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Working in the US

Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in the US

Working in the US can be a demanding yet rewarding experience. Career is often the number one priority for many Americans, and expats that prioritize their work should be able to adapt to the US work culture easily.

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The job market in the US is huge and promises high salaries for people that are willing to work hard. The working days here are long and doing overtime is normal for many. In addition to that, vacation time is rare and usually does not last longer than ten days per year, which can be a major drawback for people that do not put their careers first.

Another downside to working in the US is the lack of job security and social security. Job contracts usually favor employers who can often fire people without advance notice. Social benefits are scarce and available only after working for at least ten years.

If your plan of how to find a job in the US includes working as a self-employed expat, you might not be so fortunate. Moving here as a self-employed worker can be difficult due to a lack of visa options.

Nonetheless, even taking all this into consideration, the US is still a very attractive destination for many working expats. The common reason behind this is money, as average salaries in the US are fairly high. There are also plenty of opportunities to grow and learn as many innovative companies operate in the US.

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How to Get a Job in the US

In order to get a job in the US as a foreigner, you will need to present yourself in the best way possible. The US job landscape is competitive and requires enthusiasm, dedication, and a polished resume. The following tips should help you prepare for your job search.

How to Apply for a Job in the US

If you have set your eyes on the US job market, begin your search by looking into whether your field is in demand. Knowing your prospects might determine how you approach your job hunt and hint at which state can offer you the best opportunities.

Then, try researching some possible employers. If an enterprise grabs your attention but has no current job openings for a person with your skills, try approaching them by emailing a letter of inquiry. In the letter, express your interest in the company, attach your resume, and request for a possibility of further contact. While this method does not always yield positive outcomes, being proactive can sometimes pay off.

Keep an eye on online job postings as well. See what social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, or InterNations), as well as popular job boards (Indeed, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter), are offering. The US Department of Labor also has a search engine that allows you to browse through national job postings, so it could be a good place to start.

Another tip that will help you stay on top of your job search is keeping yourself digitally visible. Upload your resume to job sites and stay active on job-related social media platforms. There is also a possibility to find great job opportunities on trade journals, industry blogs, or association websites. Recruiting and staffing companies are also an option.

Networking Tips

Networking can lead you to discover new opportunities that may not be advertised in official job postings. If you are looking for an opportunity to get a job in the US, consider:

  • Looking through your contacts, identifying who might help you (family members, acquaintances, or former colleagues or course mates), and contacting them.
  • Attending networking events, career fairs, or looking into experience or career exchange opportunities.
  • Listening to others wherever you go – you never know when an opportunity may come up.

If you are attending events dress appropriately and have business cards to hand out.

Whether communicating online or in person at an event, instead of asking for a job, ask for suggestions for who might help you with your career and how to expand your network.

CV and Cover Letter Tips

It is important to note that in the US, CV refers to an in-depth list of achievements that is mostly used in academia. The document you use to apply for jobs is referred to as a “resume”.

The standard rules of an American-style resume are:

  • You should list your work experience in chronological order.
  • You should include your address, email, and phone number.
  • You should not include your picture, marital status, or age.
  • The resume should fit into one (preferably) or a maximum of two pages.

When it comes to cover letters, you should include it with every application, unless the job ad specifically asks you not to.

  • Start the letter by addressing the person who is reading your cover letter and try to be personal if you can. Avoid phrases like “to whom it may concern” and “dear sir/madam.”
  • In the introduction, refer to the position you are applying to, how you found the job, and express your interest in the position.
  • Highlight your achievements and tell your potential employer why you are suitable for the job in the main body of the letter.
  • Thank the reader for their attention and consideration in the closing paragraph and inform them on how you plan to follow-up.

Another important thing when applying for a job in the US is to indicate what type of visa you have or wish to get and mention that you will need sponsorship. You can do so in your resume or cover letter.

Other tips:

  • Make your resume is easy to read by using bullet points and leaving enough white space.
  • Be consistent with bolding and spacing, and avoid underlining and using multiple fonts.
  • Tailoring your resume to the employer might help you achieve better results.
  • For a more professional look, use the same layout for both your resume and cover letter.

