Prepping Students for the International Job Search
As the international student pipeline continues to expand and more prospects express interest in international careers, career services professionals are contributing to the business school value proposition more than ever.
The task of coaching students through the international job search falls to career services professionals, whose mission is to provide not only guidance to students dealing with language and cultural differences but insights on the overall job market and legal documentation.
To shed some light on the topic, Graduate Management News spoke with Marcelo Barros, author of The International Advantage. Get Noticed. Get Hired; and Sara Muriello, author of The American Mindset: Job Search Guidelines for International Graduate Business Students.
Aligning Students’ Skills and Goals with the Job Market
Employers tell us they are looking for candidates with strong interpersonal and communication skills—abilities such as social perceptiveness, active listening, and being persuasive in written and oral communication. These often are stumbling blocks for international job seekers, as these skills can be difficult to master outside of one’s native language or culture.
“Interpersonal skills are key to what employers seek, and critical for networking that can ensure career success,” Muriello noted. “Building soft skills is not something that happens overnight—one must consciously make a continuous effort to expand and develop new skills, to create a sense of belonging and build confidence.”
International job seekers need to conduct a thorough self-assessment to ensure their skill sets not only align with their desired job function, but with the current hiring landscape as well.
"Whatever your interest and skills are, you need to understand the market,” Barros explained. “Is there a demand for people with a particular set of skills, or is the market overflowing with domestic candidates for these roles? International students are more successful when they position their skill sets around the needs of the market.”
Understanding the Job Market and Setting Student Expectations
GMAC’s 2015 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, released this month, provides valuable insights into the 2015 hiring market, particularly with regard to international hiring. Though a minority of companies polled report specific plans to hire international candidates this year, the majority are willing to do so. Compared with last year, the percentage of companies with specific plans to hire international candidates is up across all world regions and industries.
The industries most likely to have plans to hire international candidates are finance and accounting, consulting, manufacturing, and high technology, in that order.
“Many large consulting firms serve a large number of clients with international operations, and their own operations are global. So being international can be an interesting match for their needs,” Barros said. “It is possible to succeed in any functional area; international students are not necessarily the underdogs in the job search race.”
A common assumption supported by GMAC data is that large companies are more likely to hire international candidates than smaller companies. “They [large companies] have more resources, legal departments, and are global organizations,” noted Muriello.
Although large companies present greater odds for graduates seeking international jobs, Barros cautions not to dismiss opportunities at smaller, lesser-known organizations. “My experience with smaller firms is fewer layers of bureaucracy, much faster decision making, and a great need to attract good people. They may tell you they don’t sponsor international candidates, but once they get to know a candidate and the candidate effectively positions their skill set, which can change in a hurry,” he said.
Something that students frequently overlook is the fact that employers often place international hires outside of the country or region where the company is based. For example, about a quarter of Asia-Pacific employers have plans to place international hires in the US this year.
Along with sharing your understanding of the market with students, part of the career services role is to set realistic expectations for their job search, which includes conveying information about the multitude of variables outside students’ control that can influence employer hiring decisions. The figure below displays the factors that corporate recruiters based in the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific frequently say prevent them from hiring international candidates.
For Barros, the truth is in the market. “The question of sponsorship tends to be dictated by the availability of a given skill set in the market. It’s not cost, paperwork, or language—it’s a supply and demand discussion,” he said. “It’s incredible how the reasons cited in the survey disappear once a company needs the applicant. This is why we see so many technical roles available to international candidates—because there is an insufficient supply of domestic applicants.”
Maximize Your Opportunities for Success
Another facet of setting realistic expectations for international job seekers should be your recommendation that they cast a wide net in their job search—something Muriello advised from the onset.
“Students should build an international target list that includes at least 30 different companies,” she explained. “At Simon [Business School] we have a three-pronged approach right from the beginning: job search in the US, home country, and multinational. This increases students’ job search success and opportunity in what is now a global marketplace.”
Though students may have a specific job in mind, it’s important to advise that they remain open to other opportunities.
“Jobs change frequently in the US; work is fluid,” explained Barros. “My pitch to students is ‘let’s move the ball forward.’ That could mean your first job out of school is not what you envisioned, and it’s not the role you thought you should get, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep the job forever. You need to get comfortable with the idea of mobility. So because the visa situation is tough, let’s put you in a situation where you are going to get a job out of school, so you can join the workforce and grow from there.”
Looking to the future, Barros noted that career services offices need to be equipped to handle growing international student populations. “The changes we’ve seen create interesting challenges for career centers. It’s important to have an organizational structure in place that reflects the large enrollment of international students we have seen."
 GMAC (2014). Corporate Recruiters Survey.
 GMAC (2015). Corporate Recruiters Survey.
About the Contributors
Marcelo Barros, a former international MBA student himself, is the founder of The International Advantage, LLC, a consulting firm focused on the job search needs of international students.
Sara Muriello is the Cross Cultural and Communication Specialist at Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, and founder of Executive Cross Communication Consulting.