• Ginger Dempsey - International Program Academic Specialist, Pamplin International
  • Steve Cooper - Chief Executive Officer, NextUp Solutions Inc.
  • Steven White - Assistant Director, Career and Professional Development
  • Sandra Jackson - Community Member and Volunteer


On April 15, Ginger Dempsey moderated the second virtual panel for international students titled “International Students Lunch Bunch.” The discussion focused on what students can do to build their resumes this summer regardless of the current environment.

With the assistance of her fellow panelists, Steve Cooper, Steven White and Sandra Jackson, Dempsey explored how international students can build their resumes and anticipate how the world of work is going to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal and professional development were the primary areas of focus during the discussion. The conversation highlighted the many career development resources and volunteering opportunities currently available to international students while they adhere to proper social distancing measures.

Panel Discussion

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

Are there virtual internships available for international students and how do they differ from regular, in-person internships?

Answer from Steve Cooper:

Cooper is a local entrepreneur and the CEO of NextUp Solutions, an organization that helps corporations and nonprofits develop their tech talent pipeline. He specifically works with the Exelaration Center, which is located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

For 11 years, the Exelaration Center  has been focused on providing internships in the software development space to Virginia Tech students. Cooper discussed the center’s plan to continue their summer internship program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our internships are now virtual, and we've been on a campaign to get businesses to not cancel their internships”

Cooper emphasized how uncomplicated virtual summer internships can be for organizations, especially with the assistance of interns who are experienced with remote communication tools like Slack and Zoom.

“They ought to be doubling up on their internships remotely because students are more well-versed in remote technology than much of their other workforce. It would be a great way to catalyze the workforce to become even more adept at remote technologies.”

Answer from Steven White:

White, the assistant director of Career and Professional Development, contributed his expertise to the conversation and reflected on the varied responses that his team has received from employers regarding summer internships.

“Every day, we get multiple emails from our employer relations team telling us how different employers and companies are moving forward. For those who are going virtual, employers are sometimes shortening their experiences for the summer and some places are canceling their internships or moving them to summer 2021.”

For students who have internships lined up for the summer, White emphasized the importance of communicating with their hiring managers.

“I think one of the best things that students who already have an offer can do right now is being in close communication with their hiring manager to talk about what are the opportunities that are available to them this summer if they're changing the plans for their internship.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey: 

What are your suggestions for international students who are looking for a virtual internship right now?

Answer from Steven White:

White encourages international students to remain optimistic about finding an internship this Summer since many organizations have decided to proceed with their summer internships.

“I want it to be known that employers are still hiring. While there are companies that have decided to do a hiring freeze and are pausing for a bit until they figure out what their plans are, there are still many companies who are moving forward with hiring.”

He also pointed out the important role networking plays in the hiring process.

“Any career advisor can tell you that the number one way to successfully get a job is by networking. It is not just by applying. If a recruiter can recognize your name and they have had one or two positive interactions with you that can really make you stand out.”

If a student wants to set themselves apart from other candidates, White recommends utilizing virtual networking resources like LinkedIn, Handshake, and Hokie Mentorship Connect.

“Utilize all of the resources you have available to you. As a Virginia Tech student, you have access to Handshake and other resources through the career center.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What are some of the current obstacles that international students face while searching for a job or internship? What are some of the current trends?

Answer from Steven White:

“Some of the trends we see are kind of all the time and not as affected by the pandemic. As an international student, there are some companies that don't hire international students, which is unfortunate.”

To get an idea of who is hiring international students, White advises students to use the website Going Global. This online resource is available through the university and helps international students search for employers who have sponsored H-1B visas in the past. 

Another obstacle that White observed was cultural differences in the interviewing process.

“I think that one thing that can be a barrier for many International students is that they don't necessarily know how to market themselves in the best way because that's not always the way that you go about searching for positions in different countries. So, knowing how to put aside the humble part of you that doesn't want to brag about yourself and taking some time during interviews to really talk about your accomplishments and taking credit for the great work that you've done.”

While reflecting on his experience conducting mock interviews with international students, White stressed the importance of being confident in your language abilities.

