- Are you an international student in the UK struggling to get a job?
- How can you get some work experience if you've never worked anywhere else before?
- Can you gain job experience during Covid-19?
You come to the UK to study, thinking that your British degree will open all kinds of career doors for you once you graduate. However, you will quickly learn that getting a good academic qualification does not guarantee you a job.
In all honesty, your education alone is never sufficient for British recruiters. So, even if you earned a first-class honours degree from a Russell Group university, you might fail to secure a job, especially if you require Skilled Worker visa sponsorship.
Every year, the UK labour market is becoming more and more competitive. For instance, in the summer of 2020 over 100 graduates, both domestic and international, competed for every graduate vacancy. Since there are so many job applicants, recruiters invite a limited number of the most promising and suitable candidates for the interview. Other applications get binned at the CV review stage. That's why it's crucial to write a killer CV that meets British standards.
So, what are the criteria that British companies use to hire candidates? The most important section of your CV is your work experience. This is your first chance to impress your potential employer and demonstrate that you have the right knowledge and skills for this job.
Relying on your good grades and not working during your university years is one of the biggest mistakes that international students often make.
No employer would pick a candidate with zero work experience over the one with both an academic qualification and prior job experience. This principle also applies to people who previously worked in their home country. While it's better to have some experience than nothing, UK employers prefer candidates who have worked in Britain before.
Alright, it seems like the solution to this problem is to gain some work experience. But how do you go about that?
This is where things might get tough. International students on a Student visa have work restrictions and know little about the UK labour market. While most can legally work, visa regulations prevent them from being self-employed, working certain jobs, and working full-time during term-time.
Another problem that students often encounter is that candidates need to have prior work experience to get the first job. This is a classic chicken and egg situation. But don't worry, there are ways around this problem.
In this blog, we'll tell you about 6 ways to gain some work experience as an international student in the UK. By doing one or multiple activities suggested on our list, you will dramatically improve your career prospects.
Internships for international students
One of the most popular ways students and young people in the UK gain their first work experience is through internships.
An internship is a fixed time work experience that can range in length from a couple of weeks to several months or even a year. Various types of organisations take on and train interns: from large corporations to startups. So, you can intern pretty much anywhere you would like.
Hiring interns is a widespread practice among employers. That's why interns can be found across different roles and industries. Therefore, you can find an internship suitable for yourself and your future career plans.
Internships can vary greatly in terms of salary. Although you may have to work for free for some short-term internships, some of them cover your expenses or even offer a full-time salary.
Benefits of internships
- Widen your professional network
- Learn new skills
- Gain relevant work experience
- Suitable for people with little to no work experience
- Get a professional recommendation for your future job
- Visa-friendly job type
- Flexible time: work during term time or holidays
- Can lead to a full-time job offer
Downsides of internships
- They're often unpaid
- Internships can be very competitive
Sandwich university course
If you are an international student, you are probably wondering what sandwich, university and work experience have in common?
A sandwich university course is the name of a programme that includes a one-year placement relevant to your degree subject and career plans.
Sandwich placements are usually taken in the penultimate year of a four-year degree. The most common type is a thick sandwich course, with two years of study taken before the placement and a final year of study.
Some university programmes offer thin sandwich courses, where shorter placements are taken at intervals across a three-year degree programme.
The main purpose of a placement is to prepare you for the job market, apply your academic knowledge and deepen your understanding of the industry.
Although sandwich courses are quite popular in the UK, not every university or degree includes this option. You have to ask your course leader or other university staff members about the possibility of taking a sandwich course.
Benefits of sandwich courses
- Enhance your academic knowledge
- Get hands-on industry experience
- Make professional connections
- Gain insight into your chosen profession
- Learn role-specific and transferrable skills
- Visa-friendly job type
- Can lead to a full-time job offer
Downsides of sandwich courses
- This might require you to change your visa due to new visa length
- If you are a final year student, it's too late to do a sandwich course
- Most of the time you have to find placements yourself
- Limited placement opportunities
- Not every university or degree permits this
Volunteering is a great way of integrating into the British community, making new connections, and doing meaningful work. Many organisations across the UK offer a range of volunteering roles. So, you can pick the cause and role that resonate with your personal values.
Unlike the activities described above, volunteering jobs don't require any previous experience. So, you can start by offering your services to a charity, even if it's your first job. Although you are unlikely to gain any industry-specific insights, volunteering can teach you many transferrable skills, including communication, teamwork, project management, problem-solving and others.
You can put volunteering experience on your CV under a dedicated section or add it as your work experience.
Benefits of volunteering
- Suitable for people with no experience
- Develop transferrable skills
- Make new connections
- Gain some work experience
- Showcase your values and passions
- Visa-friendly job type (does not count into your working hours)
Downsides of volunteering
- The role might be less relevant to your future career
Digital work experience
Covid-19 pandemic has made a great impact on the recruitment industry. Most employers had to adapt by transferring work into the digital sphere.
Therefore, there has been a rise in the amount of digital work experience for students, including part-time jobs, internships and placements. Now, you don't even need to be in the UK to get British work experience. You can work from the comfort of your home while still learning and working.
There are some organisation like Springpod that arrange virtual work experience for students in different industries.
Benefits of digital work experience
- Remote working
- Can gain relevant skills
- Develop new connections
- Suitable for people with limited work experience
- Visa-friendly job type
Downsides of digital work experience
- Lack of real-life interaction
For most people, their student visa conditions allow them to work part-time (20 hours a week) while studying at university. Although it is unlikely that you can get a part-time job relevant to your degree and career prospects, there are many jobs suitable for students with limited work experience.
Your part-time job can be in retail, customer service, hospitality or other sectors. You can earn extra money to support your studies and learn valuable transferrable skills, such as communication, time management and others.
Please remember that you cannot do certain jobs that require you to be self-employed due to your visa conditions, for example, a Deliveroo driver.
Benefits of part-time jobs
- Extra financial support during university years
- Learn transferrable skills
- Suitable for people with little and no experience
- Visa-friendly job type (if you have a contract)
Downsides of part-time jobs
- Might be difficult to combine with your studies
- Might be irrelevant to your future career
Finally, if you are struggling in your job search, you might find your next job opportunity at your university.
Types of university jobs:
- Research assistant
- Student representative
- President of a student council
- Leading roles in a student society
Although most of these jobs are unpaid, it might be a good starting point for you. By taking an active role at university, you can learn the skills you could later put on your CV and utilise while applying for internships, placements and part-time roles.
Despite visa limitations and lack of connections in the UK, international students can do lots of activities and gain work experience while studying at university.
Getting some British job experience improves your chances of landing an amazing job and securing work visa sponsorship. You might even meet your future employer by doing some extra work in or outside of your educational establishment.
So, don't give up on your job search and start taking actions recommended in this blog today!