International Students and Securing Post-MBA Jobs in the US

Advice on post-study visas for international students studying in the US

As if getting into one of the top business schools in the US wasn’t hard enough, visa regulations for international students can make staying in the US after graduation even more difficult.

While some MBA jobs will offer sponsorship opportunities that encompass that all-important H-1B visa, there are plenty of companies and startups that can’t or don’t. On top of that, companies that look to help international students can also be hampered by the process.

One former international student from Brazil and an MBA graduate of the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business is Marcelo Barros. The founder of The International Advantage and a book by the same name, Barros has spent over two decades advising international students and partnering with business schools in an effort to help people navigate the system of securing work visas in the US. As such, he has accumulated a wealth of information for any MBA students looking to stay on and work in the US after graduation and a few tips in case plan ‘A’ doesn’t pan out.

In this interview, Barros tells TopMBA.com that he advises students against spending “a disproportionate amount of time agonizing over the H-1B visa process, which for the most part is beyond their control,” and “to focus their attention on aspects of the job search process that they can influence.” Read on to learn more!

What do you tell prospective international MBA candidates – those who are in the process of applying to some of the top business schools and who are determined to work in the US after graduation?

Marcelo Barros

I tell international students to do their homework. It is easy for prospective international MBA applicants in a country far away to look at placement rates that are in the 90% range for top business schools and to get excited about their own post-graduation job prospects. Similarly, post-MBA salaries in the US$90,000 range are nothing to sneeze at, depending on where you currently are. All of these numbers look fantastic to most non-domestic MBA applicants, but ideally what you want is data specific to international students.

One challenge for international applicants is that there’s no US-wide statistic indicating the percentage of international MBAs who ended up getting jobs in the US, versus those who went home after graduation from those top business schools. That’s usually the key statistic that prospective international candidates are looking for. In addition, I point out to prospective candidates that a school’s overall placement number includes figures from international students who accepted jobs outside of the US. So, depending on how you look at it, the overall placement number ends up being what we might call a ‘blended’ number.

What questions can prospective international students ask the schools they are in touch with in order to mitigate these challenges?

There are two questions that international prospective MBAs should ask the MBA programs they’re talking to:

1. Out of all of the international students who were seeking post-MBA jobs in the US last year, what percentage succeeded? This is not always an easy question for top business schools to answer, but it is a question that is worth asking.

2. Could you please put me in touch with any international students who wanted to find post-MBA jobs in the US but who ended up going home? In addition to speaking with international students who found employment in the US, it is important to listen to the stories of those who did not make it.

Armed with the right data and a balanced view of the job search journey from several international students, perhaps from the previous graduating class, I feel prospective international MBA candidates can make better decisions about their MBA plans in the US.

The H-1B visa situation is a bit tricky these days. Have you heard any interesting success stories recently about international MBA students who made it?

I have heard of some great wins recently from international MBA students. One example came from Juan Quiros, a graduating MBA in the class of 2016 at William & Mary’s Mason School of Business. Juan interned at Citigroup in the summer of 2015 and Citi then extended him a full-time job offer, which he accepted. What was great about Juan’s case was that the firm applied for his H-1B visa this past April, while he was still in business school. And guess what? He got lucky and secured his H-1B visa.

Sometimes international students secure post-MBA jobs during the fall semester of their last year of the program, for example, but some fail to take advantage of the fact that sometimes their employer might be able to file for their H-1B visa while they’re still in school. This is definitely something worth exploring.

Another great story I want to share comes from a couple of years ago. I worked with an MBA who wanted to secure a product management role in high technology. In the end, this student ended up securing a great position as a senior product management analyst with a company right here in Washington DC, where I live. Come H-1B visa lottery time, this student did not get so lucky. He called and said “I did not make it Marcelo, but I’m ready to enjoy whatever is next for me”. He had such a great attitude. We discussed ways for him to stay on payroll. He was a solid employee and it seemed to me his company wanted to keep him. We brainstormed several options, one of them being the fact that perhaps his firm could relocate him to Canada. They tried that but it did not work out in the end. Instead though, his firm agreed to let him work out of India, where he’s from. And that’s what he did. He packed his bags and returned to India.

This past month I was thinking of this student because I knew that his intention was to return to the US. I wondered if his firm had applied for his H-1B visa again. Well, I found out that they had and, this time, he did secure a visa and will be returning to DC this October. I was so happy to hear about this success story.

This story reminds us all that internationals students cannot be so rigid with their job search goals, and that sometimes an interim position with the right firm at home can help students prepare to return to the US. There’s something to be said about playing the long game in your strategy with regards to finding the right post-MBA jobs.

How do the numbers of international students enrolling in US business schools impact the work of career services, and what are these departments doing to help international students overcome the unique job-search hurdles they face?

The international student population can be so diverse at the top business schools and I feel that the high number of international students enrolled at some top business schools has made it difficult for some departments to scale and provide customized support for students. Customized support is something I sense they want, as opposed to a generic, classroom-style type of job search training. Throw on top of that the current unwillingness of many US employers to provide sponsorship and you can see how tricky it can get for career services.

Despite these challenges, great progress has been made, certainly compared to when I got my MBA in the late 1990s. Many international students tell me that their experience with their institution’s careers center has been outstanding and that they particularly benefit from the holistic career development support they receive during their studies. This kind of experience is often not available in many other countries out there.

As far as resources, these days there are training tools for the MBA job search that cater specifically to the needs of international students. Those did not exist when I was getting my degree. For sure, we have evolved.

International students should feel confident that business school careers centers have all the motivation in the world to help them achieve their job search goals and it’s smart to leverage career services, no matter what school students end up attending. It’s certainly possible to land a great offer in the US, even if you end up joining a smaller and lesser-known MBA program. Top employers know there’s good talent everywhere. Often times it is about tenacity, focus and executing well on a sound job search plan.

When conducting job search training with international students at US universities and business schools what questions do you most often hear?

Most students want immediately to get hold of ‘the list’ of firms that might be open to giving them an H-1B visa, which is the visa the majority of international students need in order to work in the US after graduation. Firms such as Citigroup, Amazon, Capital One, FedEx and many others all have hired international students in the past, and a number of students end up targeting these firms. Luckily, you can access information regarding firms which have provided H-1B visas in the past via dedicated visa websites, like Myvisajobs.com.

Having access to ‘the list’ can be helpful but it is more important for international students to position themselves with firms and hiring managers who may be interested in what they have to offer. When working with international students, I focus their attention on aspects of the job search process that they can influence and can get them hired, as opposed to letting them spend a disproportionate amount of time agonizing over the H-1B visa process, which for the most part is beyond their control.

The H1-B topic just does not warrant so much conversation. Finally, I always urge international students not to ignore lesser-known company names that might be growing and may need their skills and talents, but that might not rely on campus recruiting for their graduate hires.

You can learn more about Barros and his work and connect with him via LinkedIn. 

Written by Mike Grill

Mike's remit covers content, SEO and blogger outreach. Outside of his work for TopMBA.com, he is an assistant coach for MLU outfit, the Portland Stags.

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