This post is for career services staff who support international students in their job search. 

Each year the Institute of International Education (IIE) produces an annual report, Open Doors, summarizing important trends in international education. The report offers a glimpse into international students trends, including students’ academic and increasingly professional journey.  In 2017/18 the number of international students studying in the US reached 1,094,792. A record number of international students, 203,462, took advantage of OPT in the 2017/18 year, an 15% increase from the 2016/17 school year.

The challenges for international students looking for work in the US are immense. From navigating American style networking to understanding the H-1B job search process to figuring out what exactly to say to people on LinkedIn, international students need more support in their search compared to their American peers. Despite the challenges, the majority of international students want the opportunity to experience working in the US.

However, that’s easier said than done. Career departments are understaffed and underfunded. Between managing employers, coaching appointments, planning career fairs, and seemingly endless resume reviews, there isn’t a lot of time for much more.

Best practices for international student services

Supporting international students in higher education takes a village. It can’t just be the responsibility of international student offices or study abroad offices. Educators across the campus must look beyond traditional methods for engaging international students. Supporting international students on campus requires a flexible mindset, curiosity, and a willingness to experiment with new methods.

Career coaching international students requires a high touch approach. Below are four easy ways career coaches can support international students in their job search.

Understand your cultural bias

International students are expected to adapt their communication styles to succeed in the classroom and in the job search. The same is true with career coaches. Career services staff must adapt their communication styles to connect with international students.

Most career services staff are Americans working in an American organization. The result is a cultural blindness. Many career staff are unaware of how culture shapes communication style. The differences affect coaching results. They also lead to misunderstandings in coaching sessions. If you’ve ever had an international student smile politely and completely ignore your job search advice, it’s likely you’ve experienced a cross-cultural mishap.

If you’re new to intercultural communication, the video below is a good start. Erin Meyer is a  Senior Affiliate Professor in the Organisational Behaviour Department at INSEAD. She wrote the book, Culture Map, which provides a framework for understanding how culture impacts business. Her insights are as useful for career coaches as they are for businesses and leaders. If cross-cultural communication peaks your curiosity, her book is a solid starting point.

Before you watch the video below, think about all the times you’ve asked a group of international students a question and nobody responded.

Now think about your workshops. Can you read the air?

Next, learn about low context vs. high context cultures. As Americans, we’re a low context society. Think about your international students. Which students come from high context societies?

Get curious about the international student experience

As service providers there’s a tendency to think we’re experts. But if you’ve never lived in another country or tried to search for a job in a foreign country, it’s hard to understand the international student career experience. Instead, start by listening to your students. Invite them to tea or coffee and ask them what they’re experience job seeking is like. Replace your assumptions about international students with a curious mindset. Seek to understand them. After all, international students, much like many groups on campus, aren’t a homogenous group.

Embrace an experimental mindset 

An international student once told me that our career department always told students to network but never explained all the different types of networking students are expected to do. He was referring to the different contexts in which we network during the search. I had never thought about it through that lens. Our networking programs were built on the assumption that students already knew the context in which they’d be networking. That was only true for Americans. In the end, I rebuilt our networking programs to provide more context. I experimented with new exercises to improve networking skills. Now, my workshops for international students favor skill-building over information delivery.

Think creatively about the services you can provide for international students. Where possible ask students for their feedback and integrate it into your workshops.

Build relationships and get outside the office

Cross cultural differences don’t just affect communication styles. They affect how people connect and build trust. For example, Americans tend to cut to the chase and get down to business when starting a meeting. If you’re an American career coach who has 30 minutes of back to back coaching meetings, you’re pressed for time. After some small talk, you likely get right into the issue at hand. While a bit of small talk and getting the point builds trust in American relationships, it doesn’t translate across cultures. Andy Molinsky, author of Global Dexterity, captures this perfectly in the HBR article, In a New Culture, Wait to Cut to the Chase:

Global leaders can often struggle when trying to strike the right balance between building relationships and getting down to business. This process is generally easier in one’s native culture, because most people intuitively recognize the relative balance that each of these qualities typically has in the cultural cocktail of an individual country. In Mexico, it’s critical to develop a great deal of time and effort toward getting to know each other and building relationships before focusing on work, whereas in Germany, it’s perfectly acceptable to cut to the chase far sooner to get down to business.

Your approach to relationship building with international students may not match theirs. Instead of relying on relationship building through coaching sessions, invest time in meeting students where they are at. Leave the office and visit them in clubs. Go to their events. Get to know them holistically instead of just in the context of a job search. When I worked at Yale School of Management, I ended up doing Zumba with international students. True, I love Zumba. I also had plenty of career related mini-advising moments with students and frequent “oh yeah, I should visit your office” moments.

Moreover, don’t expect all international students to come to your office. In some cultures the idea of sharing their challenges with a complete stranger is literally a foreign concept. Americans are used to a help seeking culture. The idea of turning to a stranger over family or friends to solve a problem may not be as common among some international students. Work with leaders from international student clubs to give them the tools to coach their friends through their job search.

Upgrade your skills 

Best practices for International Student Services

Improve your international student career outcomes with our online course.

This course is ideal for career staff who are:

  • New to international student career advising
  • Leading teams who work with international students
  • Curious about cross cultural coaching
  • Interested in new ideas for international student workshops

Explore more details here.

More support for your international students 

We offer a full suite of solutions to help international students succeed in their job search. Whether they’re one year Masters students or undergraduates looking for CPT internships, we have solutions.

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