Planning for Career Success – Skill Development for International Students 

Personal Development Planning (PDP): 

PDP is the idea that rather than leaving our development to random chance we can take charge of it through conscious analysis and planning.  It is a system that you can use to address your educational and professional needs.  You can use it when you are at university to develop in a way that is focused on helping you meet your career aspirations.  It can also be used during your working life to help you manage your professional and career development.  The great news is that the process is really simple!  It is asking and answering the following three questions: 

Where am I now? 

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are there things that you want to be able to do but can’t at the moment?  Are there experiences you would like to have (i.e. through employment)?  Are there things you would like to learn about yourself (i.e. What motivates you?  What are your personal values? How you react in certain situations?). 

See “Skills Audit” section in this article.   

Where do I want to be? 

You can think about your short-term goals, long term goals or both.  What are your goals? What are the outcomes you are looking for in regards to your personal development?  If it is a skill you would like to develop, how good do you need or want to get at it?  Is there a specific skill set you need to develop for a career or profession? 

How do I get there? 

Are you aware of all the opportunities available to you to develop in the way you want to?  What are these opportunities and how do they contribute? 

See “Opportunities for skill development” and “Action Planning” in this article. 

Skills Audit: 

Have you ever spent time thinking about what skills you have and how you would prove this if you were asked for evidence – perhaps on an application form or in a job interview?  If not, a skills audit can help you to identify the skills you already have and those that you need to develop.  

A good place to start a skills audit is to understand which skills are required for the type of career you’re interested in: 

  • There are some skills required for virtually any job, as explained in this article ‘what skills do employers want’ on the Prospects website.   
  • You can also browse the A to Z of job profiles on the Prospects website to find out what skills are required for many graduate jobs, from Academic Librarian to Zoologist! 
  • Carrying out your own research into your chosen profession or industry by speaking to employers at careers fairs, attending employer presentations, reading job adverts and networking online or in person, can help you to identify the required skills. 

Once you have identified the skills you will need, one way to approach the audit is to make a table with 3 columns. 

  • The first column should include a list of all the skills you’ve identified as being important for your career. 
  • The second column can be used to provide examples of when you have used each skill.  Examples can come from your academic work, extra-curricular activities and work experience, as well as your personal life and interests.  Think of as many examples as you can for each skill. 
  • The third column can then be used to rate your current level of ability in each skill for example: good, average and poor.  This requires some honest self-reflection. If you have managed to list lots of examples for a particular skill, you might be able to honestly say that you’re good at it as you have lots of evidence to support this.  However, if you are struggling to think of examples, a lack of experience may mean that you rate your ability for a skill as poor, however this means you have identified a gap in your skills which can form the basis of your personal development plan. 

If you are struggling with the skills audit, speak to a member of your university careers team who will be able to help you.  You can also ask for feedback from people who know you well and who you trust to be honest with you.  It’s also important to remember that you’re learning new skills all the time so a skills audit and personal development planning isn’t a one-off activity, you need to make it a regular feature of your development. 

Opportunities for skill development: 

All universities offer a wide range of opportunities for you to develop your skills, here are just a few examples: 

Aston Business School MSc students can work in a small team on a live business project as part of the Aston Business Clinic. This involves completing a piece of business research for a local SME to support the company’s business development. Students are guided by academic mentors and required to present their findings in a report and presentation evening. The skills developed include innovation, problem-solving, teamworking, planning and developing commercial awareness. 

At BCU students can work towards their Graduate+ awards and in doing so, will develop useful employability skills as well as the ability to reflect on these and understand how they will benefit them in the future.  All BCU students are eligible and they can work their way through Bronze, Silver and Gold, to Platinum level. Further information is available on the Graduate+ website. 

DMU runs the Frontrunners scheme which offers professional work experience through paid internships working part time with DMU staff on real projects.  The wide variety of roles offers the chance to develop transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, presentation skills and project management as well as more specialist skills related to your subject. 

NTU offers an Acceler8 award, which is a flexible award achieved by collecting points through taking part in various employability activities.  These activities include skill-building sessions such as self-awareness and presentation skills, and the students can choose for themselves which sessions are the most beneficial for them. 

The best way of developing employability skills is through work experience. At UCB our Unitemps help students to find a wide range of job opportunities (e.g., student ambassadors, admin roles, mentoring, hospitality, blogging) where they can develop invaluable transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, dependability, resilience, leadership and adaptability. 

The Personal Skills Award is the University of Birmingham’s employability programme for undergraduate students. It enables you to develop, recognise and articulate your skills in preparation for real-world recruitment processes. There’s a choice of getting involved in skills sessions, online courses, taught modules, work experience or on campus activities such as sports opportunities and student groups.  

University of Northampton.  Once or twice a term we hold “Network & Chill” events for our students. Held in the early evening, with food and drink provided, we invite along local employers and students to network together. This provides the students with an opportunity to develop their networking skills with professionals and our employer contacts to meet and engage with our student base. 

Keele students have the opportunity to apply for Keele Internships.  There are opportunities to experience paid work experience over the summer vacation period but also flexible, part-time, options that fit around your studies.       

