International Students:
Seeking U.S. Employment

  1. How to approach the US job search and common cultural barriers
  2. Resume differences
  3. Tips for success
  4. FAQs
  5. Additional resources

I. How to Approach the US Job Search and Common Cultural Barriers

Preparation: What to Know/Skills to Practice

The interview process at U.S. organizations varies widely across different industries, functions, and organization types. Depending on your area of interest and skills, you may be interviewing on the phone, online, in-person with a human resources manager, or with a series of hiring managers at the organization. It is vital to review possible interview questions and be prepared to ask some questions of your own before you arrive at the interview. The CAPE’s Interview section provides guidance on how to approach the interview in all stages of the process including before the interview, during the interview, and after the interview.

Skill Preparation

  • Enhance your resume and cover letter writing and interviewing skills by attending Buffalo State CAPE’s workshops
  • Study and practice responses to frequently asked interview questions by writing out your answers and rehearsing your responses out loud
  • Contact the Buffalo State CAPE for scheduling a mock interview appointment with a career counselor to receive feedback on interview skills.

Common Cultural Barriers in the U.S. Job Search

Topic Expectations in the U.S. Possible conflicting values of another culture
  • Assertiveness, openly discussing accomplishments
  • Follow-up with employers, thank you notes, etc.
  • Unless presented as part of a group activity, citing achieved goals, accomplishments and skills is viewed as boastful and self-serving
  • Asking Employers directly about status of application may be viewed as rude
Individual responsibility in finding employment
  • Open and direct responses to questions
  • Eye contact with interviewer, relaxed posture
  • Discussion of salary and benefits only when initiated by interviewer or at time of job offer
  • Candidate asks questions about the job at the end of the interview
  • Eye contact, especially with persons of higher status is disrespectful
  • Appearance of criticism must be avoided
  • Asking open-ended questions about the job may be seen as rude and inappropriately direct
Career self-awareness
  • Demonstration of knowledge of self, career goals and how they relate to job
  • Discussion of long-range career goals
  • Ability to be self-directed
  • Jobs are assigned by government or family or determined by school or test score
  • Individual must be flexible to accept whatever job becomes available without regard to their career goals
Informality in interviews
  • Congenial interviewing environment that encourages openness, some joking, and exchange of information
  • Sitting with a person of higher status requires deference. The job applicant is very polite and does not ask questions or provide information that may indicate lack of respect for interviewer's position. Handshaking, touching, using first name, crossing legs, etc. are inappropriate.
  • Must arrive 5-10 minutes before appointment
  • Personal relationships are more than time. Anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours lateness from agreed meeting time is not insulting.
Effective resumes and cover letters
  • Error-free, one-page, concise, and attractive outline of relevant job experience, skills, accomplishments and academic credentials
  • Personalized to reflect each individual's strengths and capabilities
  • Resumes are a detailed chronology of academic and formal work experiences and not a tool for self-promotion
  • Often contain personal information about family, marital status, a photo, parent's occupation, etc.
Individual equality
  • Race, sex, and age are legally not supposed to affect the interview process
  • Politeness and respect are shown to all employees a candidate meets, whether receptionist or CEO
  • Males and older persons may expect to assume dominance in interactions with females and younger persons
  • Level of organizational hierarchy may determine the amount of respect an individual is given
  • Attitudes on gender, race, and other personal characteristics and how they impact hiring decisions may vary from culture to culture
Research prior to interview
  • Obtain as much information as possible about the company and position prior to the interview. Demonstrate awareness of organization in cover letter and during the interview
  • Research about organization may indicate excessive and undesirable initiative or independence

II. Resume Differences

The U.S. resume has distinct characteristics which may be different from an international resume. It is critical to be aware of the specific features of the U.S. resume. Hiring managers in the U.S. are seeking a particular format and content in their candidate’s resumes, which can be found below.

US Resume International Resume
  • Concise, attractive marketing tool
  • Includes your relevant experiences, skills, accomplishments, and academic background
  • No instances of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors
  • Typically one or two pages in length
  • Efficiently and aesthetically uses space

Refer to the Buffalo State CAPE’s resume information page for additional information on creating an effective U.S. resume

  • Chronologically details academic and formal work experience
  • Sometimes exceeds two or more pages in length
  • May include age, marital status, race and/or religion
  • Often includes a photograph of the job seeker

III. Tips for Success

Employment in the United States is not guaranteed to foreign nationals entering the country on a student visa. In addition to quotas set on the number of skilled foreign workers legally permitted in the country, the following factors contribute to the difficulty you may experience while trying to find employment in the United States.

Challenge Recommendation

Lack of Visas
Employers question if hiring an international candidate is worth the risk of losing him or her in one year due to the H-1B visa situation.

Be the candidate who can fill their need and be ready to be hired when they need you.
Show them you are worth the risk. Be prepared by having your EAD card in good standing. Know yourself and what you have to offer.

Pro‐American Culture
Some employers like to hire people who are like themselves.

Become a Buffalo Bills Fan... or a Chicago Cubs fan, or get a US-focused hobby. This may indicate that you have become genuinely interested in U.S. culture and see yourself here for the long term. If you can express that in a cover letter or interview, you may put the recruiter at ease.

Lack of Commitment to the Job
Employers fear that international students may return to their home country after a year or two and are therefore reluctant to invest time and resources into training.

Choose a company-not just a job
Show commitment to the company by doing your research and be able to explain why you want THEIR company, not just any job. Never give the impression you want any job just to stay in the U.S. You should find a position with a company based on what fits your future career goals.

