How to get a U.S. Internship as an International Student
When Aradhya Kochar came to the United States to study marketing and human resources, it was the first time she’d been away from home. She had never even stayed overnight at a friend’s house. Traveling the more than 12,600 km (7,800 miles) from her home in New Delhi, India, to the campus of the University of South Carolina was a big adventure.
Even though she was eager to make the most of her experience in the United States, Aradhya did not look for an internship right away. Instead, she got a job on campus while she prepared to apply for internships.
That choice was perfectly aligned with how James Morrison, Director of the Career Accelerator program at Shorelight Education, thinks students should approach their internship search.
“International students need to think about what is the pathway towards getting an internship,” James says. “It takes time.”
Career counselors help you find internships
Aradhya had always made her career a priority. In New Delhi, you have to be 18 to work. The very day she turned 18, she got a job at a travel agency planning trips for corporate clients. She came to the United States with big dreams of furthering her career through a U.S. internship.
While Aradhya might have been able to find an internship for that first year, it wasn’t the right choice for her. She was homesick and needed time to process everything she had experienced.
“All I was thinking about was just going back home and being with my family,” Aradhya says.
After completing her first year of study in the United States, Aradhya returned home for the summer. When she came back to the United States for her second year of study, she was ready to start her internship search.
Fortunately, Aradhya was part of the International Accelerator Program at the University of South Carolina. Career counseling is one of the many services the program offers to international students.
With help from her counselor, Aradhya developed a resume and cover letter, practiced interviewing, and started building her network.
In the end, her patience and hard work paid off. Aradhya got an internship working with Shorelight Education, a company that helps international students realize their dream of studying at a U.S. university.
How to get an internship
You can learn from Aradhya’s experience. She didn’t just come to the United States and immediately try to get a job with a big-name company. Instead, she made a realistic plan and worked toward her goal.
“If a student has never worked before, there’s got to be a strategy in place to get there,” James says.
Getting an on-campus job is a great first step. You might never have had a job before, or, like Aradhya, you might have worked in your home country. Either way, working in the United States is a new experience. You’ll need to communicate clearly in English and to understand the expectations your employer has for you.
While you’re working on campus to gain experience, you should be putting together your job-search documents. Your resume is the first thing many employers ask for, and you should follow some specific rules about how to write and format it if you want to catch their attention. In addition to your resume, you’ll need a personalized cover letter for each job you apply to.
A LinkedIn profile has also become an essential part of the modern job search in the United States. You’ll need to know how to develop one and how to maintain it.
Practice interviewing as often as you can. Many international students are uncomfortable interviewing because they don’t know what to expect. Mock interviews with your career coach, professors or even other students can help you feel more confident.
All of these steps help prepare you to apply, but first you have to decide where you want to apply to. Go to networking events, join clubs and volunteer groups, or become a member of a professional organization that fits with your course of study. These opportunities can introduce you to people and businesses you might want to work with.
“All these wonderful professional associations that encourage students to get involved and volunteer become a great stepping-stone for international students to build up their marketability and employability,” James says.
Finally, when you’re ready, you can start applying to internships.
Remember that getting a job takes time. “It’s never as quick as they would like,” James says. “Companies have their procedures. They have their policies. I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of interviews that people have. That can be a lengthy process.”
Find the internship that’s right for you
Students come to the United States with big dreams of getting an internship working for Google or Morgan Stanley. James tells the students he works with that they should look for a company that offers the experience they want, not just one that has a well-known name.
“You can go work for a multinational, but what you’ll often find is it’s a very specific job that you’re going to do,” James says “It’s a narrow scope of work.”
While the big-name companies look exciting, you might want to consider going with a smaller company, at least for your first internship. It all depends on what type of experience you’re looking for.
At a smaller company or even a start-up, students have a different internship experience. “What you find is that you’re working with the founders of the company,” James says. “You have a seat at the table.” Which means that you can actually help make decisions that affect the business.
Wherever you want to work, your school’s career services office can help you get there.
“I was in the Career Accelerator Program, so my career coach really helped me with all this.” Aradhya says. “She told me about the process. She also helped me figure out how to go about everything. Had I not had help from the Career Accelerator Program, I would not have been able to get this internship.”