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6 tips to make a great first impression at work as an international student

interstride logo by Interstride
September 12, 2022

Starting a new job or internship comes with a lot of pressure to make a great first impression. This can be especially daunting for international students starting their first job or internship in the US. Each workplace has its own unique culture which you must navigate on top of the American culture that may still feel very foreign to you. This guide can prepare you for a great start in your new job or internship.

Top ways to make a great first impression at work

There are some common themes in American work culture that are important to understand and some variations to pay attention to. The tips below can help you navigate your first job or internship in the US. whether it’s remote or in-person. 

1) Show up on-time

Punctuality in an American work environment is a must. If you are working in person, make sure to leave early to account for traffic, parking, and finding the location, especially in the first few weeks as you get familiar with your commute. Being on time shows employers that you are reliable and serious. Punctuality is also important for online and in-person meetings. 

2) Introduce yourself

Most Americans appreciate confidence and openness, so take the initiative to introduce yourself to your supervisors and colleagues. When greeting co-workers, smile to show you are friendly and approachable. You can even practice this at home in the mirror! 

Americans believe that eye contact is a sign of self-confidence and respect for others, so make sure to look people in the eye when you greet them. Be confident in who you are as an international student because most workplaces value diversity.

3) Take initiative

A go-getter mentality is key in American culture. This means demonstrating a strong work ethic and being ambitious. You may find your American co-workers to be very competitive. This is often due to the focus on individualism in American culture. 

In meetings, avoid being on your phone. Show that you are mentally present by making eye contact with the speaker, taking notes, and asking questions. When learning about your new job responsibilities and projects, be enthusiastic and demonstrate that you are willing to be a team player. 

4) Be friendly and professional

It may be a good idea to educate yourself on American work culture and professionalism, as it may be different from your home country. For example, the way you communicate with people of a different gender may be different where you are from. In the US, it’s expected that you treat people the same no matter their gender or race. It can help to pay attention to how your co-workers interact virtually, via email, and in person and model your behaviors after theirs. 

5) Dress professionally 

There is an old saying in American culture – “dress to impress”. While this adage may be outdated, it’s important to remember to dress neatly and professionally to make a good first impression at work. It’s better to overdress for your first day of work than to underdress. Choose a clean, well-fitted business outfit. Avoid jeans, sweat pants, and non-collared shirts until you get a feel for the dress culture at your new job.

6) Network 

Americans tend to spend a lot of time at work and socializing with co-workers. Consider attending any social events organized by the company and taking the time to get to know your co-workers outside of just their work responsibilities. Establishing positive relationships can get you referrals for other jobs and even open up doors to future career opportunities at that company. 

Lastly, look for a mentor on the job who can help you navigate the workplace culture and job responsibilities as an international student. Some workplaces have official mentoring programs, but often you can find a mentor unofficially by getting to know your more experienced colleagues. 

Final Thoughts

Taking the time to prepare can help calm your nerves and set you up to make an excellent first impression at your new job or internship in the US. Don’t forget to pay attention to the communication styles and work clothes of your colleagues and supervisors. They can teach you a lot about the specific culture of your workplace. 

Learn more tips for succeeding in the workplace as an international student on Interstride’s blog.