Many international students looking to stay on in the US post-graduation may well have questioned what they need to do to remain competitive and achieve their post-MBA job search goals, in light of the country’s current political climate.
Here, then, are five further job search strategies [see the first five here] including ways in which you might be able to leverage your Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the type and size of firms that might be worth targeting.
1. Target mid-sized and smaller firms
Large firms that were already hesitant to consider international students before the current administration took over now seem even more worried. I have heard unofficial reports from international students interested in the world of investment banking and financial services, for example, that organizations such as KPMG, BNY Mellon, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and others may no longer be considering international students as candidates. Whether or not this is just speculation, what is clear is that no matter how great of a hire you may be, you are probably not going to change the mind of a large firm to interview you if they have a policy not to consider international students.
My advice? Spend more time targeting mid-sized and smaller firms that might be open to hiring international students. Smaller firms are more nimble and if they like you and need you, they may choose to hire you, even in cases where the company CEO was not thrilled about hiring international students in the first place. Many of the international students I am in touch with have reported success with this strategy and they continue to emphasize to me that exceptions are made in the mid-sized and small company space for quality international hires. It makes sense. Sites such as MyVisaJobs.com contain information about sponsorship history, but don’t get discouraged if a smaller firm you may be in touch with has never filed for an H-1B visa before. Be the first!
2. Forget the job of your dreams for a while
Remember that, in general, a safe hire for a company is someone who’s done the work before, liked it and excelled at it, and can’t wait to get back into it. This is not a time to attempt drastic career transitions. Stick to what you do best and apply for jobs where your past work experience and skills directly match the requirements of the position. Pay careful attention to your pre-MBA work experience. If you were a consultant prior to getting an MBA but got tired of the travel and were hoping to do something different after graduation, you may have to bite the bullet and consider jumping back into the type of work you did pre-MBA. As a rule of thumb, you will have more employment opportunities after you secure your first H-1B visa because some firms that don’t consider international students are eager to interview international candidates they can hire via an H-1B transfer. Keep in mind how fluid the world of work is in the US and the fact that there’s little stigma attached to changing jobs.
3. Leverage Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If you graduate in May or June without a job, and if your summer job search efforts still don’t produce any results, remember that Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be paid or unpaid and it can be part time or full time. The idea of working for free as a fully-fledged MBA graduate is unlikely to excite anyone and international students may hate this idea, of course. But if you find yourself in a bind and start getting nervous about maintaining your visa status in the US, you may want to consider proposing some sort of short-term consulting engagement to an alumni from your school, for example, so you can fulfill your OPT obligations. You can certainly continue your job search at the same time as this.
Similarly, in absence of a full-time job, don’t discard the possibility of joining a firm as an intern after graduation. This is an unusual strategy as well, but one that has proven to be successful for a few international MBAs I know who did not have a full-time job offer by the end of summer, post-graduation, but then converted a post-MBA internship assignment into permanent work. Firms may like the idea of testing you out before they commit to hiring you full time. Be proactive and suggest this option if you feel a firm is on the fence about hiring you.
4. Consider placement agencies but employ caution
The ideal situation for international students is to secure a job with a reputable firm that will try to get them an H-1B visa. That should be priority #1. In the absence of a full-time job offer, some international students have successfully worked with consulting companies or placement agencies that placed them into short-term projects with their clients by leveraging a student’s Optional Practical Training.
If you decide to work with a staffing agency, be very careful though - many international students have reported feeling exploited. In addition, staffing agencies may not be interested in filing for an H-1B visa on your behalf. If your long-term goal is not only to find OPT employment but also to stay in the US, then be even more careful when considering the option of working with staffing agencies.
5. Position yourself in areas of demand
Whatever happens with the H-1B visa program, US employers in certain sectors will continue to have difficulty finding the right hire. The technology sector, of course, has had a shortage of qualified workers for many years, but international MBAs with strong data modeling skills will also have plenty of opportunities to explore a variety of different sectors and industries. The digitization of everything favors many international students who bring the right level of focus to excel in positions in the US that require a combination of technical knowhow and business acumen. H-1B workers are hired in different capacities and in different fields but, as a jobseeker, if you have a background that is in demand you will increase your odds of success.