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International students' guide to job hunting in the UK

Guide to job hunting for international students

Find out more about your graduate job options in the UK and abroad, the recruitment process and the skills you'll need, and how to secure work experience while you're studying in the UK

What is the recruitment process for jobs in the UK? | Work experience for international students | Tips for international students seeking work outside 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.

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 deadlines 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.

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. There is typically one permanent graduate position in a specific area up for grabs, 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.

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.

What is the recruitment process for jobs in the UK?

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: involves filling out your personal details, educational history and work experience, and answering questions such as ‘Why do you want to work for this company?’
  • 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 a personality quiz, a numerical, inductive or verbal reasoning test and/or a situational judgement test. You are likely to be asked to take these tests online.
  • games-based assessments: sometimes used instead of traditional ability and aptitude tests.
  • telephone interview or video interview: the first interview usually focuses on your general competencies, skills and enthusiasm for the job.
  • assessment centre: possible tasks include group activities, a presentation, a case study or an in-tray exercise.
  • technical interview: some roles, such as 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 a face-to-face interview – whereas larger organisations may well cover all 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.

How to present your skills in applications and interviews

The UK graduate job market is highly competitive. 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:

  • teamwork
  • communication
  • initiative
  • problem solving
  • resilience
  • time management

You are likely to need to give examples of when you’ve used these 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.

Work experience opportunities for international students

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 for international students to develop their 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

The application process for these placements are often the same as the graduate recruitment process outlined above. Completing a summer internship or industrial placement might lead to a graduate job offer from the employer.

You can find these opportunities through the TARGETjobs internships search, your university careers service and your university department’s industrial placement officers.

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 and #iwill
  • your local council for voluntary service (CVS) and volunteer centres

However, you will need to check your eligibility to work while studying under the terms of your visa. Students come under Tier 4 of the points-based system, which does set some limitations on your entitlement to work while studying. It’s important to stay within these limits as not doing so may prevent you from obtaining further visas for the UK.

You can also get help from your university’s international student advisers and UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs), either on its website or through its telephone advice line.

Tips for international students seeking work outside the UK

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. You can browse all of the current job openings or restrict your search to just international vacancies.

Other useful sources of information and advice include:

  • Your university careers service.
  • The professional body for your industry. There are more than 80 professional bodies in the UK, covering industries such as engineering, finance, management and health.
  • Embassies and high commissions in the UK. You can browse their websites or pay them a visit in person (in London).
  • Large recruitment agencies with vacancies all over the world.
  • The websites of the companies you’re interested in.

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. Attend careers fairs at your university and approach the stands of international organisations. 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, and join your university’s alumni association. The British Council also runs a number of groups around the world for UK alumni.

You can also use our working abroad advice to investigate your options.

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