Hiring Complexities
Many employers are unfamiliar with the process of hiring international students and therefore believe it to be complicated and expensive.

Become an Expert
The more you understand what it takes and how easy it is to get CPT and OPT, and the more you can communicate about these processes, the more likely it will be that you can convince an employer to hire you.

Employers are concerned about international students' ability to communicate effectively in verbal and written English with their clients and internal personnel.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Even if you have been speaking English most of your life, there may be nuances that can be tweaked by spending more time with domestic classmates, participating in customary U.S. activities, conducting a practice mock interview, joining a club, going to networking events, etc. And consider getting your resume and cover letters critiqued at the CAPE.

Cost to hire an international candidate can get up to $6,000 per candidate to petition for an H-1B visa and if the employee is already trained and ingrained in the culture and the petition is not approved, the cost adds up to start the hiring process over.

In the budget?
The cost of $6,000 per candidate is about the same as many companies’ signing bonus and is often budgeted into the hiring plan for the year. Smaller companies and nonprofits pay much less. Don’t give in and offer to pay; it’s illegal for the candidate to pay government fees.

Employment Restrictions
In general, as an international student, you cannot work for the U.S. federal government, most U.S. state and local government agencies, or for some private companies contracted by the government. Your visa status will be less of a barrier with other industries and employers.

Focus on the Companies who DO Hire
International students will find strong employment at organizations with an international focus, such as the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, etc. You may have more success with U.S. companies that have an international presence. Your experiences, language, and cultural fluency make you attractive to these employers. In the case that your H-1B is denied, you may be able to continue to work in your home country.


Q: "Should I list my visa status on my resume?"
Your visa status should not be included on your resume. This will already be visible since your educational background and work history will show you are an international student. Hiring managers will ask the appropriate questions during the recruitment process. You should never lie about your visa status, but given the reservations that employers have about hiring an international student, it is not to your advantage to draw attention to it.

Q: "How do I answer when I am asked by an employer about my work authorization?" (F-1 Student)"
Start by explaining that you have the 'legal right to work in the US for 12 months remaining in Optional Practical Training (OPT), which requires absolutely no work on your part." Then share that 'my work authorization can be renewed for another 3-6 more years with an H-1B work visa." Avoid saying the word 'sponsor' when talking about the H-1B application process, instead use the word 'petition.'

Questions the employer may ask in the application process:

Q: Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?
Yes you are, providing you apply for and receive CPT or OPT prior to starting any job or internship.

Q: Are you legally authorized to work in the United States on a full time basis for an employer?

Q: Will you now or in the future require sponsorship for an employment visa status (ex. H-1B visa status)?

Q: "When in the hiring process do I reveal that I am an international student?"
This is a very sensitive question which needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. While some employers adhere to strict policies against hiring foreign nationals, others may prefer to hire US citizens, but can be otherwise convinced. Therefore, it should be your goal to get past the initial screening measures to the interview. It is usually recommended that students wait until the employer asks, but it is in your best interest to research whether the employer has petitioned for the H1-B visa in the past, especially in the area for which you wish to work. However, if you are being asked to pay for travel for an interview, it would be wise to ask at that time: "Is this a position in which the company is willing to petition for an H-1B visa?"

Q: "If a company says they don't hire international students, should I even apply?"
It depends. If the employer is a federal agency or has a contract with a federal agency, they are not legally allowed to hire foreign nationals. But for many other organizations that say they don't hire international students, it may mean that they haven't hired any international students yet. You may be the first! In order to convince these prospective employers, it is your responsibility to educate them about the process of hiring a foreign national. Be mindful that they still may not hire you, and this can become frustrating. It is recommended that you first target organizations with a history of petitioning for the H-1B.

Q: What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate?"

  • Get your resume and cover letters reviewed by a career counselor
  • Become thoroughly familiar with immigration regulations and benefits attached to your visa status (ex. CPT, OPT)
  • Research the employers and the positions in which you are interested
  • Participate in a practice mock interview with a career counselor
  • Practice speaking confidently about your skills, interests, and career goals
  • Create and actively use a LinkedIn account
  • Network by getting to know people of influence in the companies in your target industry

Finding employment can be a long, time-consuming process. The information is meant to get you started in the job search process. It is important that you begin early to prepare yourself for competing in the job market after graduation. Make use of the many resources mentioned, and if you have difficulty understanding any part of the job search process, calling (716) 878-5811 or by stopping into the career development center located in Cleveland Hall 306.
This information was created based on an accumulation of a variety of school's International Student Job Search Guides across the US, such as SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Binghamton, Rice, Texas A&M, and the University of Virginia. Many of the schools replicate the information provided

V. Additional Online Resources

  • Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security: Citizenship & Working in the U.S. information
  • Visa Information-Work Visa Database, Hot Jobs from Top Work Visa Sponsor, Employer Reviews
  • Nonprofit exchange organization promoting global understanding and collaboration among individuals and institutions. There are a variety of opportunities in the U.S.
  • Advice on how to effectively adapt into the U.S. corporate culture
  • Foreign Labor Certification Data Center including an online wage library
  • Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: Exchange Programs, Opportunities for Non-U.S. Citizens
  • Career & Professional Education

    Buffalo State University  •  1300 Elmwood Avenue  •  Cleveland Hall 306
    Buffalo, New York 14222  •  Phone: (716) 878-5811  •  Fax: (716) 878-3152