Why that particular qualification and why overseas
Employers are faced with ever-changing qualification changes, making it a job to keep on top of what study and training will make for the best employees within their company. For an non-UK student, choosing to study in the UK is a big decision, bringing with it potential of securing more challenging and rewarding employment, either within your country of study, within your home country, or in other exciting global locations. Oversees study brings both the challenge and reward of adapting to regional language variations, the cultural challenges, and collaborating and thriving within new study and project challenges. Some students may question:
‘Why isn’t every employer fighting to recruit me; a brave, experienced and gifted individual?’
Meaningful experience during study periods and being confident in previous experience
Employers very much value diverse experience and often non-UK students can underestimate the broad range of experiences that they can take up and later evidence, thus showing employers both competences and attitude to work. At Coventry University I have often explored the types of opportunities students are willing to consider. Whilst directly course related or job related experience is highly valuable, sometimes students need to develop appreciation for the wider range of voluntary, project based or short-term placements on offer. This can help in telling a real story, showing willingness to integrate and add value within their local or wider community, or work on social issues that may be relevant to a future companies a graduate wishes to work for, or perhaps run as an entrepreneur. Many of these projects can provide inspiration for future university projects, setting up of their own social Enterprises, or lead them to situations where they can network with those working within their preferred future industry. Starting with less vocationally focussed experiences can often be a pathway to showing employers the commitment needed, which helps them push for later relevant employment, or help employers to commit to providing visa sponsorship for longer term UK based employment.
The understanding of skills developed, in relation to the jobs market
Broader student experiences, coupled with detailed exploration of future careers, through professional networking and employer events, can make for a richer experience within the UK. In addition to exposure to new methods of teaching, project based assignments provide valuable ways to link study to future industries and careers. Meaningful projects provide invaluable ways for students to prove their skills meet the needs of employers. Many employers provide real life project ideas, which universities can use with students or develop into employer sponsored final projects. Course related internships and dissertations also provide ways of demonstrating professional use of new skills. This can really show crucial new learning, ideas and professional development, set against the needs of UK based and global employers.
Making the story work
I have found that some students can struggle to explain these projects to employers. This brings the need for the support of both of academics and university employability professionals to help demonstrate key points within a UK CV or overseas application. Articulating the value of this student experience can be one of the biggest challenges, adding to the pressure of ensuring employers fully appreciate your qualification, relevant modules or the reasoning for selection of a personal project. Researching key articles and journals to develop ideas and then taking up support offered can make a vital difference in clearly presenting and interpreting ideas within application forms, or when structuring an answer to a key interview question. (see other blog articles for ideas) Careers professionals and staff connected to University International Offices can make a real difference, especially if the student comes ready with existing ideas and has the flexibility to try new approaches and develop thinking. This can be the difference in bridging the gap between student expectations and employer uncertainty in considering overseas students.
Understanding the options for graduate roles and visa guidelines?
An additional challenge is understanding the employment market to which you are applying, something often home students also struggle with. Exploring what is a shortage occupation can add increased motivation and realism for opportunities both home and international students consider. This can enable a student or graduate to offer employers relevant projects, think of ways of presenting their dual country understanding and ability to understand diverse perspective, adding real value to the employer. Understanding the country region or production or technological expertise within global locations may add to their likelihood of succeeding in securing job opportunities. Professional industry bodies provide excellent ways to network, research and gain additional accreditation for skills, showing a good fit for the UK and also international jobs market. Many of these industry based organisations, with their international reach, so may provide ways to connect back to home nations, or regions in which a student is seeking work. Learning how to network appropriately and explore the wider range of opportunities outside of the curriculum is essential for those who are going to succeed.
With all this in mind, it is complex picture an international student is faced with. As global markets change and different countries reconsider their immigration policies, things may become more complicated. What is clear though, is that those students with the desire to develop their understanding and challenge the initial plans and ideas they had when arriving in the UK, greatly increase the success they have. This can lead to a thirst for understanding different recruitment methods, genuine employer needs, thus helping networking with those usually outside of their social sphere or industry. Those with the ability to make use of all opportunities and consistently adapt their approach in the face of difficulty will thrive from the experiences and opportunities presented by UK universities.
Chris Steventon (Careers Consultant)