finding jobs in the UK
A diverse economy. Numerous job opportunities. A cosmopolitan urban centre. There are many reasons to kickstart your career in the UK and these four job search strategies can help make your journey a little easier. Source: Daniel Leal/AFP

Given its diverse economy, numerous job opportunities, and cosmopolitan urban centres, staying in the UK to work is an attractive prospect for many graduates.

But that prospect also comes with its challenges, and it’s easy to feel dissuaded by visa restrictions and the pressures of navigating a foreign job market.

If you’re feeling a bit anxious about finding jobs in the UK as an international student, don’t worry. Follow these four tips to successfully navigate the graduate job market and kickstart your UK career.  

finding jobs in the UK

Step one: Know the plan. Source: Niklas Halle’n/AFP

Best strategies to help you in finding jobs in the UK

Know your visa status

Knowing whether you’re eligible to work in the UK is the essential first step when looking for work as an international graduate.

When you complete a university degree (or certain other courses) on a Tier 4 student visa, you can apply for a Graduate Visa.

Graduate visas allow you to stay in the UK for up to two years if you earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or three years if you earned a PhD.

During this time, you can work in most jobs, be self-employed, and travel abroad and return to the UK. Employers also won’t need to sponsor you to work for them, which makes it much easier for you to find a job and gain experience.

Remember, you can apply for a graduate visa before your graduation date, and it can take up to eight weeks to find out whether your application has been approved.

Therefore, it’s wise to start the process early, especially if you’re looking for work in a competitive field where employers might expect you to start work right away.

You can’t extend your graduate visa, so if you want to continue working in the UK after two years, you’ll have to switch to a different visa that allows you to do so (for example, a skilled worker visa or a health and care worker visa).

Getting sponsorship for other types of work visas can be difficult in the UK, so you should take advantage of the flexibility to work that the graduate visa affords and accumulate as much experience as you can before it expires.

Remaining in the UK long-term will be difficult if you’re unable to find employers who are willing to take on the extra effort of sponsoring you for a work visa.

Identify occupations and skill gaps

One of the easiest ways of finding willing employers is to target fields with a shortage of qualified workers.

The UK is currently experiencing a skilled labour shortage, and as a result, the UK government keeps an updated list of occupations that need bigger workforces. If you’re applying for a job title that appears on the list, it’ll be easier for employers to sponsor you.

Skill gaps are a similarly effective avenue toward finding employment in the UK.

A 2019 government report found that 82% of UK job adverts included digital skills in their requirements — and this was before the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the importance of tech-based skills to UK employers.

UK employers need digital skills, and therefore are likely to pay higher salaries and sponsor international hires for a work visa. Some of the highest-demand digital skills include those in cybersecurity, software development, and IT.

Identify skill gaps by digging into job portals and analysing job descriptions for common requirements. Make a list of technical skills that repeatedly crop up, and check these against descriptions for different job titles.

Your findings should help you sketch a picture of the current job market and what skills employers are desperate to get their hands on.

finding jobs in the UK

Highlighting what you did in uni is a great way to write a solid CV. Source: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP

Write a solid CV (and capitalise on your education)

Being eligible to work without sponsorship doesn’t mean employers will offer you a job the moment you graduate. You’ll need to convince them you’re a good investment of their resources.

A strong UK-style CV will guide employer attention toward your most noteworthy skills and qualifications and demonstrate the right personal traits for your desired workplace. Your CV should be one to two pages long and include:

  • your contact details
  • a brief personal profile
  • your recent work history
  • an education section
  • a key skills section
  • any additional information employers might want to see (languages, hobbies & interests, certifications)

Ideally, you should use the specific job you’re applying for as a guide when writing your CV (yes, that means writing a new CV for each job application). Read the job advert and identify skills and qualifications that the employer wants — and that you can provide.

If you haven’t got much formal work experience yet, capitalise on your qualifications by putting your education section ahead of your work history and including the kind of details that employers often like to see on a graduate CV:

  • your degree classification
  • dissertation or research projects (if related to the job)
  • relevant coursework
  • awards and projects
  • extracurricular or volunteer experience

Warm up your network

Even if you land a job the day your graduate visa is approved, don’t wait until it expires to see if you can get sponsorship for another work visa.

Leverage the two-to-three years of flexibility your graduation affords you by building a network of connections who’ll be willing to help you out — or even better — see you as a promising future hire.

If you’ve already got a graduate job, start with the people around you: your coworkers and managers.

By building better relationships and showing people you’re a personable, team-oriented individual, you’ll expose yourself to more opportunities in and outside your current workplace.

At the other end of the spectrum, use professional platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to reach more professionals in your field.

Don’t directly ask these connections for job opportunities (unless they’re openly hiring). Instead, focus on establishing rapport by engaging with their posts and fixing yourself in their mind as an informed industry professional, so when they become aware of the next opportunity, you’ll be the first to know.