Interview Tips

Depending on whether you are already living in the US or not, you may be interviewed online or in person. But no matter how the interview is conducted, make sure to come prepared.

  • Be punctual and dress accordingly.
  • Be honest, answer directly, and maintain eye contact.
  • Smile, keep a sense of humor but stay professional.
  • Turn off your mobile phone or set it to airplane/do not disturb mode.
  • If your interview is conducted online, make sure you and your surroundings look presentable and your internet connection is good. When scheduling the interview, keep in mind differences in time zones.
  • If your interview is in person, bring your resume with you and, if specified by your potential employer, your references and portfolio.

Best Way to Get a Job in the US as a Foreigner

While the US has quite a few job opportunities for both natives and foreigners, the most secure way to get a job is to be transferred there. This is because your employer needs to sponsor your visa and transferees usually have that guaranteed.

Not all companies are willing to sponsor foreigner visas. So, whether you are searching for opportunities online or through your network, make your circumstances are clear to your prospective employer as soon as possible.

What are the Requirements for Working in the US?

In most cases, getting permission to work in the US as a foreigner is a part of the visa processing. Depending on which type of visa you need, you will need to get one of the following two:

  • Labor Condition Application – issued for workers on temporary work visas (H-1B(1) and E-3); assures that your wages are comparable to and do not affect the wages of the native employees; can be issued in about a week.
  • Labor Certification – issued for workers with employment-based visas that can lead to getting a Green Card; assures that no qualified native worker could do the job at a comparable wage; can take 6-24 months to be issued.

You also might be working in a field that requires further licensing by the government. The occupations might include (depending on the state):

  • Healthcare specialists (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.)
  • Legal advisors (lawyers, judges, etc.)
  • Protective service workers (firefighters, law enforcement, etc.)
  • Personal care specialists (hairdressers, skincare specialists, etc.)
  • Other (architects, engineers, real estate brokers, accountants, bus drivers, etc.)

If that is your case, you will need to take further steps to get permission to work in the US. Those can include attending classes of specified training or taking licensure exams.

The licensing standards differ from one state to another, so make sure you meet the requirements of the state you are moving to.

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Minimum Wage and Average Salary

The average salary in the US is considered to be one of the highest in the world. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paid occupations in the US are:

Profession Average Hourly Wage (USD) Average Annual Wage (USD)
Doctors 70-130 (depending on the field) 150,000–265,000 (depending on the field)
Chief Executives 95 195,000
Airline Pilots N/A 160,000
Managers 55-70 (depending on the field) 120,000–150,000 (depending on the field)
Lawyers 68 140,000

 

If you know the state you are moving to and the field you are going to look for a job in, you can check with the US Department of Labor to see the highest and lowest salary you can expect and how it compares to the rest of the country.

US Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in the US is determined by the US labor law and differs in each state. However, the set federal minimum hourly wage is 7.25 USD.

Areas with the Highest Minimum Hourly Wages
District of Colombia 13.25 USD
Washington 12.00 USD
Massachusetts 12.00 USD
New York 11.10 USD
California, Arizona, Colorado, Maine 11.00 USD

 

Some states (New York, Colorado, and California) are planning to gradually raise their minimum wages in the coming years.

There are also states where there is no set minimum wage. Those are:

  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

What is a Good Salary in the US?

Determining whether a salary is good or not depends on plenty of factors: occupation, experience, how many people depend on your salary, etc. Just like in many other countries, it also depends on where you live. Both the state and area are important when considering your wages in the US. Companies in metropolitan areas tend to offer more money to their employees; however, living in a big city usually costs more as well.

A good way of figuring out what salary you should look for when applying for jobs is looking into living wages of the appropriate state. Living wage is the minimum amount of money you need to live off of. For your salary to be considered good enough, your employer should offer you a sum that is higher than the set living wages.

