Succeed On the Job

We want you to have a successful experience in the U.S.!
We want you to have a successful experience in the U.S.!
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

Onboarding in the Workplace

At the beginning of your program, there are a few things that you will be asked to complete as a new Intern or Trainee at the company.

  • Paperwork:

    • You will be required to fill out the W-4 and I-9 forms as discussed in the Tax Information section.
    • Your host company may also require you to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment. These agreements serve to protect knowledge and information that belongs exclusively to your host company. Such confidentiality agreements occur frequently in research, development, and IT fields.
  • Drug Testing:

    • U.S. host companies also have the right to request that you undergo a drug test at the start of your program and any point thereafter, even without notice. If you test positive, you will be asked to return to your home country.

How to Succeed in the U.S. Workplace

Familiarize yourself with the tasks and responsibilities of your internship or training program. Understanding what is required of you at your host company will make your transition to your new workplace easier. Your host company is going to expect the same level of commitment to your tasks and responsibilities as expected from their U.S. employees. Keep the following practices in mind when starting your program:

  • Come to work on time: Punctuality is very important and repeated lateness can lead to the loss of a job.

  • Smile and be positive: Americans are prone to smiling, especially in service-oriented industries such as hospitality.

  • Treat customers and clients with respect: A common phrase in U.S. business is, *“The customer is always right.”

  • Work quickly and efficiently: You will be expected to have a strong work ethic and to manage your time wisely.

  • Be open to new ways of doing things: American business practices may require more flexibility or direct communication than those in your home country.

  • Be willing to meet new people: Americans are generally friendly and outgoing and will be curious about your culture and home country.

  • Take care of personal hygiene: Cleanliness is very important in the American workplace. Be sure to bathe daily and use deodorant.

  • Beards and mustaches should be kept neat.

  • Communicate frequently with your boss: Many misunderstandings are simply due to a lack of communication.

  • Be patient: You may feel that the American culture and English language are overwhelming at first, but with time, you will learn and understand more.

  • Dress neatly and conservatively: Conceal body art, like tattoos and piercings. Observe your environment and take cues from supervisors on what’s appropriate and expected.

  • Adhere to the company’s employee manual.

  • Avoid asking coworkers questions about their salary, age, weight, politics, or other personal matters.

  • Practice your English as often as possible!

Office Culture & Workplace Relations

American workplaces are known for their diversity.
American workplaces are known for their diversity.
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

Below are some characteristics typical to the U.S. workplace. Remember that everyone and every business are different and that learning the dynamics of your particular host company is simply part of the cultural exchange process.

  • Do not be surprised if your boss is younger than you or if your colleagues are of a different race, sex, or religion. The U.S. is amazingly diverse and this is one of its strengths.

  • It is important to emphasize that workplace relations between men and women may be slightly different than in your home country, and flirting or physical contact is highly discouraged. Generally, a professional, mature, responsible, and respectful attitude is expected at work.

  • Privacy is thought to be the right of every individual. A co-worker may be unwilling to share certain information with you or spend time with you. Often, this is not out of rudeness but out of a desire to maintain one’s privacy.

  • Americans can be blunt and straightforward.

  • Ignorance about life outside the U.S. is common. Part of your U.S. experience is to teach Americans about your culture and country. Share information with your co-workers, and those who are interested will ask questions - this is a great opportunity for cultural exchange!

  • Americans like to joke, smile, laugh, and talk. They will try to fill up the conversation with small talk.

  • Americans like direct eye contact, but they often do not like to be touched or to stand too close to one another while talking.

  • Americans are very concerned about personal hygiene and cleanliness. It is not unusual to shower once a day and wear a different outfit each day of the week.

  • Many Americans you meet are informal. They greet each other with a “Hi” or “How are you?” In some cases, “How are you?” is simply meant to be a greeting. Do not be offended if someone says, “How are you?” and keeps walking!

  • Most Americans are friendly and sociable, even with strangers. You should feel free to introduce yourself in social circumstances. People that you see in elevators or on the street, particularly outside of larger cities, will often say “Hello,” even though they do not know you.

  • Many co-workers will eat lunch at their desk and may not take the typical hour lunch break.

Culture Shock

When you first arrive in the U.S., you may experience a bit of culture shock, which is described as the anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation, and anger that may occur when a person is placed in a new culture. Many of the customs here may seem odd or uncomfortably different from those of your home country. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be challenging even for the experienced traveler, and some feelings of isolation and frustration are totally normal.

Participants experience culture shock to varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others can find it very difficult to adapt to their new environment. Many may not attribute their problems to culture shock. Whatever the case may be, understanding these issues and why they happen will help you as you adjust to life in the U.S.

Learn more about culture shock, including symptoms and tips for coping.

Next: Workplace Problems or Concerns »

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation