How to Get the Internship You Want as an International Student

“Why doesn’t anyone want to hire me?”

This is a question that crosses the minds of many international and non-international students alike throughout college.

While college is a unique time to explore different interests, meet diverse groups of people and prepare ourselves for the ever-evolving workforce, we live in a society that continuously demands for more. Better grades, better test scores, better extracurricular activities and better work experience.

Better and more of everything.

“Don’t let fear or your status as an international student hinder you from achieving your goals.”

To make matters worse, we live in an age in which social media glorifies the successful, often neglecting a key precursor to success — failure.

For international students, feelings of doubt and fear are palpable. Many worry that their accents may be an encumbrance during interviews. Some are unsure of how to properly carry conversation while speaking confidently about themselves. Even getting proper employment authorization carries a stress of uncertainty.

My advice is this: stay persistent, take action.

Based off my own experiences, here is a list of four simple steps you can take to enrich your college career and inch closer to the internship you want as an international student.

1. Do Your Homework and Apply
The first question to ask is this, “What do I want to do and why?”

Once you have an answer, doing your homework will be critical. Not knowing where to start is normal, but there are a plethora of resources available. The key is how you utilize the resources at your disposal.

An easy way to get started is to check out SDSU Career Services. There, you can find job opportunities, career fair dates and other services like mock interviews, resumé review sessions, and the Aztec Mentor Program.

In September of 2016, I made the last-second decision to attend a career fair in Montezuma Hall. It was there that I learned about the County of San Diego, which in a year, led me to work for the District Attorney’s Office.

I also took a chance on connecting with a practicing attorney in the Aztec Mentor Program this year. That chance has now given me a mentor who has helped guide me through the law school application process while serving as a source of encouragement and inspiration.

Getting started on your career path can be an arduous process, but it is often the resources most available at our disposal that are most helpful. Effective networking comes more naturally down the road with experience, but using university resources is a great first way to begin your career path.

You should be able to answer this, “What resources do I have, and how can I best utilize them?”

Once you find opportunities, apply.

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare
I can not stress the importance of preparation.

While getting a call back for an interview may feel like a big break, striking a delicate balance between humility and overconfidence is crucial. I learned that early in my college career.

During December of 2016, I had three interviews lined up, and felt like I was bound to get a job after I had interned at the Philippine Consulate in Taiwan the previous summer. With lackluster preparation, I got rejected in two of the interviews for well-paid internships that I had wanted. Reading up on the company’s bio and values was insufficient, and I learned that my affable and outgoing nature was not going to guarantee me any job. I was overconfident.

Another interview opportunity came up in April of 2017, and I was eager and restless to make a great impression. I had grown weary of having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner on my meager college budget.

To prepare, I had contacted over 20 human resource specialists in a branch of the company I was interviewing for on LinkedIn, asking if they had any interviewing tips to give. One person happened to be on maternity leave and was happy to give advice through a phone call. I was ecstatic. I learned how to use the STAR method, how to anticipate behavioral questions, and how to utilize my own story and personality.

Only one person responded to me, and that made all the difference.

I got the job.

Here are a few measures I recommend taking:

  • Use the STAR method.
  • Diligently research the values and structures of the company/organization.
  • Hold a mock interview.
  • Seek advice from a well-versed professional in your network.

3. Plan Ahead for Work Authorization.
This is often a stressful aspect that is unique to international students.

To legally work in the United States, you have to seek work authorization with permission from the university. Authorization can be achieved through either Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). It is paramount to read up on the requirements and processes on the SDSU International Student Center site.

My main takeaway is to plan ahead and not stress out so much.

This process requires clear communication between your employer and university. For example, this past summer, I needed to ensure that I obtained an employment invitation letter in time for the university to process my work authorization before I left the country. I was in a time crunch because I was scheduled to begin my new job shortly after I returned from my study abroad in China. If I had not gotten work authorization before my trip, I would not have been able to begin work upon my return, thus avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation for me and my employer.

Going through this process can be stressful at first — but really, it is quite simple.

Be sure to plan ahead, be aware of the steps to take, and you are set to excel in your new job.

4. Learn From Each Experience
It often takes time to look at events — failures in particular — and realize their significance in retrospect.

Looking back, it was the stretch of rejections that taught me the importance of preparation, persistence, and humility. Each professional experience brings lessons to be learned, regardless of how much it pays or how enjoyable it is. I realized that many jobs teach us skills that are immediately transferable to another; like customer service, teamwork, professionalism, and critical thinking.

My advice is to take some time to evaluate your professional and extracurricular experiences, both successes and failures. What did you learn? How did you grow as a person? How can you capitalize on your strengths in the future?

With the new school year in session, it is an ideal time to get ahead of the game and dive into a career you can be proud of. Don’t let fear or your status as an international student hinder you from achieving your goals.

Utilize your network and resources, prepare, plan ahead and learn from each experience.

Allow yourself to grow in your failures and soon enough, you will find — it is what has led you to your successes.

*Photo by slon_dot_pics on

Marjon Saulon is an international student from the Philippines and fourth-year comparative international studies major. He spent 12 years in Taiwan prior to his arrival at SDSU.

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