Leveraging Education Abroad for Student Career Development & Employability

Campus Career Services: A Student Affairs Office Rarely Visited by International Students

In  the Journal of International  Students, https://jistudents.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/2016-vol-6-no-4.pdf , five co-authors try to assess why international students graduate without ever  visiting their career service offices, and why they have little of no knowledge that such an office even existed on an American campus when they were deciding to study in the U.S.  Both raise important questions!

Of interest to me in my ongoing analysis of the linkage between study abroad and student career development, the authors found that “few studies directly explore international student career development.”  This strains credulity when we currently have more than a million international students on our campuses.  If ever there was a cohort which was  concerned about the return on their investment to study in the U.S.(since they’re paying full tuition)  this is it.

This survey was conducted by the International Student Services Committee of the National Career Development Association (https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/about_committees).  They sampled students, career development professionals and employers between 2012 and 2015.

I’ve known for a long time that when families start the process of exploring where in the U.S. their child “should” enroll (perhaps true for Canada, but, I have no direct knowledge  of this being so), whether they have a career center or any kind, how its’ staffed, and what the rate of employment (overall or by major) is after graduation (or whether the campus posts such information at all) — these are not among the primary considerations for most families.

The key findings or take-aways from this survey are as follows:

  • There is a “gap in knowledge” among international students, career service professionals and employers regarding work authorization “options” in the U.S. More than 50% of employers who responded said this lack of knowledge was a “major obstacle” for hiring international students
  • “Cultural differences” were an obstacle cited by career service professionals – especially student cultural adjustment and language proficiency.  Other reported challenges included “helping students manage expectations from their families back home and a lack of “culturally sensitive” career assessment tools
  • On the other hand, employers and students were not as concerned about cultural factors impacting their job or internship searches. They cited the “professionalism and career orientation” of international students as positive cultural factors in hiring them.  They also cited that hiring such graduates “enhanced diversity in the workplace and showcased a commitment to diversity.”
  • As one might expect, both employers and career service professionals cited the difficulty that international students have in intervieiwing, communicating in English, and awareness of non-verbal behaviors as negatives
  • International students, in general, had a lack of understanding of hiring requirements, specific skills required and thus, were unable to articulate their strengths as a new hire (of course, here, I’d add that this is often an issue for American students as well).
  • Not cited, but, a question which I’d like some data on, is how many campuses – with articulated internationalization policies – recruit new career service professionals with international experience (therefore bringing the advantages of having had to make cultural adjustments, struggle with a foreign langguage, etc, to their work on campus with international students).

Conclusions in this study are, to me, quite obvious. Campuses need to build closer partnerships with employers, share more information about the strengths of their international student community, identify specific skill sets in demand in their local/state economy, develop a deeper understanding of the employment preferences and professional goals of their international students, and in particular, become more cognizant of all the complexities of obtaining work authorization for their students (and assist employers gain this same level of understanding).

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