How to use your internationalisation to stand out to UK employers

The common denominator when applying for graduate-level jobs is that everyone has a degree, so being able to articulate what makes you stand out from other candidates will give you a large advantage.

The advice and prompts below will help you reflect on and articulate the advantages of being an international student to employers.

1) Check sponsorship if you are a Non-EEA student

This also includes making sure that the companies you want to apply to can sponsor visas. If you are applying to a smaller company that has never sponsored an international student before on a Tier 2 visa, you may consider speaking to them about doing a few months work experience after you graduate using the Tier 5 scheme. However, to later apply for a Tier 2 visa you would have to leave the country and do this from home.

2) Identify the skills you have developed

You can use the questions below as prompts if you are unsure what unique skills or experience you can offer as an international student.

  • Why did you decide to study in the UK?
  • How was your education system and prior experience different to UK students?
  • What were you hoping to gain or develop out of this experience that couldn’t be achieved by studying in your home country?
  • How are you a different person now compared to how you were before you started your studies in the UK? How might you communicate this to someone new?
  • What surprised you most about moving to the UK?
  • How might you share your knowledge of both your home country and the UK through your own lived experience with an interviewer?
  • What are some of the experiences that you’ve had, both at home and in the UK, that have shaped your cultural and global perspectives?
  • Looking at the skills you’ve developed, how and when have you used these?
  • How might you use your international background to re-imagine a problem or see something in a new way?
  • How has being an international student further developed skills you already have?

Answering these questions will help you start to identify skills, attributes and experiences beyond the obvious. For example, you may realise that not only are your English skills improved, but you are more confident and assertive using them in group settings to resolve problems and achieve objectives; or you may have adapted to work proficiency in a different culture or previously studied topics/subjects that other people have not.

3) Identify any concerns/worries you have that might hold you back

You may still feel there are things as an international student that will hold you back in the recruitment process, for example comparing your English skills against home students or that your qualifications and experience from your home country won’t be valued by employers.  It’s important to address these thoughts as they could be holding you back from applying for jobs with confidence, which will be covered in the next few steps.

4) Try understand an employer’s perspective

The first thing here is to consider what the employer you are currently applying to will be looking for in a candidate. This is a simple but effective way of improving your applications. The most common ways to do this is are to look at the job description and person specification on a job advert and researching the company to find out what they are currently doing and (if possible) their future plans and aspirations.

Some questions you could consider include:

  • What would the employer be looking for in my CV?
  • What kinds of qualifications/experience would most impress?
  • If I was recruiting for this post and had a large pile of CVs, what would make one stand out?
  • What is it about my last job(s) that the employer would find most interesting?
  • What is it about the answers to questions in section 2 (“Identify the skills you have developed”) that the employer would find most interesting? Why?

To really stand out (and if you have time), you could also do some extra work to find out what would interest the employer beyond what’s on the job description, for example, understanding what additional skills would add value. Ways you can find this information out include:

  • Informational interviewing with people within the company/industry using  linkedin.com/alumni to ask questions about challenges and future trends
  • Read Labour Market Information to find out what challenges and skill shortages there are in your industry. You can do this through several ways, including read sector profiles on Prospects and TargetJobs. You can also read industry publications and websites.

Once you have done this, you can start to think about how your skills and experience as an international student will help the employer now and in the near future. For example, the ICAEW identified the need for accountants who are skilled working with clients and colleagues from different departments in potentially different countries and time zones. In addition, according to a survey by the Intelligence Unit at The Economist, 90% of executives in 68 countries say cross-cultural management is their biggest challenge.

The second part of seeing things from an employer’s perspective is addressing the concerns you identified in section 3 (“Identify any concerns/worries you have that might hold you back”). Thinking about each concern from the employer’s perspective, how much is this an issue? Why might this be or not be? Our in other words, what might an employer’s worry be or would they not have an worries about it?

5) Impact

The next  step is to think about  putting it all together in a way that will impress the employer. When describing the value you would bring as an international student, try to be as specific as possible to the employer’s needs.

For example, it’s easy to say ‘as an international student, I have experience of working in different cultures’ but this sentence on it’s own might be easily missed. A better way is to explicitly link to what the employer is looking for:

Your job advert highlights teamwork as a key requirement. As can be seen from my attached CV I have demonstrated this skill in my previous job, and through recent group projects as an international student have gained further experience successfully leading teams of people from different cultures. From researching your company, I believe this skill is especially relevant to your increasing emphasis of developing the business outside the UK. 

Now think about your concerns – having looked at these from an employers’ perspective, do you still feel they are issues? If so, how could you address these in a way that would impress them? As an example, if you worried your applications will be rejected because you have no work experience in the UK and are applying for a job that requires a lot of customer service, you might think:

  1. I have excellent customer service experience in my home country, but this was in a different language and although I’m confident in my skills an employer still might be unsure that I can translate these into working with UK customers.
  2. I can write on my cover letter that I have excellent customer service experience and then emphasise that I am skilled at using my English skills in a professional environment by highlighting all the relevant activities I’ve completed, such as leading group discussions and projects, getting involved in extra-curricular activities, customer facing volunteering or part-time work, and so on. By doing these things I can also highlight that am I a motivated, self-reliant individual who takes ownership of my own development rather than someone who might need a lot of help getting used to working in a new culture.

In other words, do not focus on any negatives but instead think about turning your concern into a positive. This can be done by focusing on all the things you have done to work on the concern, as seen in the example above. Employers are not expecting you to be perfect and often will be impressed if you show the right attitude and attributes to do well.

6) Bridge the gap

You may still find that there is a gap in your skills or experience which is holding you back from getting to the job you want. After all, employers want to employ the best candidate. In these instances, it’s essential to make a plan to ‘bridge the gap’. This can include doing professional courses (such as Lynda.com) or getting work experience. If you decide to gain temporary work experience, set relevant goals of what you want to achieve during your time there and review these regularly, for example:

  • Use your language skills in a professional setting as you’ve never done this before
  • Share good practise from the sector in your home country to help your department develop new ideas, so you can understand the value your previous international employment can bring companies in the UK
  • Learn a new computer system that is used in the UK that you have never used before
  • Meet the managers from every other department so you can better understand how organisations in the sector work together, and thereby demonstrate to future employers you understand the different ways of working and where you can add value to them

There are lots of different goals you can set, and even if some are very small (for example, “speak to 5 customers”) they can help you move nearer to your career goals.

7) Get help from your Careers Service

Finally, remember that you are not on your own. You can contact your university’s career service for help with making your applications stand out to UK employers.

Christian Jameson-Warren, Loughborough University