If you are a student outside the United States planning to pursue a U.S. internship, it is important to plan carefully and have realistic expectations. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare to undertake the exciting adventure and experience of interning abroad:
1) Write an American-style résumé and cover letter.
Your résumé provides information on your educational background and work experience. It should focus on how your skills fulfill the employer’s needs, not your own career goals. Like any job or internship in your home country, you need to sell yourself and explain why you will be a good fit for the employer.
2) Be proactive!
Internships will not come to you—you must go out and find them! Search online job/intern databases, but most importantly, tell everyone you know—friends, colleagues, teachers, family—that you want to do an internship in the United States. You would be amazed how many people find internships through personal contacts and simple networking.
3) Brush up on your English language skills.
There is a lot of competition for internship opportunities, so it’s important that you express yourself clearly in the interview. You do not want the employer to use “poor English skills” as an excuse to choose someone else.
4) Have realistic expectations.
If you have never worked before, don’t expect to be given a lot of responsibility. If your English is not very strong, don’t expect to do a job that involves a lot of work on the telephone. Be sure to set reasonable goals for yourself. You can’t become a CEO overnight!
5) Plan ahead.
The process of finding an internship can take many months, so you should start at least 6 months prior to when you want to go to the United States. There are also a number of costs associated with a U.S. internship: visa sponsorship, airfare, housing, food, transportation, to name just a few. A paid internship will help cover these costs, but unpaid internships will not. Start saving money now so that you have money available to cover these expenses when you actually find an internship.
6) Think of the internship as an educational investment for your future career.
Since an internship implies “work”, many students expect to earn a lot of money. Most often that will not happen. Just as you need to invest in your university education to learn skills, you will likely need to invest money and savings to acquire practical, hands-on training in an internship, a “real-world” classroom that builds on your academic studies.
7) Think about different sizes of companies.
Most interns want to intern at a big company with a famous name because they think it will look good on a résumé. Though big companies offer quality internship opportunities, small- and medium-sized companies often give interns more responsibility and exposure to more challenging projects.
8) Explore different regions of the United States.
There are thousands of internship opportunities in locations other than New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Keep in mind that the cost of living (rent, food, etc.) is considerably less in the smaller cities. However, public transportation may not be as developed, which may require you to purchase a car or a bike (which would be a good green option!). The climate also varies so be sure to research the weather patterns.
9) Take initiative and be open to new experiences and challenges.
Students who possess these traits and understand the mutual benefits of the internship experience (for the intern AND the employer) have the most successful internships. If you expect everything to be done for you and think you won’t encounter any problems during your time in the United States, you should probably reconsider whether or not you are ready for an international internship and get more experience in your home country first.
10) Tell potential employers about the J-1 visa.
The J-1 visa enables you to legally intern in the United States for 3 weeks up to 12 months. We also sponsors for J-1 visa trainees, who can stay for up to 18 months. The U.S. State department maintains a list of designated J-1 Visa sponsors who can help you obtain your visa. Be sure to research these organizations to understand the J-1 process and to find the organization that best provides the services you need.
Good luck and enjoy the exciting and educational adventure of interning in the United States!
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