Areas with the Highest Hourly Living Wages (USD)*
District of Colombia 18
Hawaii 16
New York 15
Massachusetts 14
New Jersey 14

 

Areas with the Lowest Hourly Living Wages (USD)*
South Dakota 10.5
Arkansas 10.5
Ohio 11
Kentucky 11
West Virginia 11

*For one adult, no conveniences (i.e., restaurant meals, vacations, etc.).

Metropolitan areas with the highest living wages are:

  • San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward (CA)
  • San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara (CA)
  • New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island (NY-NJ-PA)
  • San Diego/Carlsbad (CA)
  • Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura (CA)

Metropolitan areas with the lowest living wages are:

  • Jackson (MS)
  • Chattanooga (TN-GA)
  • Knoxville (TN)
  • McAllen/Edinburg/Mission (TX)
  • Memphis (TS-MS-AR)

Average Annual Salary in the US

Just like with living wages, average salaries depend on occupation, experience, and where in the US you live. The average overall wage in the US is about 50,000 USD.

Areas with the Highest Annual Median Income per Household (USD)*
Maryland 78,000–79,500
New Jersey 75,000–77,000
Massachusetts 74,500–76,000
Alaska 74,000–78,500
District of Colombia 72,000–79,000

 

Areas with the Lowest Annual Median Income per Household (USD)*
Mississippi 41,000–42,000
West Virginia 42,000–44,500
Arkansas 43,500–45,000
Louisiana 44,000–46,000
Alabama 45,500–47,000

*According to the US Census Bureau

The Most in Demand Jobs in the US

The US Department of Labor is projecting a bright future for a number of various occupations in the upcoming years. The following table quotes the most in demand jobs in the US and an approximation of how much they pay.

Occupation Title Hourly Wages (USD) Annual Wages (USD)
Accountants and Auditors 33–34 69,000–70,000
Cashiers 10 20,000–21,000
Cooks/Food Preparation Workers 10–12 20,000–25,000
Construction Workers 16–17 34,000–35,000
Customer Service Representatives 15–16 32,000–33,000
Janitors and Cleaners 12 25,000
Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workers 13–14 27,000–28,000
Nurses 33–34 70,000
Retail Salespersons 11 23,000
Sales Representatives 25–26 52,000–53,000
Teachers and Tutors N/A 39,000–40,000
Waiters/waitresses 10 20,000–21,000

 

Other popular occupations with high predicted growth and their estimated salaries:

  • Marketing Manager (64 USD hourly/132,000 USD annually)
  • Software Developer (52 USD hourly/108,000 USD annually)
  • Web Developer (33 USD hourly/68,000 USD annually)

Self-Employment

As mentioned in the visa section of our guide, moving to the US for self-employment can be quite a challenge. There are no strictly entrepreneurial visas available and the government does not run self-employment programs for expats. However, for those who are determined to start their business in the US, there is a way to make it happen.

How to Be Self-Employed in the US

If you wish to be self-employed in the US, in most cases you will need to set up a business. The basic steps to set up a business in the US are:

  • Make a business plan and find the funds.
  • Choose a business structure that is the most suitable for the work you want to do.
  • Register your business with the state.
  • Get your federal and state tax IDs.
  • Apply for licenses and permits (if applicable).

 

Name of the structure Necessary documentation Advantages Disadvantages Perfect for
Sole Proprietorship No specific documentation Easy to set up; easy to file for taxes Personal financial liability; only run by one person; no real growth opportunity Small businesses and freelancers
Partnership Certificate and agreement of partnership (limited or limited liability) (needs a resident agent*) Easy to set up; more than one owner; shared commitment between two or more partners Shared personal financial liability; dependence on the partners; equally split profits Multiple owners and professional groups (such as attorneys)
Limited Liability Company (LLC) Articles of organization and LLC operating agreement (needs a resident agent*) Limited liability; one or more owners; lower taxes and easier to set up compared to corporation; flexibility when splitting profits If members leave the business, it has to be dissolved; not easy to set up; self-employment taxes; hard to raise money Bigger; medium-to-high risk businesses and people who wish to protect their personal assets
Corporation (B or C corp or nonprofit) Articles of incorporation and bylaws or resolutions (needs a resident agent*) Limited liability; one or more owners; easy to raise funds; attractive to employees Difficult to set up; corporate tax; more books and record keeping Bigger; medium-to-high risk businesses and businesses that need to raise money

*An agent that will receive and take care of your company’s legal documentation.

