Networking is an extremely important part of earning a job after graduation. It’s even more important for international students in order to find an employer to sponsor your working visa so you can stay in the U.S. Learn what networking is and how to do it!
The 2012 Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey results revealed that more freshmen than ever say they go to college to get better jobs and make more money. The expectation that once you graduate from college you must get a better job and make more money seems fair, but given the stagnant economic situation in the U.S. and globally, it’s getting problematic in many ways. Hopefully, there is a thing called NETWORKING that can help you succeed.
What is NETWORKING?
Simply explained, it means establishing relationships with other people. These relationships can then help advance yourself, such as getting a job.
Why should you care?
Well, if you want an internship related to your career or get a job in the U.S. after graduation, check these quick definitions:
CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training and approved within F-1 regulations. This is a great way to get experience, such as an internship, while being a full time student.
OPT stands for Optional Practical Training and allows F-1 students to work legally in the U.S. after graduation.
H-1B is the working visa that your company sponsors for you so you can work up to six years in the U.S. This costs money, so your employer is spending EXTRA MONEY to hire you instead of an American.
If you want to do any of these options, you need to start networking.
From my own experience, here are 10 tips for networking as an international student:
- Think about your motivation in majoring in your particular field. Some international students come to U.S. from cultures unaccustomed to establishing relationships with people who can help them advance in their career. For these ‘reserved’ cultures desiring prestige and wealth may sound too ambitious and being ambitious may be discouraged. These cultures seem to cherish less materialistic values compared to the host culture. But in fact most international students don’t major in music or fine arts: most are STEM majors. That means most of us value permanency, predictability and profitability and those majors are supposed to give us just that, even though we like to claim such ideals as modesty, simplicity and spirituality to be our major guides. Don’t you think it tends to conflict with our materialistic motivations? Yet, if you’re majoring in money-oriented fields, you have to learn to ‘network’ and there is no better place on earth to learn the art of ‘networking’ than the U.S.A.
- Work on your shortcomings and start networking today. Now that you’re in U.S. you don’t need another visa to start networking. Starting early will give you advantage over people like me who never heard about “networking” in pre-college and pre-abroad life. I was naïve to believe that things work as they ‘trained’ us at school – “good behavior” gets rewarded – meaning for being silent, punctual and obedient. As a result, I assumed that “networking” must be a ‘corrupt’ idea if you have to ‘use’ people to get ahead in life. And I was getting along without “beneficial relationships” until one day I found myself jobless and moneyless. What is even worse, I found myself without people who could have helped me if I had been cultivating strong relationships with them. That was the critical moment of my life that transformed my worldviews and behavior and forced me to overcome the value barriers of my “schooling.” What is your excuse for not networking?
- Be proactive and take initiative. When I didn’t get what I wanted, I said to myself, “This is not fair! I studied and worked hard, now why aren’t they calling me to offer me internships/jobs?” Eventually I realized that being passive and reactive will get me nowhere, but by being proactive and taking initiative I’ll get all I want from the life I have. So I reached out to professionals in my field and now I’m working with them on two research projects in addition to my other independent projects and family commitments. The thinking that once you graduate, apply for jobs, and the next day you get irresistible offers isn’t only erroneous, but also disastrous to your future economic and emotional well-being.
4. Meet new people every day. You may have heard stories of international students who wanted to do OPT after they completed their studies but were unsuccessful. I think the thing they were missing was this simple formula: P=J+M (people can lead you to jobs and money). People that you know can connect you to other people they know who have the power, influence or status and who control information, opportunities, and resources. The old proverb that says it isn’t what you know but who you know is still in power. Do you know people that can make a difference in your career?
5. Networking isn’t a skill, it’s an attitude. By networking you’re going to deal those influential people. You’re going to have conversations with them. Some of those people can do something for you. Now if you just want something from others, this won’t take you far. You also need to adopt an attitude that professes a legacy of give and take. It’s about what you can learn from others or even what you can do for them be it your neighbor, friend, or teacher. Be interesting to them by being interested in their life.
6. When you change your attitude, it changes your behavior, and combination of which changes your life. These things happen when you go to different events on and off-campus, join student organizations, and attend conferences. Changing your life takes a village so be friendly with your professors, constantly communicate with your academic and career advisors, and find a mentor among them who can guide you and help you find your way. Finding a mentor is a huge success and it is a big part of networking because if you don’t network, you don’t find mentor.
7. Fake it till you make it. For many international students even though they have made it thus far it’s still a torture to step out of their comfort zone. Most of your professors can’t teach you networking either because they are loners or introverts since they spend most of their time in laboratories doing research. But some are there to show you the right direction (professional advisors), to lead by example (student affairs), and can connect you with the right people (alumni affairs). So what can YOU do if you’re an introvert? You can act like an extravert! Stand up, smile and start a conversation. Don’t wait until you have to do everything in hassle and in tears. Start today. Start Tuesday if you don’t like Monday, but start! At least, that’ll save your parents money until you make your own.
8. Make sure you don’t trap yourself in your own cage. While I agree that students from your home country help you ease your adjustment to U.S. college life, spending all your time with them won’t change you. To change yourself, you need to get a different kind of “immunization” and you can get it by joining other groups on campus, and hanging out with those for whom it seems like a natural thing to be around new people. It only seems natural! I am sure they work hard to be the kind of person they seem they are. To turn yourself into a professional networker you have to intentionally build and navigate through relationships and cultivate them over years. You don’t have to break your cage to become one, just open a window in it to allow yourself and others to make you stronger as an individual.
9. You are here to build bridges. Don’t burn bridges even if you had a negative experience with your professor, supervisor or your new American friend. Make it easy for yourself to reconnect with them. The world is a small place, and college is not forever, so “gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”! Otherwise, college and post-college life can be an overwhelming experience. In fact, it is. That’s why U.S. colleges have all kinds of resources for its students and alumni to help them in their transition period. Just a decade ago colleges didn’t have so many resources to offer for their students. You are lucky! Now be smart to reach out to those resources and use them for your benefit. And make sure to give back to your alma mater when you can.
10. Balance your study time with co-curricular activities. The drawback of being an international student in U.S. when it comes to networking is that our presence here depends on our academic good standing. We have to spend most of our time worrying in libraries rather than immersing in the social energy of the campus. But most of the time, it’s our inability to manage our time and our failure to fit to the environment in which we find ourselves. We tend to be picky instead of being pushy. Yet you have to mentally push yourself to other students around you; you got to push yourself so that others can pull you up your career ladder. Your studies are important, but networking while you’re studying will leave you far better off by the time you graduate. So while you’re in college think less about making bucks, and more about you values, your opportunities, and your relationships with people in your life. And when you’re done thinking, success requires action, deliberate action. So network, my international friend. “Not like a girl. Not like a boy.” Network like a “motherf…..”.
Start building your network today by joining the International Student Voice Magazine LinkedIn group.