Why Is It So Hard for International Students to Get Internships?
This question was adapted from a response to a question on Quora: Why is it so hard for international students to get engineering internships in America?
Though the question relates to engineering internships the advice is applicable to any international student who is studying in a common major (engineering, business, computer science)
- No experience: Many international students rely on good GPA and good grades as a signal to employers that they are qualified. However, American employers value experience over good grades. Yes, they want you to be smart and have good grades. But they always want to see applied work experience (if you don’t have applied experience, then some project work), and that you are a fit for their organization (you’re personable and likable) . It’s a challenge: you’re taking an internship because you need experience but they are unlikely to hire you if you don’t have experience working in the U.S.
- Cultural challenges: Students need to understand and adapt to American cultural norms. If you’re not comfortable with small talk, or can’t talk about why you’re qualified for the position, or turn into a robot when they ask you questions, they won’t hire you. Likability is a real factor in American hiring experience. They want to hire qualified candidates who are smart and likable. International students tend to struggle with the likability – international students are of course very likable (and fun!)! But likability in the employment case relates to cultural norms – they are looking for people that share the same interests, have similar sense of humor, as well as comfortable and confident. The more time you can spend with Americans during your time at school, the more you will share these interests and humor.
- Inability to articulate why you want the internship: this one is big. I see this a lot with international students. They can’t articulate why they want the internship. If someone can’t articulate why they are qualified and a good fit for an internship, why would an employer hire them? For every internship, you need to be able to answer two questions: “Why do you want to work at this company” and “What qualifies you for this position?”
- Relying only on submitting resumes online: Submitting resumes online is the worst way to find an internship or in the U.S. The average job positing receives over 200 resumes. It’s hard to stand out. That’s why networking is your advantage in the job search. Most international students do not network because it is either takes too much time, they haven’t been taught how to do it, or it’s out of the comfort zone.
- Competition: Engineering internships are competitive. Engineering is one of the top subjects for international students. You need to stand out in the crowd. There are many ways to do that – building a portfolio, volunteering on projects outside of school, building relationships with people on the inside of companies so you can build advocates, working LinkedIn for opportunities, etc.