 Action Planning: 

Once you have identified and assessed the skills you would like to improve or learn and opportunities for development, action planning helps you to organise your ideas and put them into action.  At its most basic it simply involves writing down your plans.  Good action planning involves the following: 

PrioritisingIt may not be realistic to expect to achieve all your goals for personal development at the same time.  Set a limited number of goals at a time. 

Flexibility: Your ideas may change so be ready to adapt and change your goals. 

Asking for help: Your university careers team are experts at helping individuals plan their goals.  If you need help with identifying your developmental needs, opportunities for development or action planning seek their help.  

Action plans should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) 


Specific: avoid unclear or vague objectives. 

Measurable: good action planning involves knowing when you have achieved a goal.  Use numbers, dates and times as well as other measurements. 

Achievable: some skill development will take a considerable investment of time and energy.  You do not have to achieve everything in one go, keep it realistic.  You can take small steps towards your goals.  Also keep in mind all your other commitments on your time, such as academic work.  

Time-bound: set dates by which you are going to have completed your action.   

If you would like to download a template for an action plan, click here 

Authors: Sally Cleere, De Montfort University & Ben Simkins, Keele University 

With thanks to Iwan Griffiths (Aston Business School), Lindsay Southall (Birmingham City University), Kathryn Doerr (Nottingham Trent University), Luciana Iwasa (University College Birmingham), Ellen O’Brien (University of Birmingham) and Mark Blaber (University of Northampton) for their contributions to this blog. 

Making the most of your University’s Careers Service 

Did you know that the Midlands International Group (a group of representatives from over 15 Midlands based  university careers services) have a specific focus on careers support for international students and graduates? In this blog I will explain how to make the most of your university’s careers service as an international student. 

There is such a wide range of support a careers service can offer. Our group is well aware that international students can find themselves feeling a little lost in the UK, especially when trying to adjust to the cultural norms associated with trying to find a job in a new country. For example, in your home country you might have heard of graduates  being interviewed by an employer at a graduate jobs fair and securing themselves a position there and then.  In the UK recruitment generally works differently and it’s often only when you talk to your careers service that you find out how the systems work in this country.  I have seen so many international students benefit greatly from the support and resources available through careers services. However, it’s sometimes only when they drop in or have an initial appointment that they realise the vast range of support on offer. Here are some of the reasons you should actively seek out support from your careers service as an international student:     

1. You’ve already paid for it! 

Your course fees include access to a range of services provided by your universityone of which is the Careers Service. They not only provide access to qualified guidance practitioners (who are experts in helping to guide and coach you to make informed career choices), they also help with practical support like interview skills, preparing for assessment centres and application form writing. In addition they also subscribe to a range of other resources to support you with every aspect of your career development and future aspirations. Make sure you are aware of these resources before applying for graduate jobs. Remember your careers service is not just there for when you have completed your course and leave the University, ideally you should be actively engaged with careers activities from the start of your course. At Nottingham University Business School we provide a range of pre-entry online webinar sessions to help incoming students make the most of their time at the University and enable them to better prepare for a one year Master’s programme. Being aware of employers’ early recruitment deadlines (amongst other things) is key. Other universities will offer similar provision either before you arrive or during induction 

2. Mentoring schemes 

Most careers services offer opportunities to join a mentoring scheme. Usually the mentors have some experience in the industry you want to work in, or may have studied the same degree programme as you, and have offered their time to support students as a way of giving back to their university. The way to make the most of these schemes is to make a very clear and tailored application to ensure you stand out. Outlining reasons why you feel you could benefit from this type of scheme is a must. If you are unable to join a formal mentoring scheme there can be many ways to find your own mentor during your time at university. If you’ve missed out on a mentoring scheme opportunity, booking in for an appointment with your careers service where you can get help to develop a range of networking approaches could help to land you a mentor or even a range of industry contacts.  

3. Guidance and Coaching 

When you access a university’s careers service for careers guidance and support be assured that you are accessing a high quality and professional service.  Staff will be trained in providing impartial advice and guidance. Guidance practitioners also sign up to a professional code of practice, usually this will be through a professional body such as AGCAS or CDI. Your university’s careers service will also have a code of practice which is adhered to. One of the main aspects of good careers guidance is that is it ethical, impartial and supports you in your objectives. Be vigilant and diligent. There are a range of external companies who may advertise services to you and charge you a lot of money for the same services that your university careers service offers to you for free. There should be no need to pay for external careers support but if you feel that something is not being offered do talk to your careers service – it may just be called something else or it may be something that they could consider developing.  

4. Internships, placements, work and volunteering opportunities 

University Careers Services are often involved in developing and promoting a range of work experience opportunities to students. These can be offered as part time job/internship opportunities, yearlong placements, graduate internships as well as internships during vacation times but can also take place at other time during the year. Work experience can help you to gain industry experience and to apply the knowledge learned from your course in a practical way. It may also be a chance to try something new and to either solidify or eliminate career options through finding out what you really do or don’t enjoy.  

