Job fairs are challenging places. There are a lot of students and not always a lot of time. You have to be assertive yet friendly. It’s a crash course in American-style business communication. But with preparation and practice you can use career fairs to stand out in the job search.

The first step for international students at a job fair is knowing your visa options before you talk to any employers. Make an appointment with your office of international students so you know the opportunities and limitations. Learn when CPT is available and how OPT and H1B process works. If you are talking to a potential employer about sponsorship, you must be well informed.

Many employers at the job fair do not know visa details and will just assume you can’t be hired for an internship because you need sponsorship! You don’t need sponsorship if you have CPT, so you can work for a summer as an F1 visa student.

Next do your research. Before your go to a career fair, take a look at the list of employers. Check on to see if that company has filed for H1B visas in the past. If so, they have hired international candidates. If their company is not in the database, they have not sponsored international students.

Now make a new list of the companies that are attending the career fair and sponsor international students. Rank the companies based on how interested you are. If there is a company you are interested in but was not listed on (meaning they don’t sponsor), put it lower on the list. Since you have a limited time at the career fair, you should visit the companies that have sponsored first.

Then research the companies that interest you the most. Know the answer to this question for each company you want to visit: Why are you interested in this company?

Next, create a professional story. You need to introduce yourself to every employer you meet. The story should be less than 15 seconds. Think about your story like this: What do you want recruiters to know about you? Practice your story before arriving.

When you have finished your research, created a list of companies that sponsor to visit, and practiced your story, you are ready to attend the career fair!

Asking about H1B Sponsorship

Before talking about H1B sponsorship with employers, you must first start a conversation. Do not ask them about sponsorship when you first meet them. It’s like asking about marriage on the first date. This does not make a good impression on the company.

Instead, when you approach a recruiter or company representative at the job fair, approach them with openness and enthusiasm for their company. Avoid asking them about sponsorship at first.

Recruiters want to hear why you are interested in their company. A student who can craft a specific narrative that shows they have researched the company and company culture will stand out at the career fair.

Consider the two responses to the following scenarios: :

A recruiter stands at the table of a company that creates custom digital solutions for energy companies. The first student approaches, resume in hand. The recruiter says hello and asks the first student why they’re interested in her company.

The student replies “I’m a computer science student who’s looking for a job in a technology company and I saw that your company hires computer science majors.”

Later, the next student arrives and she poses the same question. “What interests you about working here?”

The second student replies, “I”m currently studying software engineering and I’m really interested in working on mobile analytics and product design. I was reading your website and was impressed by your work in the renewable energy industry. Plus I looked at your Instagram feed and it looks like a lot of fun at your company! I’m very curious what you like about working here as well.”

Which student stands out more? The second! That student told more about herself and showed that she researched the company (she also complimented the company – recruiters like genuine compliments about the place they are representing). She also indicated she wanted to know more about the company by inviting the recruiter to share her experience. The more you can tailor your conversation to the company, the more you will stand out.

To discuss sponsorship, first remember that recruiters and company representatives are helpers. Even if a company doesn’t sponsor you don’t want to come across as ungrateful or uninterested. You want to build a relationship with them.

How to ask employers about H1B Sponsorship

Asking “Do you sponsor international students?” risks ending your conversation with the recruiter before you get a chance to share your experience and learn about opportunities.

Instead, continue by telling them your story and inquire about positions in the department or field you are interested in. Listen to their response. If it’s positive, then ask one of these questions:

  • Have you hired international candidates in your company before?
  • Are you open to international applicants?
  • What advice do you have for international candidates who apply at your company?
  • What are the work authorization requirements for this position?

If they give you the answer you don’t like, such as “no we don’t sponsor international students,” continue being friendly. While it is disappointing, they are simply the messenger and it is not personal. Thank them politely. Tell them that it is unfortunate but that you still admire their company and ask to stay in touch.

Go further and ask to connect with them on LinkedIn! Recruiters are very connected people – you never know when a job might come up that you can actually apply to.

What you need to know about H1B sponsorship and American employers

Sponsorship is tricky. Talking about sponsorship is even trickier for recruiters. It is not always a black and white situation. Companies differ in their willingness to sponsor. A no doesn’t always mean a company will never sponsor.

A “no” might mean:

  • The company sponsors but the position is not a good fit for international candidates, so they will not sponsor for the position.
  • The company sponsors for certain positions which are not being advertised at the career fair or represented by the recruiter
  • The company says it does not sponsor but will make an exception for an exceptional international candidate
  • The company will make an exception for an exceptional international candidate but will not tell you that because the recruiter doesn’t make sponsorship decisions
  • The company does sponsor but they have so many applications from international students because they are a rare company that sponsors that they start telling international students that they don’t sponsor.

Does this sound confusing? It is! So it’s important to be friendly, open, and don’t get discouraged. If a company you know sponsors (because they are listed on but a recruiter tells you they don’t, continue to be warm-hearted. It is not good to argue with a recruiter.

Instead, ask for their contact information and send a polite, short email followup to discuss sponsorship at a more convenient time. This is particularly relevant for internship positions. Some recruiters may not know that you don’t need sponsorship for an internships. But be aware – some companies use their summer internships as pipelines for a full time job. For internships that lead to full time positions at companies that don’t sponsor, you will be unlikely to be considered for the internship, regardless of your CPT.

Only the most specialized candidates get H1B sponsorship

Building relationships with people inside of companies will get you closer to H1B sponsorship. The recruiters that you meet at a company are very good relationships to have. Think of them as professional helpers who can vouch for you. Their role is to advocate for you during the hiring process. They can say, “yes, I’ve spoken to this student, they speak well, are friendly and a hard worker.” That recommendation helps when you are an international student and risk-adverse companies are unfamiliar with you.

Remember, recruiters are people just like you! A lot of times schools send their alumni to visit your school. They were also recent students. So approach them with openness.

More resources on how to stand out at a career fair

The next video is extremely helpful for understanding how to present yourself when you have no job experience:

Need more confidence for the H1B job search? We have training for you.

Explore our International Student Job Search Training Package with a list of 300 companies that sponsor H1B!

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