After the rush of fall term starts to settle down international students start planning for the CPT internship search. January through March are peak CPT internship search times. Finding internships for international students takes some planning. The earlier you start preparing for the search, the more successful you will be. Here is what you need to know to prepare for international student internships.
Note: CPT is offered for F1 visa students only. J1 visa students don’t get CPT. However, much of this information is still relevant for J1 visa students. Also: CPT internships are just called internships.
1. Your internship search is more than submitting a resume online
Most students learn to start their internship search with a resume. But there are many more steps before and after that:
This process is similar to the process of finding a full time job in the US as an international student. You have to prepare a lot before you apply.
Start by visiting your international student services office to learn the details about CPT and how it’s authorized. (or check out this overview from the University of Washington) CPT work authorization allow you to work in paid internships while still enrolled in school. You don’t need to have an H-1B to work at an internship. However, some companies will tell you they don’t hire international students for internships, even if you have CPT.
2. You need to use multiple tools to convince companies to hire you
You need to convince an employer that you are the best candidate for an internship. A resume is only one of the tools to convince employers to hire you. Other tools are:
- Conversations with recruiters
- Persuasive cover letters (some employers actually read them)
- Personal websites
- Digital portfolios
- Social media content (YouTube videos, Twitter engagement, LinkedIn interactions)
- Good storytelling and conversational skills
- Informational interviews with people inside the companies where you want to work
- Recommendations from your contacts inside companies
The most successful candidates use a combination of tools to get hired. Your ability to communicate your value, experience, curiosity, and skills to an employer will get you hired.
3. You need more than a good GPA to get hired for an internship
Your GPA is only one requirement for an internship. To get an internship you need to show employers that you have soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and collaboration. You need to show your practical experience outside of the classroom.
4. You need to be specific about what you want and what you offer companies
One of the biggest mistakes students make in the internship process is not reflecting on what you want and what you offer an employer. Instead, students apply to as many internships as possible hoping a company will notice them. Unfortunately this doesn’t work. Why should an employer hire a student who can’t communicate what they want and what they can offer the company? To succeed you need to be specific about what you want and what you can do for a company. When you are specific you:
- Write better resumes and cover letters
- Improve your networking efforts
- Improve your interview results
5. You need a lot of information
Since you are new to the US, you need a lot of information to succeed in your search. Think of yourself as an anthropologist. You need to collect information. Investigate all possible opportunities and learn as much as you can the CPT internship process in the US. You need to know:
- The companies that offer internships (not all companies have them)
- The companies that hire international students for internships (ask your career center!)
- The internship roles that are common for your degree or academic study
- The skills required for the internship you want to do
- The culture and work style of the companies that interest you
- The products, services, mission/goals, of the company/organization where you want to intern
The earlier you start your search the easier it will be. So don’t wait until May to begin. Start now!