Just graduated? If you're one of the many international students in the US on OPT, here are some tips to help you land a job this summer. Source: Agnes Bun/AFP

Recently graduated and looking for a job? If you’re one of the many international students graduating this semester in the U.S., you’ve probably received your OPT card by now and are hitting the job hunt hard.

OPT — which stands for Optional Practical Training — is a programme that allows international students on F-1 student visas to gain work authorisation in the US for up to a year. STEM students can receive extensions for up to two years.

Students on OPT are subject to many requirements. They can only accept jobs under OPT that are in line with their major area of study. For example, a marketing or engineering graduate can’t work as a cashier or waiter for their OPT.

What is more, they only have 90 days to find a job. When these 90 days are up, international students are no longer eligible to work under the OPT even if they have been offered a job. They will no longer have legal status in the U.S. and will have to leave the country.

With the additional difficulties that COVID-19 has brought to the US economy, graduates who recently finished their studies in spring 2020 are facing the short end of the stick if they are hoping to land a job here.

Not only are more companies implementing hiring freezes, but with so many people becoming unemployed due to the pandemic, there is tough competition for jobs offered by companies still hiring.

As international students can only work for a year, hiring managers are most likely to consider local applicants as they won’t have to sponsor the H1-B work visa — which can be a costly affair — if they want to keep them on longer than a year or two.

What can you do if you’ve only got the summer to find a job in the US? Here are some tips.

Stand out from the crowd

You’ll really need to make your CV or LinkedIn profile stand out among the rest if you’re trying to land a job this summer. Maybe you should even consider a video CV!

Whatever you decide to do, make sure your CV highlights your experience, education and skills well. Although the Career Centre is probably physically closed, check if they are holding virtual meetings; you could get some valuable advice on crafting a strong and eye-catching CV.

Apply for internships

Will you need the income or are you financially able to do unpaid work? If you’re looking to gain work experience and can support yourself financially, consider applying to internship or volunteer programmes.

According to OPT guidelines, employment can include unpaid internships or volunteer work.  No matter what their work arrangement may be, students must devote at least 20 hours per week to employment, internships, or volunteer work.

Companies and non-profit organisations may be more willing to employ students under internships, especially if they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. They may offer you a stipend or allowance in lieu of a salary, andyou’ll gain valuable work experience that can help you get employed and contribute your skills to an organisation when you finish your OPT.

international students OPT

It may not be a dream job, but applying for internships while on OPT can help you gain valuable work experience. Source: Leon Neal/Pool/AFP

Engage with recruiters

Don’t underestimate the power of job recruiters! As they are more plugged into recruitment trends and work closely with employers, they can help connect you with jobs based on your relevant skills, education and experience.

If you haven’t already set up a LinkedIn profile, do it immediately. Once that’s done and you’ve polished your profile, reach out to recruiters and send them your CV.

You can target those that specifically recruit for your respective industry so that they can better connect you with relevant jobs.

Vary your search options

As much as you would love to work for tech giants like Amazon or Google, remember that you’re just starting out.

Don’t just apply to big corporations. Keep an eye out for job openings in smaller companies and start-ups that are relevant to your area of study. Keeping your options open and varied can help you widen your job search and hopefully gain employment.

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