Guide to job hunting for international students
Last updated: 28 Mar 2023, 10:34
Find out more about your graduate job options in the UK, the recruitment process and the skills you'll need, and how to secure work experience while you're studying in the UK.
If you are an international student at a UK university and want to work in the UK, you will probably have some additional questions or considerations in your job hunt compared to domestic students. We answer your FAQs about finding work in the UK and then go on to give you advice on seeking work abroad. Jump to:
- What jobs are available for graduates in the UK?
- Can international students get a job with a student visa?
- How do you find employers that sponsor visas in the UK?
- What is the recruitment process for jobs in the UK?
- Which skills do I need to demonstrate during the recruitment process?
- What is the economic outlook in the UK and how will it affect my job hunt?
- What work experience opportunities can international students apply for in the UK?
- How can international students start looking for jobs outside of the UK?
If you’re an international student looking for a graduate job in the UK after you finish your studies, there are two main types of vacancy to consider: graduate schemes and direct entry (sometimes known as jobs with an immediate start).
Graduate schemes are typically offered by companies that are looking to recruit a number of graduates each year into a range of areas, such as finance, IT, human resources and marketing. A graduate scheme will usually last for between 18 months and two years. Applications for these schemes tend to open in September each year; some closing dates fall as early as November, while others remain open until March. Early applications are always advised, though. If successful, you’ll usually start your scheme the summer after you graduate.
- Browse the graduate schemes open for applications on targetjobs.
Alternatively, you could look for a job suitable for a graduate – the direct entry route. Direct entry jobs are often with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that do not need to hire a significant number of graduates every year, although larger employers do advertise some entry-level jobs, and these vacancies can crop up at any time of the year. An immediate start is normally required so you’ll need to wait until you finish your degree to apply for these jobs.
- Browse the graduate jobs being advertised with an immediate start date on targetjobs
If you’re not sure what you want to do after you graduate, our advice on what you could do with your degree will give you some starting points. You should also make the most of your university careers service and the guidance and information about potential careers that it can offer you.
If you are studying in the UK under a student visa (previously called a Tier 4 (student) visa) and you’re looking for a job for after you graduate, you will likely need to apply to switch to a different type of visa. A graduate visa, which was put in place on 1 July 2021, is one option. This allows graduates to hunt for jobs and work for two years (three for PhD graduates) in the UK, regardless of skill level or starting salary. To qualify, graduates must have completed an eligible course at a higher education provider in the UK.
- Discover more about visa types and requirements on targetjobs.
- Find further details on eligibility for and how to apply for a graduate visa on GOV.UK .
While studying, many international students can undertake part-time work for up to 20 hours during term time and full-time work during the university holidays. Check out our advice on working part time for more information.
If you have a graduate visa, you have no need of an employer to sponsor you in a job. However, if you’re planning to stay and work in the UK under a skilled worker visa or one of the temporary work visa options, you’ll need to secure a job with an employer who is a licensed sponsor. GOV.UK has a register of licensed sponsors that you can use to identify companies who you may want to work for.
This list is comprehensive and can be difficult to search so you may want to try to find licensed sponsors in other ways. For example, some companies have produced their own online lists of sponsors that are easier to search so you should research these. You can also use the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association members directory to find immigration advisers who can help to identify licensed sponsors.
You may come across a company who you wish to work for that isn’t currently a licensed sponsor. If this is the case, you can speak to them to find out if they’re open to applying for visa sponsorship and they can then start the application process. Once they’re registered, you’ll be able to work for them.
In general, larger firms are more likely to have the budget and resources to be a sponsor but you can check with any company’s HR department to find out if they’re licensed to recruit international workers.
Most graduate employers design their own, individual recruitment processes to fit their priorities and the specific skills they’re looking for; however, they all tend to feature similar steps. You can expect to complete a combination of the following:
- online application form : traditional forms involve filling out your personal details, educational history and work experience, answering questions such as ‘Why do you want to work for this company?’ and/or uploading a CV; strengths-based forms involve a simple application form followed by a series of video tests.
- CV and covering letter : you could be asked for these as well as or instead of an online application form.
- psychometric tests : this stage could involve an online personality quiz, a numerical, inductive or verbal reasoning test and/or a situational judgement test. Alternatively, especially if the employer is running a strengths-based process, you may undertake ‘immersive experience’ video tests, which give you a number of scenarios and ask how you’d respond.
- games-based assessments : sometimes used instead of traditional ability and aptitude tests.
- face-to-face interview , telephone interview or video interview : the first interview usually focuses on your general competencies, skills and enthusiasm for the job, while later interviews may also ask about your ability to do the job, commercial awareness, knowledge of the employer and strengths and values.
- assessment centre : a form of group interviews, in which a number of candidates are given set exercises to complete, which usually include group activities, a presentation, a case study and a final interview. Since the pandemic, assessment centres may be held in person or virtually .
- technical interview : some roles, such as in engineering, may require a technical interview as part of the assessment centre or on a different day.
Smaller organisations tend to only use two of these stages – the initial application form or CV and covering letter, followed by an interview conducted either face to face or via a video platform – whereas larger organisations may well cover all (or most) of the stages outlined above. Your university careers service will be able to advise you on and help you practise for each step of the recruitment process.
As well as strong academic results and English language skills, graduate recruiters are looking for a range of skills and competencies, often including the following:
- problem solving
- time management.
However, always check the specific job description for a list of essential and desirable skills, qualifications and behaviours. Tailor your application so that you show that you meet as much of the criteria as possible.
You are likely to need to give examples of when you’ve used the required skills (sometimes referred to as soft skills, employability skills or transferable skills) in your applications and at interviews. Competency questions are very common, such as ‘Tell me about a time when you [solved a problem/worked in a team/met a tight deadline]’.
You can use examples from your work experience (more on this below), extracurricular activities (including university societies or sports clubs) or studies (such as a group project or presentation undertaken as part of your degree).
Think about which skills have been strengthened by your experience as an international student: flexibility and adaptability, problem solving and initiative all spring to mind. Your language skills and experience of different cultures can also help you to stand out, especially in teaching, finance, business, travel and hospitality, law and the public sector. International employers are particularly keen to hire students who can speak more than one language.
- Find out more with our advice on the ten key skills that’ll get you a job when you graduate .
- You can learn skills and expand your knowledge on a number of topics through online courses you can do at home .
- Read more about competency interview questions and how to answer them .
The UK economy has seen some turbulence lately and, according to an October 2022 report by the Institute of Student Employers (a body which represents a membership of typically larger graduate employers), many employers are being cautious about recruitment, unsure of the level of recruitment they will need. Having said that, the ISE predicts that the number of graduate vacancies among its members will grow by 2% and reports that around one in ten graduate vacancies go unfilled each year.
However, in your job hunt, it is important to not be distracted by news headlines and focus on your own individual circumstances. Nationwide trends may not apply to the career you wish to pursue and the competition you face will vary according to the sector, regional location and employers you are interested in.
Give yourself the best chance of standing out: focus on getting good academic results and to seek out opportunities to build up your skills. The skills that you’ve developed from your degree and as an international student, such as language skills, teamworking and adaptability, will also come in handy.
- Check out our practical tips on how to approach your job hunt in our articles on how to get a graduate job in a recession and ’Help! I’ve graduated and am struggling to find a job’.
If you are applying for a job that was traditionally undertaken in an office environment, you will probably find that you will be expected to work remotely (fully from home) or hybridly (partly in the office and partly from home). This does not necessarily mean you can be a ‘digital nomad’ and work anywhere in the world – there are usually tax, social security and legal implications for you and your employer. If you want to be a digital nomad, you will need to discuss it with your employer before applying or during the recruitment process.
It is becoming more and more important for students to gain some work experience. As well as helping you figure out what job you want to do when you graduate, it will make you more employable in the eyes of graduate recruiters and help you develop key skills such as teamwork and commercial awareness. It may also be a good opportunity, as an international student, to develop your English language skills in a professional environment.
You may want to apply for the following types of work experience, which are usually in an area directly related to your degree or the career you want to go into:
- insight programmes. These are normally short introductions to an employer and/or sector, typically lasting anywhere between one day and a week. They are typically aimed at first years or students who are typically underrepresented in the particular profession (eg women in STEM careers).
- summer internships. These typically last between two and three months in the summer vacation and are aimed at second-year students, but some employers may accept first-year students or recent graduates.
- industrial placements, sometimes also referred to as a placement year or year in industry. These form a part of some undergraduate degrees. You’ll spend a year, usually just before your final year, working for a company.
You can find these opportunities through the targetjobs work experience search , your university careers service and your university department’s industrial placement officers.
The application process for all work experience and placements is often the same as the graduate recruitment process outlined above. Completing an insight programme might lead to an offer of a summer internship or placement year from the employer, and in turn undertaking a summer internship or industrial placement might lead to a graduate job offer .
Other options that aren’t directly related to your degree but will help you develop important skills include:
- a part-time job, either in the evenings or at the weekend, for example in a supermarket or restaurant.
- vacation work, either in the UK or your home country. Tourist attractions often need more employees at peak times, for example.
- voluntary work with a charitable organisation, usually unpaid. Your university may also offer volunteering opportunities.
You can find these opportunities through:
- your university careers service
- the students’ union
- local businesses, which may advertise on job websites, in local newspapers or in shop windows
- recruitment agencies
- your university’s Rag and Action societies
- volunteering organisations such as Volunteering Matters
- your local council for voluntary service (CVS) and volunteer centres.
However, It is likely that there will be some restrictions on the amount or type of work experience you can do in the UK as an international student. For example, while you may be able to do a placement year or a summer internship, you may be unable to work a part-time job for more than 20 hours a week during term time. These conditions may also depend on your sponsoring institution. When looking for work experience, be certain that you know how much work you are able to do as not doing so may prevent you from obtaining further visas for the UK.
- You can find more information on your rights to work while studying at GOV.UK .
- The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has more advice and support about working on a student visa.
After completing your studies in the UK, you may want to return to your home country to work or try living somewhere entirely new. You could apply to a multinational company with operations all over the world or, if you have your heart set on one country, you could look for local employers in that country. You could work for one of its large, national employers or a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).
Lots of multinational companies advertise their vacancies on targetjobs - many in the UK but some in Europe and further afield.
Other useful sources of information and advice include:
- Your university careers service.
- The professional body for your industry.
- Embassies and high commissions in the UK. You can browse their websites or pay them a visit in person.
- Large recruitment agencies with vacancies all over the world.
Networking can also help you secure a job outside the UK. If you are hoping to find work in your home country, network with any contacts back home, such as previous employers, friends and family, especially if you are there in person during university holidays. If you want work in a completely different country, do you know anybody who currently works there or has previously worked there?
You can also expand your network. Your university may run careers events to put you in touch with employers, such as virtual careers fairs or networking sessions. Your careers service may be able to tell you about any international fairs or events coming up and professional bodies often run networking events. You should join LinkedIn if you don’t already have an account, join your university’s alumni association and begin networking online. The British Council also runs a number of groups around the world for UK alumni.
- Head to our section on finding a job for more advice on networking.
- Start networking online by making sure your LinkedIn profile is in the best possible shape .
This article was last updated in November 2022.
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