As an international student, you have a number of assets. These assets may include: knowing more than one language, having been exposed to other cultures, and traveling and living in another country. All of these assets have probably made you more adaptable and can be used by you to "sell" yourself to a potential employer.
As with all students, you will need to develop skills in preparing a resume, writing a cover letter, and interviewing. You may need to pay particular attention to communication skills, especially if English is not your first language.
Communication goes beyond language, though. The culture you were raised in may have different attitudes toward assertiveness, eye contact, self-disclosure, or timeliness. It is important for a successful search that you be able to present yourself in a way that the prospective employer can appreciate.
Start as soon as you can. Try to avoid spending any of your 12-month, F-1 training period looking for work. You do not need to have a job to apply for your Optional Practical Training card.
Applications are accepted for H-1B visas in April of the preceding year. The 2006 cap was met in four months. The 2007 cap was met in two months, in June of 2006. The federal government's fiscal year begins in October of the preceding year, so the 2007 fiscal year H-1B cap was met four months before the 2007 fiscal year and six months before 2007 started.
The job search in the US is both more and less formal than in many other countries. The US job search relies on formal cover letters, professional image, timeliness, and thank-you notes after interviews. At the same time, most jobs are found through unofficial means, such as networking.
It is probably best to concentrate on employers that have ties to your home country (whether offices, plants, or marketing divisions). Those companies may take an interest in developing your talents in the United States and continuing your employment in your home country.
If there is not a company with ties to your home country, you might consider working for another international company. In print, The Directory of American Firms Operating in Foreign Countries can be a helpful resource, as can The Directory of Foreign Firms Operating in the United States. The nearest copies appear to be in the reference section of the Yakima Public Library. Or you may be able to obtain them through inter-library loan.
You should contact your embassy or consulate. Many maintain lists of contacts for employment. Finding work will often be easier with a company that is familiar with the process of employing a foreign graduate.
The short answer is: as soon as you can reasonably do so. Much of the job search process is dependent on honesty and trust. If you wait too long, it will look like you are trying to hide it. An employer will probably be able to tell from your education, experience, or references. Your reluctance to discuss it may imply that it is a bigger problem than it really is. You should probably bring up the subject in a first or second interview.
There are employers who are reluctant to hire foreigners, but many will, after learning of all that you bring to the job. You can take this as an opportunity to educate your prospective employer about the advantages of hiring you. You should also educate yourself about the process of your legal status, so that you can answer your prospective employer's concerns confidently and accurately. It is important that you use the word 'petition' to describe the process, as any reference to 'sponsor' will bring to mind the (more complicated) process of permanent residency.
For more information check out the International Careers Consortium.
Market yourself positively. Your foreign status can be an asset. By living abroad, you have demonstrated flexibility, resourcefulness, and tenacity. If you are multilingual, use that to your advantage. Make sure potential employers know that hiring you has more advantages than disadvantages.
Be flexible, patient and persistent. The job search takes time. Because you will need to find a position with an employer who is willing to work with you regarding your visa status, it may take more time or flexibility. You will have more options open to you if you work outside your sub-specialty, or if you broaden your search geographically. Finding a job as an international student is a challenge, but it is not impossible.
Networking is very important. Most jobs in the US are never advertised. By keeping in touch with relatives, friends, alumni, or embassy contacts, you help them to remember to mention you to the person who is thinking that they need to hire someone in your field.
The career counselors at Career Services can help in a number of ways. They can give you advice on where to look, review your resume and cover letter, and help you prepare for the job search with a mock interview. Call 509-963-1921 to schedule an appointment.
All of this information is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of writing. Please do your own research to double check the current state of the law before assuming that the law has not changed.