“Students, who have English as a second, third, fourth, or fifth language, sometimes worry that their English isn't strong enough to apply to different positions. What you should focus on instead is that you know multiple languages. That is something a lot of Americans can't say about themselves so use it as a selling point.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

How can the current virtual experiences prepare international students for this new normal in the workplace?

Answer from Steve Cooper:

Reflecting on how the world of work has changed in a matter of months, Cooper provided the following insights. 

“I think it's a great opportunity for this generation of folks, who are more adept with technology and who've grown up with mobile technology, to really be the leaders on this and show employers that all the barriers need to come down, international barriers especially.” 

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

How can international students market themselves virtually during the current COVID-19 pandemic? 

Answer from Steven White:

“There are a lot of things students can do right now because you may not have as much going on in your free time. You can utilize this time in different ways by polishing your LinkedIn, creating your Handshake profile, or working on your resume and cover letter.”

White also pointed out that it is critical for international students to question what they can bring to the table as an employee or intern.

“One thing you can do now to make yourself stand out as a candidate is looking for gaps. So, asking yourself, ‘What can I provide that someone may need and not be able to currently get in another way?’ Find ways that you can take the skills you have and fill those gaps.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What resources are available to international students that can help them improve their resume or their experience while searching for a job?

Answer from Steven White:

White listed multiple online resources that are free and available to all Virginia Tech students. The list included websites such as Handshake, Career Shift, Hokie Internship Connect, Hokies Gone Global, Career Spots, and Candid Career. He also reminded the panel that although drop-in advising appointments have been suspended until further notice, advisers from Career and Professional Development were still eager and available to help students over the phone or via Zoom.

“Our advisers are still seeing appointments so anytime you want to have a one-on-one chat with somebody who knows about careers, we are happy to do so.”

Question from Ginger Dempsey:

What are some ways that students can gain experience through volunteering? What kind of soft skills or intercultural communication skills can international students gain through volunteering, particularly in our current environment?

Answer form Sandra Jackson:

Jackson, a community member and volunteer, was invited to share her experiences volunteering as well as the community service opportunities available in Blacksburg. 

“Of course, the barrier is social distancing right now but there are a lot of opportunities in our community. If you're healthy, you can volunteer at food banks, you can volunteer to bring groceries to elderly people who cannot or should not be getting out, or giving rides to people who need various medical treatments.”

Over the years, Jackson has worked with international students in various capacities and she has recently started a supper club, where local families can host international students for dinner. 

“There are barriers right now and we acknowledge that, but I think there are so many benefits to volunteering. When you volunteer and when you relate to people that you normally would not relate to, it just expands your world. It's great! You practice your English and you learn vocabulary that you might not use in school.”

Answer from Steven White:

White answered second, reminding the panel of the community service opportunities that require minimal contact with others. 

“When we think of volunteering, we often think about direct interaction with people and it doesn't have to be. Thinking about things like taking care of the environment, planting trees, cleaning up roads and volunteering at Humane Societies with animals, these are all still ways that you can volunteer without having to worry about breaking social distancing rules.”

He also added how the soft skills that students gain from volunteering experiences are the most attractive skills to employers.

“We survey our employers all the time and we do learn that the number one skill that our employers look for is communication. It is relatively easy to teach someone a technical skill but it's really hard to teach someone how to be a team player. That is something that has to be developed over time and it is something that someone can consistently work on their entire life and improve. So, volunteering really does give you a lot of those transferable skills – teamwork, communication, and having a global perspective.” 

Adding to his point, White tailored his response to international students by highlighting the diverse communities that reside in Blacksburg.

“I know as an international student it can be easy to assume that you already have a really well developed global perspective, but even just in the small community of Blacksburg we have a ton of different types of diversity that you’ve never been exposed to before. Utilizing these [volunteer] opportunities can really help widen your knowledge of who you may be interacting with in a future job.”

Answer from Steve Cooper:

Cooper agreed with White regarding the marketability of volunteerism to employers. 

“The hiring decisions that people make for interns and permanent employees are made based on collaborative skills. That’s what not only earns you the job but keeps you the job and lets you advance in the job.”

Ginger Dempsey:

Dempsey closed the panel with the reminder to all international students that Pamplin Career Services and the International Programs Office are still available to answer their questions and to help them succeed during this difficult time. 

Written by Julia Vaughn

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