Getting involved in work experience can really make you stand out with employers. It can provide you with a range of experiences and skills. This will be useful when you need to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for a job role in the future, just think of all the excellent examples you can draw upon when making applications or when preparing for interviews. It is a great way to build self confidence in a totally new professional environment.  The University of Nottingham provides placements specifically for postgraduate students (PPN) which are usually offered on a part time basis (less than 20 hour per week) for 2 – 3 months. All the PPN roles have a research focus to support organisations with an existing issue or initiative. Helen Liu (MSc in Banking and Finance, Nottingham University Business Schooltook part in this scheme and said “PPN is the best opportunity for students to gain work experience and industry insights. The competitive salary and short commute are a bonus. I really appreciated the chance created by the Graduate School, the strong support in job hunting from PG Careers team and guidance of my manager, who I was lucky enough to meet during the programme.” 

Volunteering can also help you to develop skills and gain experience and your careers service will be able to signpost you to volunteering opportunities through your university. 

5. Graduate and placement fairs and employer events 

Ensure you attend the range of employer events which every university offers to promote graduate jobs and increase your awareness of the graduate labour market. These tend to be in the autumn term (September to December) for roles starting in summer/autumn of the following year, so don’t leave it too long before you start to plan your next steps. These events can be a chance to talk to potential employers about their opportunities and their company culture and values. This is not a place to ask directly for a job. You will see companies you’ve already heard of and perhaps many you don’t already know about, these organisations could be your key to success. Whether you have heard of an organisation or not generally has no bearing on how successful an organisation is. So, do your research and look at the role details as well as the company information. If a company is less well known by students, this can equate to less competition in the graduate labour market and therefore increase your chances of success.  

6. More initiatives from Careers… 

Different careers services will offer a range of initiatives specifically to support international students. These can range from a set of workshops, mentoring, events or something a little bit differentMake sure you are connected with your careers serviceEnsure you are receiving any regular newsletters and following their Social Media accounts so that you don’t miss out. Often they will have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and some have WeChat accounts you can connect with.  

Here are some examples of other initiatives that our member universities have developed: 

One particular initiative at Coventry University included offering “Empower” workshops for non-UK students. They aimed to increase the employability, communication and career planning skills of those who attended. In addition they offered one-to-one mentoring with staff or alumni. Participants of the scheme commented “I couldn’t get my words organised to deliver my personal value to employers and as a result my confidence dropped. Through “Empower, I now understand that practise in delivering my speech is what I needed to improve.” Another graduate explained “Careers encouraged me not to give up”.  

At De Montfort University they offered a Placement Bootcamp earlier this year at an outdoors education centre which included archery, abseiling and yoga! One student who was involved said “I wish it could be repeated….participating in a range of activities helped develop my communication ….but most importantly we worked on a CV and covering letter with the aim of sending this out that same weekend…that drive propelled me to continue to apply for placements afterwards”.  

Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham recently collaborated to organise two events for international students from both institutions. One aimed to support students who wanted to stay in the UK to work, become an entrepreneur or to undertake further study. The second event aimed to support students who wanted to gain work in their home country or in another location. The events included guest speakers from a range of organisations who provide useful resources including GradLinkUK (who support students with their overseas job search) and Student Circus (who help students to filter out Tier 2 sponsored graduate roles in the UK). There was also a question and answer panel which included UK based international entrepreneurs, members of The Hive and The Ingenuity Lab (business start-up support from both Universities), alumni and current students who had undertaken UK based placements. The event included a visa and immigration information session from Paragon Law. Feedback from students who attended the events included “It was a really practical event, where I was able to find out about how other students made it! I also gained advice on visa and immigration requirements and “this event incentivised me to start to think about my own skills”. 

So, what can you do next? 

Please check out the careers and employability services at your own university. Their websites will have more information about the vast amount of support available to you. If you need to find out more you can email them, ask at their helpdesk or book in for a consultation 

Thanks to: 

Morgan Gore (Coventry University), Kathryn Doerr (Nottingham Trent University) and Sally Cleere (De Montfort University) for their contributions to this blog. 

By Teresa Corcoran, Postgraduate Careers Consultant, Nottingham University Business School 


Postgraduate Placements Nottingham: 

University of Nottingham Careers and Employability Service: 

Nottingham Trent University Careers Service: 

De Montfort University Careers 

Coventry University Careers and Employability Service: 

Midlands International Group: 

The Ingenuity Lab: 

The Hive: 


Student Circus: (this is a subscribed service – seek support from your university to see if your institution has access).  


Why should international students get work experience in the UK?

For many international students, getting UK work experience is important. It is likely to be valued by employers when you return home, and to give you a chance to develop skills to help you get the job you want. Working in the UK should help improve your English, understand how UK businesses work, and build personal networks that can be very valuable to your future career.

A small percentage of highly talented international students will be successful in getting sponsored to work in the UK after their course ends. These include students who you have already worked for the employer during their course – and shown that they are important enough for the employer to sponsor them. In other words, you can increase your chance of getting sponsored to work in the UK if you are able to get work experience with the employer before your course ends.

When can international students get work experience in UK?

Here is a summary of the different points at which you can work in the UK. It is essential for you to check your own rights to work in the UK, as shown in your passport and by talking to an international student adviser in your own university. In general, international students can work for up to 20 hours a week during term-time in a combination of paid or unpaid roles, and for unlimited hours during their vacations (postgraduate students may have some exemptions to this). For information on international student rights in the UK see–Advice/Working/Can-you-work

Working during your course

This might mean:

  • Doing a part-time job while studying. Your main reason for doing this may be to earn some extra money, but also to find opportunities to use and develop your skills as an international student. Look out for translation and marketing roles in your university, or local organisations promoting services to international students.


