By Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo and Martha Liliana Gonzalez

How can career professionals ensure international students’ career success?

Many post-secondary campuses across Canada have seen a rapid increase in the number of international students in recent years, and this has led to the development of many targeted support services and programming for these students (Browne & Russell, 2014). At many universities including the University of Calgary, internationalization strategies have been developed, and attending to the growing percentage of international students is a major focus (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2014). As counsellors and career development specialists who are just two of many international specialists working in various departments across our campus, we wanted to share what we have learned. We will briefly review pertinent literature on international students’ career development, followed by an outline of the various services developed at the University of Calgary and recommendations that follow from our experience.

It is important that career practitioners are aware of the challenges encountered by international students due to differing cultural values regarding career development (Yang, Wong, Hwang, & Heppner, 2002) and collective cultural orientation (Arthur & Popadiuk, 2010). Arthur (2016) recommends the following best practices for career practitioners working with international students: (a) Explore factors leading to being an international student (e.g., lack of opportunities in their home country); (b) Minimize assumptions re: students’ decidedness and the level of information and choice they have regarding their options; (c) Assess perceived influences on career decision making from both their home culture and host culture; and (d) Educate students regarding the nature and potential helpfulness of career counselling and advising.

Both the Students’ Union SU Wellness Centre (Counselling) and Career Services at the University of Calgary have greatly increased and enhanced the services they offer to international students (all services are free). In the SU Wellness Centre, we have hired a Student Support Advisor that specializes in international students, and we have hired two counsellors who specialize in working with international students and who develop programming as needed to support the needs of international students. Career Services has created the author’s position of International Career Development Specialist, who has developed many workshops and services to enhance the experience of international students. Services include: (a) Individual appointments for cover letter and resume review; (b) Interview preparation and mock interviews; (c) Job search and networking; (d) Canadian workplace culture; (e) Career options for your degree; and (f) Career planning and exploration. Workshop titles include: (a) Working in Canada; (b) Canadian Workplace Culture and Your Career Success in Canada; (c) Canadian Interviews and How to Prepare for One; (d) Writing a Canadian Resume and Cover Letter; (e) How to Prepare for a Career Fair as an International Student; (f) How to Gain Canadian Experience and Find a Job in Canada; and (g) Connecting with Other People in Canada. A Workplace Essential Skills program was offered to international graduate students last semester, and recent events have included “What to Do After You Graduate” and “Canadian Employer Perspectives on Hiring International Students”.

What have we learned from our work with students? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Provide opportunities for international students to express their identity and to talk about their own experiences. The opportunity to share their uniqueness and hear about others’ uniqueness related to their cultures will make them more open to learning about Canadian culture. For example, ask international students to demonstrate how they introduce themselves to someone they are meeting for the first time, according to their culture (e.g., handshake).
  2. Commend students on their language skills, as many international students often think they are not competent with their language abilities because they have an accent, even when they are fluent in the language. This can instill confidence.
  3. Explore parental pressure and the conflict they may be experiencing between what their parents want for them and what they want. Parents’ wishes can sometimes reflect an emphasis on traditional roles – e.g., an expectation of choosing a career in the STEM fields – and so there can be guilt about exploring options in other fields that may not be endorsed, such as the liberal arts.
  4. Encourage a balance between academics and other extracurricular activities both on and off campus. Some international students’ home countries have a sole focus on having a really high GPA and this may suffice for getting a good job back home, whereas in Canada it is also important to develop soft skills, seek out extracurricular experiences (e.g., being on the executive of a student club), and work experience. Some students may need extra encouragement to engage in these activities due to the fear of compromising their very high GPAs.
  5. Educate students about the Canadian workplace culture. Many international students come from countries where the workplace culture is very different, and this lack of understanding may prevent them from presenting themselves appropriately for job opportunities.
  6. Work closely with the international student services office and with regulated immigration consultants (sometimes based in the same office). Developing a good working relationship with them will enhance your ability to support international students, and will help you to know when to refer international students to regulated immigration consultants when they are investigating their eligibility to work in Canada.
  7. Offer services in easy to understand language, with minimal jargon, when creating titles and content for workshops and services. For example, as “networking” means a computer system when you look this up in a dictionary, it can be quite confusing for international students. To avoid confusion, Career Services uses words such as “connecting” in lieu of “networking” when creating workshops for international students, as it conveys the meaning but in a way that is clear.
  8. When preparing presentations for international students, consider using an appealing graphic image and/or key words for every idea being discussed. This can result in many slides, but it can be very helpful for students who are not fluent in English. It is also helpful to emphasize the international component of the presentation by including images of many world flags and photos representing people of various ethnicities. Including the translation of “Thank You” in many languages at the end of the presentation is also appreciated by international students.

Through reviewing the literature and our subsequent improvements to our service delivery, we have been able to enhance our facilitation of international students’ career success. We hope that our experience is informative to other career practitioners working with international students in Canada.

Dr Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo is a Registered Psychologist, Counsellor and Career Development Co-ordinator at the Students’ Union Wellness Centre at the University of Calgary. She has worked at the university for over 14 years. She works at Career Services on Wednesday afternoons to offer “Wellness Wednesdays,”including individual counselling sessions and workshops.

Martha Liliana Gonzalez is the International Career Development Specialist at Career Services at the University of Calgary. She has worked at the university for over eight years, including advising roles at the Career Centre at the Haskayne School of Business and Enrolment Services. She is currently completing her Master of Counselling degree.


Arthur, N. (2016). Counseling international students in the context of cross-cultural transitions. In P. B. Pedersen, W. J. Lonner, J. G. Draguns, J. E. Trimble, & M. R. Scharron-del Rio (Eds.), Counseling across cultures (pp. 01-321). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Arthur, N., & Popadiuk, N. (2010). A cultural approach to career counseling with international students. Journal of Career Development, 37, 423-440.

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (2014). Canada’s universities in the world: AUCC internationalization strategy. Ottawa, ON: AUCC.

Browne, J., & Russell, L. (2014). The practice of postsecondary career development. In B. C. Shepard & P. S. Mani (Eds.), Career development practice in Canada: Perspectives, principles, and professionalism (pp.361-382). Toronto, ON: Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling.

Yang, E., Wong, S. C., Hwang, M., & Heppner, M. J. (2002). Widening our global view: The development of career counselling services for international students. Journal of Career Development, 28, 203-213. doi:10.1023/A:1014070305879