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Looking for startup jobs as an international

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If you’re reading this you might be thinking about getting a job in the US as an international or may already have encountered challenges with getting your foot in the door with companies. This happens to all non-citizens to varying degrees, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. I’ve been a career coach (resumemint.co) for the past 5 years and have worked with over a hundred clients to help them find their first internships and jobs, or transition from middle-management to executive roles. Most of all, I’ve interviewed and received offers at venture-backed startups with 4 people to larger ones with 500+ employees. Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned over the years — hope you find it helpful.

Where to find jobs

  • LinkedIn Jobs is still the best source of jobs, startup or not. While the search algo isn’t the best, startups large and small post on there
  • Startup Jobs (formerly Betalist) is a startup-focused job site
  • Another good one: join-startups.com (You’ll likely see overlaps with Startup Jobs and AngelList here)
  • Product Hunt Jobs
  • More great diversified listings: garysguide.com/jobs
  • AngelList Jobs offers a good number of job listings, but I’ve found that the signal to noise ratio is fairly low. You’ll come across numerous one person companies or tons of copycat startups with little to no traction, but has more breadth if you decide you need to exhaust all available options
  • List of companies and roles where visas are sponsored: myvisajobs.com/Jobs.aspx?C=Facebook&L=New%20York,NY (This is the list for Facebook jobs in NYC)

Getting your foot in the door

  • Leverage your personal networks. If you see a job posting that lists a hiring manager, look up that person on LinkedIn to see if you can have mutual connections make an introduction.
  • If you don’t know anyone with connections to that company, search LinkedIn for employees in the department your job opening is in.
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Note: You don’t need a premium LinkedIn account to do this
  • Once you have this list, reach out to 2–3 people from the department you are interested in through LinkedIn by clicking on Connect and choose the friend option to send a short message.
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Of course, make sure you reach out to someone who works in the same department where the opening is. Sheryl Sandberg won’t be able to help you get that Marketing Manager role here.
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Keep your message short and sweet. Quickly show why you might be an awesome fit for the role and ask for a finite (but small) amount of time to chat.
  • If you don’t get a response from anyone in the first round of messages, send messages to another round of 2-3 people until you get a response. Don’t reach out to the whole department at one go. Often one or two connections are enough to get you referred if you are a good match.
  • Startups often have employee referral bonuses of up to $5,000 per candidate hired so it is in the employee’s interest to refer candidates that they think might be a good fit.
  • Be prepared with a tailored resume for that role if you are reaching out to people as they may ask for it and refer you to the hiring manager if you seem to be a good fit.
  • If you are a student, set up your CPT (Curricular Practical Training) early even if you are fine with doing unpaid internships; this expands your options when you are on the search.

How do you tell if a company sponsors visas?

Look up the company here: myvisajobs.com/Search_Visa_Sponsor.aspx

  • You’ll be able to see how many H1Bs the company has sponsored and how many green card applications were filled.
  • You’ll also be able to see their salaries (what seniority they sponsor at, given the salaries here, they are either manager level or developers), and what roles they were hiring for (click on the numbers in the “certified” column to see the actual titles — see second image below).
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If you click on the number in the Certified column, you’ll see the exact roles applied for in that year

Maximizing your chances as an international

  • Myth: Small startups cannot sponsor international employees/students. This is not technically true. Companies of any size can sponsor international employees as long as they are legitimate and can afford your salary (I know of internationals sponsored by companies with 3–5 employees). The main hurdle is whether they can demonstrate that they have the funds to pay your salary and want to go through the trouble of preparing financial documents, hiring a lawyer and paying up to $8,000 to get your visa processed. They may also have to wait for up to 2 months for the visa to be approved before the employee can start work. All these barriers lead small startups to not want to sponsor internationals but if you are compelling enough of a candidate (generally this is the case for Senior Manager and above roles, or engineers), they will do it for you.
  • As an international, your chances of finding a company that will sponsor are highest with companies above 100 employees, but size alone is not the only determining factor. If the company has an international co-founder or has other early international employees, then they have gone through the sponsoring process before and will be much more willing to sponsor, no matter what size they are at.
  • Most job listings will indicate that they do not sponsor visas. It may be a long shot, but I suggest applying anyway if the role is a good fit for your skills. It might play to your advantage if you wait to mention that you need a visa unless you are asked or until you receive an offer from the company. Many firms may choose not to interview international candidates if they know up front, but may decide that a candidate will be such a great asset to the team that they choose to make an exception. If you don’t get to interview, you won’t get to show your abilities and give yourself a shot. Of course, if you are asked, tell them you need a visa but put up a good effort to show them that it’s not as much work as they think.
  • Lastly, do your homework and look up all the visa options from H-1Bs to H-1B1s (for Singaporeans). The more well versed you are in the process, the better you can help companies understand what needs to be done and take on any prep work that you can do on your own. This takes the burden off the HR team as much as possible and gives you better odds of them agreeing to sponsor your visa.

Feel free to reach out to me at yan@yansim.com if you have any questions about the search process or would like a free consult. I coach clients to help them get interviews and jobs at their target companies through building up their profile based on the roles they’re interested in. Find out more about my work with clients here: resumemint.co.

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