  • Completing a placement or internship as part of your course. For undergraduate students this might mean a 12 month industrial placement in Year 3 of a sandwich degree. For Masters students it might mean completing a placement or internship in Term 3, as part of your course. Your careers adviser should be able to help you find and apply for these opportunities, by introducing you to important vacancy sources and potential contacts. If your placement has been signed off by your university as part of your course, there should be no limit on the hours you can work under this route. It is essential to check with your university international student adviser to avoid any risk of breaking the terms of your student visa.


  • Doing voluntary work while studying. This might mean volunteering for a local charity or doing a short voluntary placement in a business, including start-up companies. Some universities will not advertise unpaid roles, and all students should negotiate payment for work after volunteering in a role for 140 hours. International students should also be aware that the combination of all types of work (including voluntary and part-time work) should not exceed the 20 hour rule unless it is placement carried out as part of your course.

After your course

International students may be able work on their student visa for a fixed period of time after their course ends, and until their visa expires. For postgraduate and undergraduate students whose course is 12 months or longer this period can be for up to four months after the official course end date. This experience must be in a temporary full or part-time role, and cannot involve setting up your own business. Now that you have completed the assessment for your course, this can be a good time to focus on getting UK work experience. It might mean completing an internship, doing voluntary work or a part-time job. If you find an internship or placement extending beyond the end of your student visa, your university may be prepared to apply to extend your student visa, provided the placement is part of your course. This route is open to some Masters students on 12 month visas finding 6 month internships in the UK. It is essential to talk to the international student adviser at your university about whether this option is available at your university.

Getting sponsored to work in the UK after your course

This is the preferred option for most international students and, as mentioned above, is possible for a minority of highly talented students. For information on being sponsored to work in the UK please see separate information at:–Advice/Working/Working-after-studies

What to do next and where to find more information

· Start by exploring the different ways you can get work experience in the UK as outlined above. Which would fit in best with your plans? What are the advantages and disadvantages for you personally? What can you offer UK employers as an international student?

· Check your university jobs portal for vacancies in part-time work, placements, internships and volunteering. Set up e-alerts so that you don’t miss out on new roles being advertised.

· Looks out for on-campus employer events including placement/internship, part-time job and voluntary work fairs, some targeted at international students.

· Visit your university jobshop to find out about part-time jobs and volunteering, and your careers service for help to explore your options and develop your job application skills (including how to create a CV for the UK market)

· If you have any doubts about your rights to work in the UK, contact the international student adviser at your university. You cannot risk breaking the terms of your student visa.

· Use key graduate websites for advice on getting work experience and vacancies, including: · · ·

This information is correct as of June 2019. Students should always seek up to date advice on their personal situation from a qualified immigration adviser at their university or a solicitor.

Iwan Griffiths – Aston University – June 2019

Also see the separate Midlands International Group blogs

· The Experts’ Advice – Finding a Job in the UK (31 July 2018)

· How to Use Internationalisation to Stand Out to UK Employers (31 July 2018) both at


You’ve studied and worked hard during your time in the UK and now, having graduated, it’s time to return home and begin your career journey.  What has your time in the UK given you that help you to stand out to potential employers? We asked for views from across the Midlands International Group.

Here’s what they had to say…….

Getting used to living somewhere where you may initially have known very few people and adjusting to the UK style of teaching and education may well have been difficult to get used to at first but in overcoming this challenge you have demonstrated resilience, an attribute that is invaluable in the work place, where you may often be faced with obstacles and difficulties.  Through completing your studies in another country you have proved how adaptable you are – to a very different environment and culture.  Adaptability is useful in any new job to enable you to settle in, adjust to the company culture and to thrive amidst organisational change and re-structures.

At Higher Education level in the UK you are expected to be able to work independently and to show initiative, actively looking for opportunities and taking control of your development.  The more you have done this, the more evidence you have to show an employer that you are ready for the workplace, where the confidence to work on your own when required, pro-activity and being resourceful will ensure you offer the maximum value as an employee.

Lindsay Southall | Careers Consultant, Birmingham City University


Returning international students can offer employers different perspectives on the use of key tools and systems that are used in the UK, especially where the student has industry experience to see real life application.  This may have been developed through key placements and internships, offered in partnership with key companies working with the university. Additionally they offer ways to demonstrate collaboration within course groups made of different nationalities, with diverse viewpoints and approaches to problem solving.

Chris Steventon, Careers Consultant, Coventry University


We say, you have it all! The experience of being an international student can really help you to stand out from the crowd and market yourself with a competitive edge. Not only do you have cultural capital (Insider Guides, 2018) with the awareness of a different culture, you can also communicate in a different language giving you the capacity to work in a global market. In addition to this you can demonstrate adaptability and resilience through your experiences of studying in a foreign country with the transition to a new culture highlighting your ability to adapt to new environments (Bellerbys College, 2017). Your international network through making friends and meeting employers will be another invaluable commodity when applying for that graduate job!

