For Fighters Only: GME trainee Natalia Sánchez Herrera on how to achieve an OPT job placement

You've come all the way from your home country to further your studies. You’re likely to be fluent in more than one language, been away from your friends and family and managed to grow a new wonderful network in the US. You’ve now become a master of managing budgets, taking care of yourself, and maybe even grown some outstanding cooking skills. On top of all, you developed research, read and wrote thousands of pages and you contributed to your field … you succeeded in your graduate-level education. You know that you can go around the world and back, and you know you how to do it in style.

Diploma in hand, you realize that getting an OPT placement is harder than writing your thesis. What is OPT? Optional Practical Training provides foreign undergraduate and graduate students who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months with with F-1 visa status and a one-year student work visa, enabling them to get practical training to complement their education. Any recent graduate has a hard time finding the right fit in this job market. But for international graduates, the challenge is exponentially harder. The market is simply unlikely to assess your value correctly for two basic reasons — companies are more inclined to hire a national than an international for a temporary role, because, a) They don’t understand the nature of OPT (and they’re not interested in learning about it, because, let’s face it; we’re talking about junior-level positions), and b) They’d likely prefer to fill the role with someone they could easily hire after the period ends.

A fighter attitude beats a positive attitude

One of the first things people say to you when you’re looking for the right OPT placement is that you must have a positive attitude. I don’t believe this. Reality is, odds are against you. You must have a fighter attitude instead.

A fighter attitude means you need a strategy. You need to contemplate your options, understand and accept different scenarios, keep your chin up, know your goals and your strengths, smile, be graceful and expand your network.

You need to be extremely active, talking to people, taking free online courses, spotting trends, know the news and the agenda of your industry, apply for positions and then try to find a contact there. In a battle, you will have losses. It’s normal. You’re in fighter mode and you know what to expect. Dreaming of perfect jobs will not prepare you for how hard the objective is to achieve.

A strategy improves your likelihood of success

I learned this lesson a couple of months into my job hunt. I certainly didn’t want just any OPT role, but something that would justify the investment I had had made in gaining an international education. An industry aligned with my interests, a company that would genuinely use my skills to their fullest, and a job where I could gain new skills and build a great work portfolio that would help boost my future career prospects. Not all the offers you receive are good for you — and just when I had given myself a deadline to find the right role in the US, and was about to begin considering opportunities in other parts of the world, I met a former GME trainee who now has a successful career in New York City.

GME helped me achieve the knockout punch

My introduction to this former GME trainee was a gift that fell from the skies. After talking to dozens of people, applying to countless online positions, walking up and down the streets of Manhattan — with my heels inside my purse in preparation for both formal and informal interviews — I couldn’t believe I found this program offering so many benefits  for young international professionals … benefits that recent foreign graduates can only dream of!

Most importantly, GME is a program that perfectly matched me with a company and position that fits me like a glove. As Customer Proposition, Lifecycle & Launch Program Manager at Thomson Reuters, I use a couple of years of experience gained in the company’s industry (also, the research I did during my Masters was centered in the sector’s latest trends), to provide valuable support as I gain new skills that will help me throughout my career.

I couldn’t have found this opportunity without GME. Positions specifically tailored to young international professionals are not published online. After I put on my fighter attitude, GME was the final punch that helped me win the OPT war.