Some states also require you to register your company’s name. The taxes you pay will depend on which business structure you decide to set up. However, whichever one you choose, you will need to get a federal tax ID in most cases. But even before you take that step, you will need to find out if your business complies with the visa requirements.

Self-Employment and Social Security Benefits

Just like any other employee in the US, when you are self-employed, you are required to contribute to social security. The size of your payments depends on whether you work for an enterprise or just for yourself (more on that in the tax section of our guide).

You should expect to receive social security benefits after working for at least ten years.

Top Self-Employed Jobs in the US

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most popular occupations for self-employed workers in the US are:

  • Farmers and other agricultural workers
  • First-line supervisors of retail sales workers
  • Childcare workers
  • Carpenters
  • Construction laborers
  • Hairdressers, hair stylists, and cosmetologists
  • Landscaping and groundskeeping workers
  • Real estate sales agents

The fields with the best prospect for new jobs for self-employed are:

  • Personal care and service (fitness trainers, hair stylists, childcare workers, skincare specialists, recreational workers, etc.)
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (janitors, building cleaners, grounds maintenance workers, etc.)
  • Construction and extraction (carpenters, roofers, painters, plumbers, electricians, etc.)

Business Culture

Being hardworking and fully dedicated to your job is very common in the US. The country’s business culture is built on the concept of living for work and that is expected from most employees.

The US Working Culture

When it comes to business negotiations, people in the US tend to be direct about what they want and expect. People voice their opinions freely and are not afraid of criticizing ideas that come up. However, the often-blunt feedback has no negative intent in most cases.

In general though, communication at work is rather friendly, and people do not shy away from making jokes. It is also common to refer to colleagues and superiors by their first name.

Although most working days start at around 8:00-9:00 and finish around 17:00-18:00, working after hours is usually expected from most workers. Leaving on time can sometimes be seen as laziness and lack of dedication, and people often feel socially pressured to do overtime whether they want to or not.

This job-oriented mindset is the reason why a lot of workers do not take time off either. Most of them are entitled to two weeks of paid vacation per year; however, the trend is to avoid taking it at all in order to stay efficient. Note that some companies consider sick days as paid vacation leave.

Money plays a vital role in US businesses and it is often the driving factor behind most decisions. Additionally, individual goals are often valued more than company objectives. Together, these are the common reasons why company loyalty in the US is very rare.

The US Workplace Dress Code

The general rule for your first day of work at any enterprise is that it is better to come overdressed than underdressed. Unless instructed otherwise, try to keep it formal: suits, dressy pants, blazers, blouses, knee-high skirts or dresses, and shirts paired with most types of dress shoes are acceptable. Avoid denim and bright colors and aim for a “smart” look.

However, the dress code will depend on the company that is hiring you. Nowadays, many companies have adapted to a more casual dress code, allowing their workers to wear jeans, T-shirts, sneakers, and whatever else they feel comfortable in. This trend is especially prominent in IT companies and many new start-ups.

While some enterprises might specify exact dress code guidelines when you get hired, others let you judge for yourself. Nevertheless, refer to the HR representative of your company or your colleagues for more information if you are uncertain.

Social Security and Benefits

Whether you are a citizen, a permanent resident, or a temporary worker, when you are living and working in the US, usually you need to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN). Once you have it and you meet the eligibility criteria, you will be entitled to the government benefits.

What is the Social Security Number in the US?

Social Security Number is a nine-digit number that was created for social security tracking purposes. However, over time this has changed as it has become necessary for taxes as well as personal identification. These days you cannot get a job in the US without a Social Security Number.

Can a Foreigner Get a Social Security Number?

Everyone who is working in the US can get a Social Security Number, including lawful foreigners; however, not everyone needs it. You can get private health insurance, register for school, open a bank account, and get a driver’s license without a Social Security Number.

