Bianca Praino, Founder and Director of Praino Careers, a career consultancy providing career support to foreign nationals with their UK job search, discusses the best way for international law students to get themselves ready to enter the UK workplace.
It is fair to say that many law students face challenges with securing a graduate job. However, it is also fair to say that international law students face a whole additional set of challenges.
Learning how to plan a career in a new social, political and cultural context, navigate job searches in an unfamiliar labour market, establish a network, deal with cross-cultural communication differences, understand and adapt to the Western (individualistic) perspective of careers, and learn how to use English for 'employability' are some of the unique challenges faced by international students.
All of this is in addition to the need to interpret and understand the highly complex UK immigration system, which, let’s face it, more often than not, even professionals struggle with.
The post-study work visa, the Graduate Route, will see eligible international students graduating from summer 2021 to work in the UK for up to two years without sponsorship. However, the way international students approach their career decision making based on their cultural background will still persist. This is all too often overlooked, yet has the most impact on their ability to successfully secure a graduate job in the UK.
Career decision making, mindset, perspective and attitude are socially and culturally determined. It is also pertinent to acknowledge that the international student community is highly diverse, consisting of many nationalities, ethnic and religious backgrounds, and the way a student from Nigeria views their career opportunities is very different to a student from China, for example.
My experience with supporting hundreds of international students with their UK career planning has taught me that most - if not all - of the challenges they face with securing graduate roles are avoidable.
If you are an international student and want to work in the UK after you graduate, read on for some top tips to help you get started with navigating your career in a UK context.
Quality applications = quality job offers
The main barrier for international students to secure interviews is not lack of experience, skills or knowledge, but the approach and communication style with applications.
Your applications are your first opportunity to make an impression. It takes employers and recruiters a matter of seconds (less than 10) to decide whether they want to read your CV. Even if you meet all the criteria required for the post, if your CV isn’t in a UK layout or there are spelling and grammar errors, it will instantly be rejected.
Make sure you are aware of the sections required in a UK CV, so you don’t create confusion for the reader. They won’t understand why you have two separate sections titled WORK EXPERIENCE and PROJECTS, or a declaration at the end (common features of Indian resumes, for example).
Your use of English and written communication also has a huge impact on the tone of of your CV and cover letters. This is a unique barrier for international students and impacts on your chances of securing interviews. Always get your CVs proofread by someone who is familiar with UK recruitment practices or seek professional advice with this, as it is a slightly more complex matter arising from cross cultural differences.
Key words and phrases to include in applications for legal jobs are: commercial awareness; teamwork; attention to detail; communication; problem solving; critical thinking; research and analysis; and organisation.
Strategise your job search
If your current job search strategy isn’t working, try something else.
I often come across internationals who tell me they have applied for hundreds of jobs, yet they can’t recall a single one when I ask. This quantity over quality approach doesn’t work and it can become extremely overwhelming and stressful.
Even if you do end up getting a job with this strategy, it may not even be one that is a good fit. Try not to use too many platforms and websites; stick to two or three. If your CV is up to standard, then upload it on the websites and send it directly to recruiters or employers for speculative applications.
Again, make sure your approach here is culturally appropriate. No Maam, Sirs or Madam required. Sign up to company newsletters, register for webinars (Eventbrite is good for this), attend information sessions, and follow recruiters and organisations on LinkedIn to make sure you are up to date with opportunities.
Try these job search platforms specifically for international students:
- Student Circus: A job search portal for international students in the UK on Tier-4 visas, listing jobs and internships from companies with Skilled Worker visa sponsorship licences. If your university isn’t a partner of the site, you can register for a 30-day free trial with your student email.
- UKHired.com: A new job search platform for foreign nationals seeking jobs in the UK, set up by the international graduate Anastasia Agafonova. The platform has a unique visa-points-based calculator aligned with the UK government's new points-based system.
Other useful websites for law students are:
- Roll on Friday
- Law Careers.net
- The Law Society of Scotland
- Legal Futures
- Prospects.ac.uk is also a great website to research career options with a law degree.
Network your way to UK success
As an international student, searching for a job in the UK without an established network can be challenging, especially if you are from a culture where nepotism is key to finding jobs.
There is a lot of truth in 'it’s who you know, not what you know". I cannot stress enough here how valuable LinkedIn is for establishing and growing your network. Simply having a profile isn’t enough though; you need to be proactive and consistent in order to get noticed by employers and recruiters. Don’t wait until you graduate to do this, start building momentum now!
- Follow every #hashtag with relevant keywords aligned with your career goal for and include #hashtags in your posts! This is guaranteed to increase your exposure and help grow your network.
- Have a title that will get you picked up in the relevant searches.
- Engage and interact with people by commenting on posts, putting up statuses, sharing articles, or even writing your own articles.
If you want to work in the UK after you graduate, it IS possible, even during these strange and testing times. You have to be proactive and persevere, maintain a growth mindset and focus on the things you can control - don’t waste energy dwelling on the things you can’t. Use your energy wisely and you will quickly see results.
‘To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities’ Bruce Lee.