Marcelo Barros, author of “The International Advantage: Get Noticed. Get Hired,” spoke to an audience of approximately 75 people in the University of Massachusetts Campus Center on Wednesday evening to discuss how to gain employment in the United States as an international student.
Barros was introduced by Kenneth Reade, Director of UMass’ International Student and Scholars Services at the International Programs Office (IPO), who said the talk was part of the IPO’s International Education Week series.
“[Barros] is the founder of ‘The International Advantage,’” Reade said, and he aims “to help every international student realize their job search.”
Barros opened the talk light heartedly by asking “Is the weather always like this?” before asking those in attendance whether they had a F1 or J1 visa, and warning that when listening to this sort of information, one has to avoid “generalizations” and “look at the individual.”
Barros said that international students are often well placed to take advantage of the opportunities “domestic students are not as prepared to capitalize on.”
He asked the crowd to break into small groups and discuss why international students succeed. The answers ranged from “there’s a shortage in some fields” to “we don’t give up.”
“Traditional job strategies need to be modified for international students,” said Barros, who pointed to five traits that can help international students stand out.
“Lead with value and leverage strengths that you have that you brought to the U.S. with you,” he said, adding that “the best job seekers solve problems for employers.”
“They engage with career services during good times and bad times,” he said, adding that they can also accept rejection. He included the vitality of socializing and meeting Americans that is vital to establishing long-lasting friendships and business networks.
“Value is the name of the game,” he asserted.
Barros focused his talk on the acronym ISEL, which stands for interests, skills, experiences and languages. He handed out sheets for the audience to fill out where in each of the fields they had strengths.
“Build a strong ISEL,” he reiterated and implored the audience to demonstrate what skills they had.
Experience, he stated, is essential; he asked the audience whether they would prefer a doctor who has done one or 20 operations?
Barros encouraged the audience to “utilize all the intelligence” on job-focused websites such as LinkedIn or WordPress.
“Identify what you need to learn…and get good at whatever it is you have a passion for,” he said, drawing a distinction between a generic and specific skill set.
“You have to get a little creative,” he added, joking that “American kids, they start working when they’re like eight.”
“Employers are looking for benefits…Position your ISEL to deliver that to companies,” he continued, adding that the audience should be proactive in seeking help, and look for resources.
Before finishing, Barros explained the process of applying for a H-1B visa and pointed out that demand exceeds supply. He also observed that the current political climate has affected the willingness of some companies to take on international students if securing a visa may not be a certainty.
“Companies get scared. They don’t know what the president will do. They don’t like risk,” he said.
Reflective of this statement, the 2017 applications for the H-1B decreased, but there were still 199,000 applications for only 85,000 visas.
“The rules, for the most part, haven’t changed,” he said, and urged applicants to calm potential employers down by engaging in dialogue regarding the process.
Abhinav Khandelwal, an electrical and computer engineering master’s student at UMass, found the talk enlightening.
“It was interesting. He had some insights into how you should network with people and how you can figure it out, what things interest you,” Khandelwal said. “He also talked about how the H-1B visa actually works, which is also important.”
Glenn Houlihan can be reached at [email protected]