My name is Allie Adamis, and I am a senior studying Human Development and Psychological Services, French, and Psychology. This is my third year serving as a Career Ambassador for NCA, and I have loved learning about a wide variety of career-related topics throughout my time in the office.
My name is ChrisJon Willis, and I’m a sophomore studying Economics, Political Science, and International Studies. I have been a Career Ambassador for the past two quarters, and I have really enjoyed my time here working for NCA and watching my peers’ confidence in their job search develop throughout the school year.
A topic that particularly interested both of us was the internship and job search process for international students. Finding a career path can certainly be stressful, and for international students, the process can be even more daunting. There are particular challenges that are unique to international students seeking opportunities in the United States, but thankfully, Northwestern offers plenty of resources to support students going through this process. We decided to interview three international students about their experiences securing opportunities in the US in order to showcase the challenges, strategies, and resources most relevant to international students.
We interviewed Christie Jok, a junior from Hong Kong who is a pre-medical student studying Biology and Global Health; Esha Mody, a junior from Mumbai studying Industrial Engineering; and Audrey Wu, a junior from Singapore studying Civil Engineering.
Question 1: Could you briefly describe your internship/job search journey so far?
Christie: I have not had an internship or job in the US yet, but I’m in the processes of looking for one now. It’s pretty difficult to find a job as an international student, especially if you want to do something part-time during the year because of all the rules you have to navigate. Off-campus jobs have to be related to your school work and you have to get approval for them, which is not something that is very advertised or well-known. On-campus jobs are mostly work-study, so if you don’t qualify, then it’s hard to get a job there as well. Overall, it’s challenging to know what you can or can’t apply for and who needs to sign off on you being able to work legally, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. NOTE: See here for information on Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Esha: In my freshman year summer I did not do an internship (I took classes over the summer). Sophomore summer I did an internship at a startup in Mumbai, India (my home country). In my junior year summer, I will be a Business Consultant Intern at Applied Predictive Technologies in Arlington, Virginia.
Audrey: I started looking for my junior year internship in the summer of my sophomore year. As I was not in the US over the summer, I had to set up networking calls with alumni who worked in the industry that I was interested in. These calls helped me understand the recruitment process as well as the industry better such that when I was back on campus in the fall, I was more prepared when attending info sessions, coffee chats and the career fair. Throughout the fall, I attended recruitment related events both on and off campus in order to gain more exposure and expand my network.
Question 2: What has been your greatest challenge throughout your career planning process?
Christie: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is trying to apply to positions in two different countries with different requirements — figuring out what would make me the best candidate in the US versus in Hong Kong. It’s hard to navigate and prioritize both.
Esha: Coming in, I wasn’t very sure about what I wanted to do job-wise. I realized that I wanted to do consulting pretty late, and so I didn’t join any consulting clubs on campus like a lot of my peers. It was hence somewhat of a challenge to get exposure to resources and build my network, but I was able to do this with the help of my friends who were in these consulting clubs.
Audrey: As an international student, one of the greatest challenges was to find companies that were willing to hire international interns. For example, at the NCA Career Fair, there were only 1 or 2 companies (out of the ones I was interested in) that accepted internationals. This meant that I had to look beyond the school’s resources to find other companies that were willing to hire internationals but were not on campus during recruitment season.
Question 3: What resource was most helpful to you and why?
Christie: The Office of International Student & Scholar Services (formerly the International Office). In terms of searching for different internship opportunities, the Office of International Student & Scholar Services has helped me navigate the process of understanding who needs to sign off on what and has been clear on the types of policies that are involved regarding employment, including where you can work, the qualification requirements, etc. I haven’t been to NCA yet, but I can tell that the services there will also be helpful for my job search regarding opportunities in the US.
Esha: Family and friends. Don’t be too proud to use connections to get internships, especially in freshman and sophomore year. Even for my junior year internship, I used my friends and family as resources, be it connections or to prep with. Older siblings/cousins/peers in the field you want to go into are a huge resource. My brother is a consultant, and he was a massive help in my job search during my junior year fall quarter.
Audrey: The alumni network (OurNorthwestern or LinkedIn). The alumni directory is rather easy to use and from there, I have made many connections with alumni who are currently working in companies that I was interested in. I sent them emails looking to set up phone calls and many of them responded to these emails. Alumni with shared experiences at NU help make the entire recruitment process a little friendlier and less daunting. They were also useful in helping me connect to the right resources in the company.
Question 4: What advice do you have for current international students as they engage in their career planning process?
Christie: I recommend going to the Office of International Student & Scholar Services and figuring out what you qualify for and if there are ways to make things work for you in your career plan. During my time here, I have also realized that I can do some off-campus jobs, so there are ways to still get that experience under a different name.
Esha: Try not to be too discouraged, and try to be positive. It’s definitely very hard to get a job as an international, with fewer and fewer companies willing to hire interns. That said, also be realistic and make sure you also have enough back up plans. Also, make sure you are organized and are keeping track of which companies hire internationals and when they will be coming to campus/when deadlines are. Don’t be afraid to ask upperclassmen for help, especially fellow internationals.
Audrey: Talk to as many upperclassmen and alumni as you can. Be strategic about it and start with people that either have similar experiences as you on campus or with people that are currently working in industries you are most interested in. Find out what made them successful and what advice they may have for you in the recruitment process. Be sincere, attentive and most people are more than happy to help a fellow Wildcat!
Competing in the current job market can be a challenging endeavor for international students; however, it is important to remember that Northwestern offers resources for those in the internship and job search process.
At Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) you can find career advisors and counselors who provide 1:1 holistic career counseling and advising for students considering attending graduate school or entering the workforce.
During express advising hours in Main Library and walk-in hours at select locations on campus, NCA staff and Career Ambassadors are available to help students build resumes, write cover letters, prepare for interviews, utilize Northwestern’s alumni network, and conduct job searches in a variety of industries.
For international students, the Office of International Student & Scholar Services can provide insight on relevant job and internship regulations and information on additional authorization documents that are necessary for taking advantage of off-campus employment opportunities.