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OPT : Optional Practical Training
Job Hunting




by Chenjun Feng
October 2014

As a new graduate international student of Class 2014, I would like to share some suggestions on job hunting with other junior or senior students. These suggestions could be of help for all students in general, but I tend to give more specific information for international students.

First of all, I would like to give some basic information about myself so you could compare your job hunting situation to mine. I was a Chinese transfer undergraduate student. I studied at Stony Brook University for three years and completed two majors with honors, Information Systems and Business Management. I got a full time job as a web developer after one and half months' job hunting.

Learn to manage your OPT

One of the most important things that allow international students to legally work in U.S. after their graduation is called OPT (Optical Practice Training). You will need to pick the start date of your OPT. This date could be any day within the three months after your graduation. Be careful to choose the date because you will not be allowed to work at all until that day, and you do not want your company to wait for your OPT to be approved before you start in case you get a job much earlier.

I let my OPT start on 6/15/2014, and I did not start working until 7/15/2014. Hence I wasted one month of my OPT. It is really important to remember that you can only be unemployed for three months within your 12-month OPT in order to maintain the OPT status. Another thing that you should remember is to apply for your OPT at least two months before the start date you choose, and three months would be the the best. It takes a really long time for the government agency to process all the OPT applications.

After your application is approved, you will receive your EAD (Employment Authorization Card). You will not be allowed to work before receiving the card as well. One more thing about OPT is that for each higher degree you receive, you will have another new 12-month OPT. For some technology/science majors, like my information Systems major, students can extend their OPT for another 17 months more, but this 17 months OPT extension can only be used one time no matter how many degrees you have. I suggest you save the OPT extension for your highest degree.

Start your job hunting as early as possible

As I mentioned above, I wasted one month of my OPT which could have been avoided if I started my job hunting one or two months earlier. It is never too early to start searching for a job. Do not be too optimistic about finding a job quickly. The job market is still tough, and many jobs are reserved for U.S. green card holders or citizens. International students have a disadvantage in this respect, so definitely start your job hunting as early as possible.

Good GPA vs. previous work experience

If I could only choose one between GPA and work experience, I would say work experience is more attractive to employers. For a student who just graduated, it is hard to have plenty of work experience, so a high GPA could demonstrate his/her academic performance. Though I had some work experience on campus, I feel my 3.96 GPA definitely helped me to get more interview opportunities. If you do not have any work experience and you have a poor GPA, you probably will not be competitive enough with other candidates.

Your resume and cover Letter

The use of your resume and cover letter is to help you to get the chance of an interview. Your resume should be ready much earlier than you plan to start looking for jobs so you will have enough time to do any necessary modifications. Sometimes you will need two or three different versions of your resume for different job application types. Definitely take advantage of the Career Center on campus. They provide very good resources and resume / cover letter services.

Where to find a job?

There are many ways to find job postings. The principle I followed is to try as many as possible as your time permits. I used the website of the Career Center on campus, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Dice, job fairs and many more. Doing this will give you a higher chance of being reviewed by potential employers. Knowing some recruiters will also help because they are usually willing to provide job information. 

One thing I want to mention here is about consulting companies. I personally do not prefer to work for a consulting company because they take money from your salary as agents and you end up with making less money. However, if you have a hard time finding a job by yourself, working for a consulting company will not be a terrible idea. They usually have good long term relationships with some companies which you could take advantage of.

A car

A car is a must for job hunting, especially if you want to find a local job. I bought my car right before my graduation and it became very convenient to get to my interviews. I have no idea how I could make all the interviews without the car. I was lucky however, I passed my road test the first time. I know people who have spend months taking the exam over and over again. One former student I know had to pay someone to take her to her job for over four months until she finally passed.

You absolutely should not wait for the last moment. Go through the process of getting your license (which can also mean going to the Social Security office is you have never been employed), taking the test to get your permit, then passing the road test for your license, and then buying a car as soon as you can. The latest you should start this process is the beginning of your senior year, especially if you never drove in your native country and you need to take driving lessons here.

Interview, the big time

Your resume is to help your get the interview opportunity and the interview(s) will determine if you get the job offer or not. Before an interview, you will need to prepare. You need to know the job description; you need to know the background of the company; you need to prepare general questions asked in interviews; you need to know the details of everything that you put on your resume; you need to know the specified knowledge in the industry; and you need to smile and be confident. Dress formally if the company did not tell you their dress code. Always be on time, and do not forget your thank-you message and follow up.

Your future plan

So now you have got a job, what's next? As international students, you actually have many choices and combinations but you should plan everything in advance and in detail so you will not screw yourself up after your 12-month OPT.

As far as I know, you typically will have four choices after your regular OPT:
1. Go back your home country;
2. Go back to school for another degree;
3. Get an H1B working VISA sponsored by the company you are working for;
4. Use 17-month OPT extension (only for certain majors and one time use only).

Let me take myself as an example. Unless my current employment situation changes, I will choose the second option, so I will finish my 12-month OPT first, then go to Stony Brook to get my master degree, then start my new 12-month OPT, then use my 17-month OPT extension, and then hopefully get a working visa.

What I mentioned above are just some personal suggestions which might fit you or not. Different international students should take different actions based on their various situations.

There is lots of other job hunting information but these are the most important basics. Most important is to keep one thing in mind: be smart, be confident, and be prepared.



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