Tasneem Dakri, Career Development Coach, University of Northampton


Your time studying in the UK and experiencing a different culture will provide you with many of the skills and attributes that employers are looking for when you return home.

We know that employers will value your

  • Professional and theoretical knowledge
  • International outlook – including work experience
  • Creative thinking – the ability to think outside the box
  • Executive ability – thinking independently
  • “Survival” ability – the ability to work under pressure and adapt quickly

The most in demand soft skills from prospective employers include teamwork, communication, persuasion and influencing, interpersonal, problem solving, critical thinking and leadership. You will learn and develop all of these during your time in the UK. English proficiency can also be a key differentiator when applying for jobs in international firms and can directly influence your job hunting and salary benefits.

Ellen O’Brien, International Careers Consultant, University of Birmingham


Mark Blaber, Employability & Enterprise Manager, university of Northampton

UK CVs for International Students

You may be thinking of doing a part-time job whilst you study or a full time job in your vacation period.  Or you could be interested in doing an internship over the summer or planning to apply for graduate employment.  If so then it is likely that you will need a Curriculum Vitae.  A Curriculum Vitae or CV can be seen as a tool that you use to market yourself to providers of opportunities you may be interested in.  You may be more familiar with the term résumé and it is likely a commonly used method of application in your home country.  CVs and résumés across the world share many similarities and hopefully by the end of this article you will be clearer on some of the features of a UK CV and where to look for further resources and support.

Tailoring your UK CV:  An important first step for an effective CV is to identify exactly what are the employer requirements (or opportunity provider); the skills, experience, qualifications and personal attributes that you will need.  The potential of your CV to help you to progress to the next round of recruitment, usually an interview, will depend very much on how well you demonstrate that you meet these requirements.  Adapting your CV to make sure that it markets you as an individual who meets these requirements is commonly called “tailoring” a CV in the UK.

Spelling and grammar:  you should aim for 100% accuracy in your CV.  An employer will judge your written communication ability when reading your CV.  An employer may make conclusions on your attention to detail and also your motivation for the role by the amount of mistakes they note.

Contact details:  an employer will need to be able to contact you, usually via email.  But they also may want a telephone contact number.  If you expect to be contacted whilst you are still in the UK you do not usually need to add an international dialling codeEmployers can use your address to judge how easy it will be for you to get to work (your mobility), if you include an address that is outside of the UK then it would be a good idea to indicate in your covering letter your willingness to re-locate or that in term time you are based in the UK.  

Creative CVs: Unless you are applying for a role within the creative industries or one where your creative ability is important you should normally avoid using graphs, colours and pictures etc.

CV templates: Templates can restrict your ability to tailor a CV and common ones found online can be poor.  If you would like to view example graduate level CVs then in the first instance consider contacting your University Careers service.

Do not include:

A photo: it is common in some countries to include a photo on a résumé (CV) however this is not usually the case for a UK CV.  Be judged on your ability not what you look like.

Date of birth/age, gender (male/female), marital status or nationality: the UK’s Equality Act 2010 law means that usually a UK based employer cannot discriminate against you based upon these protected characteristics.  If you require a VISA to work then you could disclose this in your covering letter.

Sources of further information and support:

Prospects and Target Jobs are websites specifically for undergraduates and graduates and include information on CVs, including examples. You can access here and here.

Academic CVs (that you would use to apply for a role at a university) have a different format and content then the usual CV.  You can find out more about these differences, including examples by visiting here.

Your university careers service website will have lots of useful resources including example CVs. A great way of improving your CV and answers to any specific questions you have is to get some one-to-one advice from an expert.  The best place to start is with your university careers service.  They can also provide you with advice on UK CVs not covered in this article, for example how to produce a UK CV that is tailored for a specific industry or job sector.

By Ben Simkins, Careers Consultant, Keele University

Launching Your Global Career- Webinar Series 2019

The Midlands International Group have worked together to put together an updated series of webinars for you to participate in.  This offer a great opportunity to learn how to adapt your skills and approach, in order to help secure positions, both within the UK, globally and back in your home country.

Visit this link to see the full range of workshops and to access the link to register your place.


If you have any questions about taking part or concerns or problems about registering, please Email

Top tips for establishing your own business within the UK and for securing Tier 1 sponsorship?

What are your top tips for helping international students to establish their own business within the UK and to secure Tier 1 sponsorship? 

Establishing your own business is an exciting challenge that many students entertain.  This generation of graduates are considered more entrepreneurial.  We asked a number of staff in different universities who support international students, what their top tips are for students in establishing their business and working towards securing a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa. 

Teresa Corcoran from University of Nottingham had the following advice: 

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the support available from the business start-up team within your University. At the University of Nottingham this is called the Ingenuity Lab and they have a range of initiatives you can get involved in, from competitions, to workshops, events, mentoring and  access to “how to” guides. If you are seeking a Tier 1 entrepreneurship visa there are many stages you need to go through to establish your business idea. Seek help early on to allow yourself time to prepare for this.

