Why Some U.S. Companies Don't Want to Hire International MBAs, and Others Do

Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011
Why Some U.S. Companies Don't Want to Hire International MBAs, and Others Do

In a Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey of U.S. corporate recruiters who recruit MBAs, completed in March 2005, 38 percent said they would hire qualified foreign nationals who needed visa sponsorship, a third said they would not hire such students, and 29 percent said they weren't sure whether they would hire students who needed sponsorship.

These figures may be discouraging, but they can also be helpful to understand why some U.S. employers are unwilling or unsure whether to hire foreign candidates who require visa sponsorship. Anticipating employers' objections is necessary to address their misgivings.

In addition to their concerns about the visa sponsorship process itself, recruiters may harbor a number of other reservations about hiring non-U.S. citizens. Below are some of the most common concerns among employers-and our tips for dealing with them.

Employers may worry that the visa sponsorship process will take too much time or money. If you've done your homework, you'll be able to let the employer know exactly how much effort and money will be required to complete the visa sponsorship process, eliminating some of the fear of the unknown associated with hiring you. Your willingness to research, understand, and explain your visa options should also reassure potential employers that you're prepared to make the process as easy as possible. It may also convince them that you're likely to apply the same tenacity to resolving problems at work. Some schools have career advisers who will walk prospective employers through the visa process and even provide immigration attorneys to help them.

Employers may anticipate that international employees will bring unforeseen problems to the workplace. This can be especially true of companies that have never hired a non-U.S. citizen or sponsored an employee's visa before. Some employers may have little experience with non-U.S. workers. They may prefer not to work with you because they're unfamiliar with your culture. Will you have beliefs that are too different from their own? Will you have customs that make them uncomfortable? Your job is to reassure the employer that you understand and accept the US way of doing business, and that you will not disrupt the workplace because of your background in any way.

Employers may be concerned that you won't be committed to the job.

Because work-visa applicants must certify that they intend to return to their home country at the end of their visa, some employers believe that such employees are less committed to their job than others. You need to convince the employer otherwise. Talking about your desire to establish roots in the community and showing interest in the company's long-term plans will go a long way toward demonstrating your commitment. "The most important thing for an international MBA to show us is long-term interest in working in the U.S.," says a recruiter from a top investment banking firm. "We want to know they're not just taking the job for a year or two to get U.S. work experience."

Employers may worry that foreign employees won't be able to communicate effectively with coworkers or clients.

The best way to quell this fear is to be fluent in written and spoken English. All your job search communications must be as strong as possible. Make sure letters and emails are well written. While you're still in school, practice interviewing and participate in extracurricular and social activities. You want to feel at ease with English. You might also mention to potential employers your plans to continue your English studies, especially if your language skills aren't quite what you want them to be.

Employers may believe that it's easier to hire a U.S. citizen. The best way to counteract this notion is to convince employers why they must hire you rather than anyone else, U.S. citizen or otherwise. Knowing what an employer will have to do to sponsor your visa and bring you on board will help you convince recruiters their efforts will be worthwhile.

Some employers may harbor animosity toward non-U.S. citizens in U.S. jobs.  At some point during your job search, you may encounter an employer that believes non-U.S. citizens shouldn't be able to take jobs away from U.S. citizens. Your best response is to emphasize your unique qualifications for the target position. Still, if you encounter this sentiment in a potential employer, you may want to consider whether you want to work there. Employers may fear that foreign candidates won't have the interpersonal skills to succeed in a U.S. work environment.

Because the U.S. corporate culture differs from that of many other countries-some cultures prize non-confrontational behavior in the workplace-employers may worry that international employees lack needed assertiveness or directness. You can address these concerns by noting in your interviews that you are conversant with U.S. ways of conducting business. You might cite examples of when you have been assertive or direct in a businesslike setting. Because the U.S. corporate culture differs from that of many other countries, employers may worry that international employees lack assertiveness or directness.

Since many MBA students are transitioning from another career, such as engineering or science, it's important to recognize the differences between job cultures, too. For example, the cultures of investment banking firms and high-tech companies differ. Get comfortable not only with U.S. culture, but also with the subculture of specific fields. 

And Why Others Do

Many U.S.-based companies recognize the benefits of hiring workers from other countries. Keep the following points in mind during your application and interview process, and remember, accentuate the positive!

  • International candidates may speak a language or languages the employer values. A recruiter at a top investment banking firm says Spanish-speaking employees are in growing demand because the firm's U.S. offices deal with so many Latin American businesses. Of course, whether an employer needs your language skills will depend on where and with whom it does business.
  • International candidates may have knowledge of markets, business practices, and cultures outside the U.S. This is especially attractive to companies that do business or have operations in the MBA's home region.
  • International MBAs may bring valuable new perspectives to the way companies do business. They've already learned how to live in a culture other than their own, and have brought that knowledge to the workplace.
  • Because it can be a major pain for work-visa employees to change jobs, international employees are less likely to quit unexpectedly.
  • International MBAs' ability to study and work in the U.S. demonstrates tremendous adaptability, and an ability to follow through.
  • An international MBA who has skills or experience the employer desires may be a better fit for the position than U.S. candidates.
  • International employees make it easier for companies to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

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