How to Get a Social Security Number in the US

There are two ways for foreigners to get a Social Security Number in the US:

  • Applying in person in a Social Security office if you are already authorized to work in the US (the most common method).
  • Applying with the same documents you file for employment authorization (work permit, form I-765).

When applying for a Social Security Number in the US in person, you will need to present the originals or certified copies of the following documents:

  • Proof of your immigration status and identity (arrival/departure record, permanent resident card with a foreign passport, or your work permit) – two documents.
  • Your birth certificate or other documents that can prove your age.
  • Filled in application form SS-5.

It is recommended for foreigners to wait at least ten days before applying for a Social Security Number. The application and the card are free of charge.

Your social security card will usually indicate a few things:

  • Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Work authorization status

The last point indicates the difference between a permanent and a temporary resident.

  • Permanent residents will not have any restrictions stated on their cards.
  • Temporary residents with work permits will have a note saying: “Valid for work only with only DHS authorization” (DHS – Department of Homeland Security).
  • Temporary residents without work permits will have a note saying: “Not valid for employment.”

What are the Social Security Benefits?

The main social security benefits in the US are retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits.

Retirement Benefits

While the age does fluctuate according to the year you were born in, the full retirement age in the US is 67. This means that if you retire at the age of 67 you will receive full retirement benefits. However, you can start receiving your pension from the age of 62. If you opt for this option, your benefits will be lower (70% of the full retirement pension) in order to make up for the prolonged payment period. The percentage of the payments increases gradually the later you retire.

You need to work for ten years in the US in order to receive retirement benefits. You do not need to be a US citizen to receive the pension.

Disability Benefits

A person is considered disabled by Social Security and is eligible for disability benefits if they:

  • Cannot perform the work they used to do before.
  • Cannot adjust to their work and have a disability that has lasted or will last for at least a year or result in death

Note that no benefits are paid for partial or temporary disability. You need to have worked for at least ten years in the US to receive disability benefits.

Survivor’s Benefits

In case of death of a wage earner, the US Social Security provides benefits to the surviving family. In most cases, the wage earner needs to have worked for at least ten years; however, the number might be lowered depending on how young the person is.

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Maternity and Paternity Leave

Like any other medical leave, maternity and paternity leave in the US is not strictly regulated by the government. The US law (Family and Medical Leave Act) entitles parents-to-be (both mother and father) to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during which their job position will be secured.

To qualify for parental leave in the US you have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be employed in a company with more than 50 employees;
  • Have worked in that company for at least twelve months;
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during twelve months prior to the leave.

As per usual, these rules do not apply to every state. For example, the required number of employees has been lowered from 50 to 10 in several states, while other states have lengthened the entitled leave time for mothers. A few states have also introduced partially paid maternity and paternity leave, so make sure to check what are the laws in your area.

In addition to that, each company is free to operate within the country’s parental leave rules, allowing more time or adding other benefits. According to the law, your employer is also free to ask you to use your paid vacation days to cover the leave period.

Maternity Leave and Benefits

If you are planning a pregnancy, you should have a chat with the Human Resources representative in your company and figure out what the common maternity leave practices are. You should find out:

  • How long is maternity leave within your company?
  • Does your company offer fully or partially paid leave?
  • Will your health insurance continue covering you during and after pregnancy?
  • Does your employer offer flexible hours after maternity leave is over?
  • What are the office rules for breastfeeding moms?

In most cases, you can choose when to start your maternity leave. You can work up until the day the baby is born or start your leave a few days or weeks before childbirth.

Paternity Leave and Benefits

Family and Medical Leave act entitles both parents to the same number of unpaid parental leave. Each father-to-be is entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. However, just like with maternity leave, you need to find out what the possibilities are of getting paternity leave in your company. Ask about paternity leave practices:

  • How long is paternity leave?
  • Can you get paid for your leave?
  • Will you be covered by your insurance during your leave?
  • What are the rules regarding flexible office hours after your child is born?

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Updated on: July 17, 2019

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