Kathryn Doerr  from Nottingham Trent University considers the key actions and traits: 

    1. Research, research, research!  You must know the market, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business plan. 
    2. Be passionate! Tier 1 sponsorship isn’t a back-up option.  It requires a lot of dedication , hard work, a comprehensive business plan and a unique idea!  You need to be prepared to work long hours and persevere through set-backs on your way to success.  Having an idea you are really passionate about is a must. 
    3. Network! Building your professional network and approaching stakeholders effectively is key to a successful business.  Your university careers service will have lots of ways to develop these skills, so make sure you engage with them. 

Mark Blaber (Employability & Enterprise Manager) at Northampton University considers the advice he gives to his staff on supporting students: 

  1. Ensure the applicant has given himself/herself enough time

When you’re meeting with an applicant to talk through a potential Tier 1 business idea, ensure the individual has time to go through your internal application process. It takes a while to create a full, credible business plan. Make it clear the student needs to give himself/herself 3 months at least to work on a business plan that will be strong enough for a Tier 1 application. 

  1. Ensure the idea has something different about it

Remember, with Tier 1 business ideas, you need to be more selective. For example, a lifestyle business such as a website designer, or selling pet accessories online won’t do. Ensure the applicant has an idea that is different to what is already out there. It doesn’t have to the first of its kind. However, it does need to advance upon products and services already available. 

  1. Encourage the applicant to create a Business Model Canvas (BMC) before a business plan.A Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a rapid type of business plan. If you feel the student has a potentially strong business idea, but you’re not 100% convinced, ask the individual to create a BMC first. Why? Because it will help to quickly establish what the major problem being solved by the business is, who the customers(s) are and whether the business will generate revenue and profit. The BMC tool will give the student focus as to what the most important questions to ask are about whether the business is going to be viable. 
  2. Provide feedback on the business plan before submission

If you feel the student has a good business idea, and you have requested a full business plan, after you receive it, take time to critically review it and give feedback. Doing so will help the student identify the main gaps and make changes accordingly. 

  1. Have a support programme in place after a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa has been awarded

Getting a business plan approved is just the first part. If a graduate has made a successful application for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa through your institution, ensure you have a support package on offer for when the individual starts his/her business. Next comes the practicalities of starting a business, such as business registration, purchasing insurance, getting legal contracts in place, networking and sales and marketing. The graduate will need help with all these things. 

Sally Cleere from De Montfort University considers the activities that students can take up to improve their chances. 

Many international students are very entrepreneurial and are keen to establish a business in the UK, however if you’re on a Tier 4 visa this restricts you from engaging in business activities during your studies.  However there are lots of things you can do to develop your entrepreneurial and enterprise skills during your time at university: 

  1. Join a society such as Enactus ( which allows you to apply and develop your entrepreneurial skills on projects which use innovation and business principles to improve the world.
  2. Many Student Unions also have student-led societies focused on business or enterprise.  This is a great place to meet and network with like-minded students.
  3. Attend networking events organised by your university’s Enterprise Team to connect with local businesses, graduates and students – perhaps you have a creative idea, but you need someone with business skills to help you turn your idea into reality?  Collaborating with others can help you develop your ideas so that you can build a strong business plan if you decide to apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa.
  4. Get some work experience – whether it’s a part time job, a summer internship or a sandwich placement, work experience will help you to understand how businesses work in the UK.  Understanding business etiquette and workplace professionalism will be really valuable if you plan to set up your own business in the future.

Chris Steventon (Careers Consultant at Coventry University) 

At Coventry University our Enterprise Hub supports international students in developing their business ideas.  They collaborate with our Careers Service, International Office and Centre for Global Engagement to maximise student’s chances of developing the UK based work experience. It is important to develop understanding of UK work cultures and collaborate with UK and other overseas students through ‘Online International Learning’ projects, course projects, cultural societies and leisure activities.  The top tips to support this vision are: 

  1. Engage and explore work experience, volunteering and project opportunities as soon as possible when joining the university. Time is short to gain the in-depth understanding of local and national workplaces, needed in creating realistic business ideas. 
  2. Use the Enterprise Hub activities, Student Union Societies and workshops run by the Careers Service, International Office and Centre for Global Engagement to understand  the development of career and business plans, Tier 1 visa regulations, and to network with other entrepreneurial people. 
  3. Join professional industry bodies, attend conferences and learn how the industries connected to your business idea work.  Labour Market Intelligence is critical, enabling networking at every opportunity, in order reshape, adapt and gain feedback on your ideas and understand the likelihood of them succeeding. 

This blog was put together by Chris Steventon on behalf of the Midlands International Group. 

What are the top three recommended activities, outside of study, for newly arrived international students to engage in?

Arriving in a new country can be daunting, with the challenge of settling into a new culture, developing new study skills and approaches, as well as finding new activities and challenges to keep you happy and make you feel you belong.  Across the Midlands International Group, we asked for the top responses to what the best activities are for newly arrive international students to engage in

 Kathryn Doerr (Nottingham Trent University)

  • Joining a university society can be a really good way of meeting people, making friends outside of your course and developing skills (including English language skills).  It also looks good on your CV.

