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Guides & Tips

International Student Internship Guide

Work experience is the hidden requirement of pre-professional life, and most modern career paths involve industry knowledge or specialized skills, which internships can provide in a hands-on, practical context. When an employer looks at your resume, internships would normally make up the bulk of the experience section. However, legal and language barriers have made the internship hunt a source of tremendous stress for international students. By gathering tips and reflections by other students who have overcome these hurdles, we at Freely hope to help you through this daunting process.

That dreadful question

Remember “Do you accept international students as interns?” and the 9 other variations that you would regurgitate to recruiters? Sometimes you will be hit with a painful “No”. At other times, recruiters will say they do not sponsor or that they do not know, which can be even more frustrating. So how do we know for sure if we should invest the effort for a particular opportunity?

We asked Hao Yi, a Media Studies senior who was a publicity intern at Sony Music Entertainment, about his job search.

How do you know if the company is willing to hire international students? Do they consider eventual sponsorship if you prove yourself during the internship?

[This is because many companies use internships as a hiring pipeline and are reluctant to hire interns that will not become full-time employees later]

“There are resources online such as Glassdoor that can give you a lot of insight into the work culture, as well as how employees are treated. I definitely feel like internships, especially unpaid opportunities, are less strict and easier for us to get. It’s the full time jobs that require sponsorships in the future that will be an issue. In terms of internships, as long as you are qualified and work hard on standing out, your national origin should not be a factor under the The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Getting your foot in the door is important at this stage now, before we bring up future sponsorship.”

How did you know if you were qualified? What did you emphasize when applying for internships to show that you are just as qualified as domestic students?

“My first internship was in my home country during the summer, so that international experience definitely could stand out amongst other applicants. I don’t emphasize on the fact that I’m an international student so much, but paid more attention on the skills I’ve worked hard to attain, and the experience and projects I’ve done in the past. The extra languages I knew besides English is a great thing to feature in your resume, because it gives you an edge over most domestic students.”

No experience? Get involved.

Unlike with applicants for full-time positions, employers do not require from interns a deep breadth of work experience. However, they do look into your school work and extracurricular activities to find indicators  of your competence and work ethic.

We asked Melissa Yetkin, an Accounting and Finance student from Poland, about her experience in the Temple Student Government and how it impacted her job search:

Do you think TSG has given you more professional experience and how can on-campus experience help international students be competitive applicants to jobs and internships?

“Being involved on campus shows that you are responsible and that most likely when you get the internship you will be involved there as well. It also gives you a real-world application of important skills like leadership skills that companies look for. Also, a lot of jobs require teamwork so they want to see that you can work with a team and solve any conflicts that arise.”

How did you apply, and how did you prepare your application for TSG?

“I emailed my application (5 minutes before the deadline because I was sure I wouldn’t get the position), and then I was invited for an interview in the TSG office. I’ve had a lot of interviews since my freshman year, that I don’t prepare a lot for them anymore. I usually update my “Tell me about yourself” answer in my head and then think about my weaknesses and strength.

My advice = practice, practice, and practice interviews.

The Career Center and CSPD offer mock interviews where you can practice answering interview questions. You will then get feedback, so you know what to work on and will feel more comfortable during the real interview.”

It is also important to build a good network, whether you are a senior or a freshman. Your connections will be your go-to resource for information search, guidance, and references. You can start with building a good relationship with  your professors, who you naturally have access to here in college. Professors sometimes have connections in the field in which you are searching for a job, and at the least, can give you useful career advice. Fostering good relationships with professors can be incredibly helpful, so don’t be shy– go to your professors’ office hours, send them an email, or approach them after class!

You passed the screening test. Now is the hard part.

Interviews can be nerve-racking, especially if they are over the phone, where you cannot see and read the interviewer’s expressions. This stress is magnified for international students as they face a language and cultural disadvantage.

Hao Yi gave us a detailed response.

What was the interview process like? Did they ask questions about your status as an international student?

“I think most interviewers do not question your status until much further along. If you bring yourself up to the standard of domestic students, and shift your perspective to not think you have a disadvantage compared to them, it will definitely show during your interview.

I prepared by researching the company’s background and history, and found out as much [about] the culture as possible. I would visit the interview place beforehand if possible, and prepare some questions to ask the interviewer to show that I’ve done my homework and am genuinely passionate about their work.”

If we have anything else to add to Hao Yi’s response, it is to practice as much as you can. Beside researching the company, be ready to handle different types of interviews and a wide array of questions. For starter, check out this and this page for common interview questions. Then compile a list of questions that are usually asked for the position you seek, as each field has its own expectations. For instance, prospective data scientists may have to answer statistics or math questions, and software engineers usually have to code on-site.

You have more options than you think

Students may regard US internships more highly, but an internship in one’s home country can be equally as beneficial.

While interning in the US indeed offers you a more straightforward path to a job here, these are some of the advantages of interning at one’s home country:

  • In many cases, much lower living expenses (rent, utility, and food).
  • You now have the ability to tap into your existing network at home.
  • For those who want to go back home after graduation, an internship offers exposure to your country’s corporate culture and job market. It will help you catch up with students at home once you return.
  • For those who want to work internationally after graduation, apply for work in an international organization or corporation. In many cases, your English and overseas education should make you a strong candidate among the domestic application pool.

You can also consider internships in other countries. Temple offers a good resource for this called GoinGlobal.com, accessible through TU Portal.

Be sure to check out such features as the career guides and the built-in job board on GoinGlobal. They are tremendously useful for finding out opportunities both in the US and many other countries around the globe.

If you are unsure how to start, take your time to make an appointment with the Career Center. Temple’s Career Center also offers a series of services such as career coaching, cover letter review, mock interviews, and numerous networking events  to help with every step of the job search.


Last words

We hope that this advice helps you with your search and helps you formulate or career plan.

If there are any last tips, let it be, “start searching now.”

One of the best times to apply is during this coming winter break. Not only do you have much time at your disposal, but this also is the time when competition is most lax (most other folks are enjoying the holidays). If you don’t find a lot of opportunities being posted, use the time to network with alumni or other students. Listening to valuable advice over a cup of hot cocoa is perhaps not bad a way to spend your leisurely winter day.

Good luck!