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 university, one 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, year–long 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 School) took 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 different. Make sure you are connected with your careers service. Ensure 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.
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: https://ppn.nottingham.ac.uk/default.aspx
University of Nottingham Careers and Employability Service: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/careers/students/index.aspx
Nottingham Trent University Careers Service: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/life-at-ntu/life-outside-lectures/plan-your-future-employability-at-ntu?utm_campaign=employability&utm_medium=ShortURL&utm_source=ShortURL&utm_term=EMP
De Montfort University Careers Service: www.dmu.ac.uk/careers
Coventry University Careers and Employability Service: https://www.coventry.ac.uk/study-at-coventry/student-support/enhance-your-employability/careers-and-employability-services/
Midlands International Group: https://midlandsinternationalgroup.org.uk/
The Hive: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/the-hive
Student Circus: https://studentcircus.com/ (this is a subscribed service – seek support from your university to see if your institution has access).