  • It’s also important you look into the support offered by your institution for international students; for example at NTU we have international support advisers and a ‘Global Lounge’ which hosts cultural events and promotes internationalisation.
  • Finally, it’s good to gain some kind of work experience while you study – either through volunteering or a part-time job.  It can really help when it comes to looking for placements/graduate roles.  Speak to your university’s Careers Service if you aren’t sure how to go about this.

Sally Cleere (De Montfort University)

From my experience, international students who get the most out of studying in the UK are those that really get involved in university life outside of their studies and expand their social groups.  Most universities offer a wide range of activities to get involved in so you will have plenty to choose from to find something that you enjoy.

  • Volunteering – Most universities and Student Unions will have volunteer programmes and signing up to be a volunteer can be a great way to find out about your local community, improve your language skills and gain valuable experience to add to your CV all whilst making a difference.

  • Students’ Union Societies – joining a student society is a great way to have fun and meet a wide range of people to expand your social circle. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a society dedicated to it!  It’s also an opportunity to develop your leadership skills by joining the organising committee.  At the start of term, head to the Freshers’ Fair to sign up.
  • Visit your Careers Service – Many international students want to get some UK work experience but understanding the UK application process can feel a bit daunting. Your careers service will be able to support you all the way through university – from getting started with how to write a UK CV and where to find part-time jobs, right through to your graduate job search.  They also run careers fairs where you can network with employers and workshops to develop your career management skills.

Christian Jameson-Warren (Loughborough University)

  • Get involved in an activity (e.g. voluntary work, fundraising) for a cause you are passionate about. Not only can it be rewarding, but doing something you care about will make it easier to speak to new people and improve your language and confidence skills easier. Plus it does look good on a CV.
  • Join a society. If there’s one directly to your job goal (e.g. politics, finance) it would add value as shows your passion and may provide opportunities to network and learn, but if not getting involved in something you’re interested in is still great. Feedback from recruiters is that students who do not get involved in activities outside of their studies don’t stand out, even if they have studied in a different countries. Joining a society is an easier way to both get into UK culture and get involved in activities you can put on your CV.
  • Any sort of work experience adds value, and getting involved in the activities above can help make it easier to achieve this.

Luciana Akemi Awasa (University College Birmingham)

  • Looking for work or voluntary experience will not only help you to develop relevant skills but it will also give you a great opportunity to talk to local people and develop your language skills. This will boost your confidence in speaking English and it will allow you to immerse yourself in a different culture.
  • Explore your options by talking to a Careers Advisor who can help you to reflect upon what you want and can do after your studies. The career services will also help you with your CV, cover letters and job applications in the UK. They might offer mock interviews which will make you feel more confident and prepared especially in the context of a different country and language.
  • By joining a Guild of Students’ society you can meet new people and share the experience of living and studying in a new country. It will also enable you to learn and understand new cultures. Do not miss the chance of taking part in events and activities that can help you to develop transferable skills (e.g., team-working, leadership, etc).

At Coventry University we would advise international students to quickly gain experience or get involved in projects where they can demonstrate how they are adapting to life, study and work cultures in the UK.   We have a UK Work Experience team set up to explore gaining paid experience and support local businesses in delivering collaborative projects.  Students can gain evidence and a reference for using their skills.

The Student Union is an important body at most universities.  Within Coventry Students Union we have a Sabbatical Officer for international students, exploring the support needed and helping students set up projects.  The Student Societies also help students explore other cultures through society activities and this is supported by the university Culturae Mundi project, where students run culture themed events.

Enterprise is another way in which these students can further develop valuable skills, which can then be later taken into UK or overseas businesses.  A number of our students go on to secure a visa to stay and develop their business within the UK.  Our Enterprise Hub supports students to develop their own ideas. They can also be active within the social enterprises set up through the university.

Chris Steventon (Careers Consultant- Coventry University) – Blog author.

The experts’ advice – home to get a job in your home country

Members of the Midlands International Group were asked what was the best advice they would give to international students looking for a job in their home country. These are their responses:

My advice would be research recruitment agencies and university alumni associations in your home country before you leave, make contact with them and stay in contact with them during your studies in the UK. We have a saying….the early bird catches the worm…

Michele Zala, Nottingham Trent University

Be prepared for reverse culture shock and that it will take anything from 3-12 months to find a suitable graduate position once home.  Maintain your network whilst you are studying and start putting out expressions of interest 3 months before you go home. Be realistic in your expectations of salary and status and think about how you will sell your extra- curricular UK experience to employers.

Ellen O’Brien, University of Birmingham

Reflect on the value you can bring to the role having studied in UK. Your time studying has not only helped you better understand the subject you studied, but has giving you a unique insight into life outside of your home country, so why not use that to your advantage? Maybe there are roles where your enhanced language skills and cultural awareness could be put to use. These could be organisations which have dealings with UK markets, or are international organisations who highly values those who have a wider perspective that only studying and living in another country could gain them. While many people do now study overseas, think about how your experience has helped you develop the skills that employers are looking for, and practice how you could communicate that message clearly when you make an application or during your interview.

