Make sure you arrive 10-15 minutes before your interview time.
  • Be pleasant and polite to everyone you encounter at the company, without regard to title. Make the right impression with the receptionist when you first walk in the door.
  • Dress for the job you want. See our Pinterest pages for examples of business professional attire.
  • Provide a firm, confident handshake when you meet the interviewer.
  • Be conscious of personal space with the interviewer, which in the U.S. is usually about four feet around a person for a stranger or acquaintance.  Depending upon your country of origin, this might be a larger personal space than you are accustomed to.
  • Maintain eye contact when you are speaking to the interviewer.
  • Smile and try to project confidence.  Selling yourself as a candidate—without being arrogant—is a requirement in a U.S. interview.  This is not the time for modesty!
  • Answer all questions concisely and honestly.  If you aren’t honest (with yourself or with the interviewer), you could be setting yourself up for a job where you aren’t a good fit for the organization.
  • Do not volunteer information about your age, marital status, health, etc.  It is illegal for employers to ask about these topics.
  • If English is not your native language, speak slowly to make sure the interviewer can understand you.
  • In addition to talking about your engineering skills and background, emphasize your advantages as an international student, including:
    • Bilingualism (or multilingualism)
    • Adaptability
    • Resourcefulness
    • Initiative
    • Independence
  • Ask questions to help you decide whether or not the job is a good fit for your interests and abilities.  Be sure not to ask about basic information that is covered on the employer’s website.  

Visas and Work Authorization

During the course of an interview, employers have the right to ask whether or not you are authorized to work in the U.S. and whether or not you need visa sponsorship (now or in the future). Many employers are unfamiliar with international student visas and work authorizations.  In order to maximize your chances of finding employment in the U.S., it is to your advantage to understand and be able to explain your work authorization.

Most degree-seeking international students at Penn State have F-1 visa status. A quick review of F-1 visa requirements is provided on the Global Penn State website.  There is also detailed information at this site about international student employment.

If you are seeking Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) for an internship, co-op, or entry-level full-time job, be informed about the steps and requirements for your application process.

You may be wondering when you should tell an employer about your immigration status.  There isn’t really a "best time" to do so.  Some students prefer to let an employer know right away when they meet; others prefer to wait until they are invited to interview.  Regardless of your preference, be sure to talk about it before the end of your interview. Employers need this information in order to make a hiring decision and they won’t want to be surprised with it after they have made you an offer, especially if they are not able to provide visa sponsorship.

Cultural Differences

You may have experienced culture shock when you first arrived at Penn State due to differences in communication style and personal values and attitudes, among other things. If you are contemplating getting an internship or co-op in the United States, or starting your full-time career here, these cultural differences may have an impact on you as well.

Here are some general values which are shared by many Americans and which are often reflected in U.S. workplaces.

  • Informality/Equality: American workplaces often have an informal tone. Many people dress casually and most people are on a first-name basis.  Using titles is uncommon, even between bosses and subordinates.
  • Direct/Assertive Style: Many Americans believe that it’s important to express your opinions and communicate your points openly and honestly, even if what you have to say is negative in nature.
  • Individuality: Americans often value individual goals and successes and value self-reliance rather than too much reliance on other people or on the government.
  • Privacy: Americans often seem open and friendly, but sometimes foreigners complain that it’s hard to really get to know them. Americans tend to avoid discussing controversial topics (such as politics or religion) with people they do not know well.
  • Punctuality: Americans value being on time for work and for meetings. They believe that “time is money” and generally do not like wasting time.
  • Achievement: Americans tend to be competitive (both with themselves and with others) and this sense of competition motivates them to both improve and achieve.
  • Progress/Future Orientation: Americans are generally more focused on the present and the future than on the past.  They often embrace change and equate it with progress.
  • Action Orientation: Most Americans do not believe in fate; they believe in doing things to make other things happen.  Specifically in the workplace, they often believe that they can be successful by doing more or doing things differently.  Americans may seem to be always on the go.

Resources

General Information

Visas

Academics

Penn State Learning

Intercultural Connections

Foundations in Global Engagement (FiGE)

Alumni Connections

Penn State International Students and Alumni: Career Networking and Discussion Group

 

Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032