James Heritage, Aston University

Utilise the resources in your Careers Service namely websites they’ve subscribed to on your behalf. Resources like: “Passport Careers” or “GoinGlobal”. In Addition “GradLink” have some useful resources for some places like: Bangladesh, Canada, Africa, India, Middle East, Asia etc

Teresa Corcoran, University of Nottingham

It is vital to develop and maintain links and relationships with companies and professional industry bodies back home.  Keep in touch and comment on the articles and blogs being created. Attending online events and basing a university project upon the key issues for the industry/ business within that country, can prove your genuine interest in their needs.

Chris Steventon, Coventry University

We can’t emphasise enough the value of gaining relevant work experience whilst studying. Not only in terms of building your networking opportunities to support your case for staying in the UK but also to show the added value of your UK qualification when you return to your home country. What kudos to be able to say you have real-world insight into UK business because of your work experience! Take advantage of paid placements and internships offered.

Merlinda Charley, University College Birmingham

  • Give some thought to what you already know about the recruitment process in your home country and how you can apply this
  • Use your network! Think about the industry you want to work in and any connections you may have that can help you

Mark Blaber, Northampton University

Use your home based network, friends, family, old employers this will allow you to remain updated on employment situations back home. Make sure to keep yourself relevant to those employers you are interested in,  follow companies on LinkedIn that you are interested in back at home – connect with recruiters for these companies ( but also make sure that you LinkedIn page is good enough to share with them) this will also allow you to keep in mind deadlines for applications etc.

Judy Turner, University of Lincoln

The experts’ advice – finding a job in the UK

The expert’s advice – finding a job in the UK

Members of the Midlands International Group were asked what was the best advice they would give to international students looking for a job in the UK. These  are their responses:

Be prepared to take up a range of positions and opportunities that quickly show your commitment to working and contributing within the UK.  Thinking over more diverse ways of demonstrating your interest in particular industry issues and employer needs can help employers see the research you have done.  This can work especially well if you can write and express succinctly how your previous experience, study specialisms and skills link to their needs.

Chris Steventon, Coventry University

Start early, be targeted in your approach, make the most of university recruitment fairs and UK recruitment agencies. Network, use any Mentors available at the University and contact Alumni from your course (try LinkedIN), especially if the Alumni is an international student who is now working in the UK.

Michele Zala, Nottingham Trent University

Understand the Tier 2 visa rules – UKCISA is a good website to help you to understand the requirements. Ensure you understand the Tier 4-Tier 2 Visa switching process and have the list or Tier 2 sponsors . Student Circus is a website designed to only advertise Tier 2 Sponsored roles (for Tier 4 students)

Make sure you speak to the Careers Service so that you can fully prepare for UK recruitment and selection activities, they’ll have resources to help with: Psychometric testing, job search, interview skills, assessment centres etc.

Teresa Corcoran, University of Nottingham

Make sure that you understand the graduate labour market in the UK – this means that you will have a better understanding of the job roles that you can apply for and the companies that may be able to sponsor you. Attend any session within your Careers & Employability Dept. that will give you an understanding of this. Attend careers fairs and speak with employers directly about opportunities.

Judy Turner, University of Lincoln

We can’t emphasise enough the value of gaining relevant work experience whilst studying. Not only in terms of building your networking opportunities to support your case for staying in the UK but also to show the added value of your UK qualification when you return to your home country. What kudos to be able to say you have real-world insight into UK business because of your work experience! Take advantage of paid placements and internships offered.

Merlinda Charley, University College Birmingham

Make the most of your time in the UK by developing employability skills.  Get work experience of any kind- apply for summer internships and part time work or join Societies.  Aim for fluency in English and educate yourself regarding the UK labour market and which employers recruit international students.  Identify key employers and seek an internship. Use the help offered by your Careers Service especially with preparation for assessment centres.

Ellen O’Brien, University of Birmingham

  • Have a good understanding of the UK VISA requirements
  • Understand the graduate recruitment process as well as the opportunities available to you and where to find them
  • Don’t forget to use your university careers service for information and advice
  • Attend as many networking opportunities such as careers fairs as possible.

Mark Blaber, Northampton University

While a degree is still a valuable asset to have, UK employers are overwhelmed by high class graduates applying for jobs each year. As an international student it is important to consider the additional value you can demonstrate through your application or CV, and be able to offer things that other people may not have. If you are someone who needs a sponsored visa, then you need to demonstrate that you are worth that investment, and that you can offer something that no one else can! So maybe think about doing some of these things:

Many students now see the benefit that undertaking part-time work or volunteering brings when applying for work after University, and a significant placement year available as part of some degrees offers a depth of experiences and on the job work skill development that cannot be gained anywhere else. Experienced workers are often preferred by employers, a degree along is not enough.

Clubs and societies are not just for fun, the network that you create during your studies may help you find work, or encourage you in a direction that you may not currently know about. Many University Societies offer students the chance to meet guest speakers and attend events that would allow you to meet people and make friendships that could influence your career – don’t miss out by not participating!

Soak yourself in the UK culture! It’s sometimes all too easy to stay in our comfort zones and stay within our own community groups. It’s a challenge to make ourselves broaden our friendships and engage with the wider community. Do think about seeking out opportunities to volunteer with local charities or companies, join community projects and whatever else you can find out about to constantly develop your language skills and the region you study in. Your international cultural awareness is a very strong selling point for many jobs!

James Heritage, Aston University