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How international students can get that all-important UK work experience during their studies

Work experience is an essential feature on any five-star CV. However, as an international student it can often feel a little overwhelming to process it all. So, to save you from getting bogged down in the details, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions to aid you in that all-important job hunt.

What’s the difference between work experience and an internship?

Internships and work experience are often used synonymously, although they mean different things. Work experience traditionally means a short period spent at a company, usually two weeks or so, where you are able to get to know the ins and outs of your chosen organisation. Work shadowing is often included and individuals will help out with lower level roles and tasks. Also, it does not need to be paid work in order to classify as work experience.

Internships, however, tend to last much longer and can be anything from four weeks to a year. They tend to be much more structured and are often similar to graduate schemes in larger companies. Internships differ greatly depending on industry but tend to involve training.  

What are international students legally allowed to do?

Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated, so buckle up. It’s always best to contact the Home Office if you are unsure, but here are the basics:

  1. You can do a work placement as part of your course even if you are not permitted to work.
  2. Non-EU students should look for work as soon as they arrive, as their right to work is contingent on their student visa.
  3. UKCISA states that no international student should leave or take a break from their course before it is completed; this is because your right to work in the UK is dependent on your student visa.
  4. Non-EU students are able to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and any number of hours during vacations.
  5. According to UKCISA: “A work placement must not take up more than one third or one half of your course” depending on your course and Tier 4 sponsor. Find more details here.
  6. It’s best to factor in work experience when you apply for your visa, even if you don’t have a placement lined up (that’s why we’re here).

If you do choose to work, you must let the Home Office know. You can find full details on the Home Office’s website here.

How can it help international students?

The skills and experience you will pick up during your work experience are paramount for employers in the UK and at home. Some notable benefits include:

• Insight into how UK businesses are run as well as the wider culture and markets.

• Ability to build on soft skills such as teamwork and problem solving.

• The opportunity to build on your communication skills as well as your proficiency in the English language (written and verbal).

• The chance to enhance your practical and transferable skills in a non-academic environment.

• A chance to build transnational contacts, which could prove vital for your later career.

Moreover, work experience gives you an invaluable understanding of your chosen business and thus is a great way of finding out what career is right for you. It doesn’t even need to be UK-based, as any experience that is relevant to your chosen path will be highly prized by employers.

Work experience is great for employers, too. Whether it’s through reverse mentoring, wherein you teach older staff new skills – opening them up to new languages and markets or simply offering the office a more global perspective – there’s a reason international students are so in demand.

What companies should you look for?

• Large firms. These usually offer great internship programs, especially in accountancy and engineering.

• Companies that will value what skills you can bring to the table. The finance sector is one such industry that will snap up bilingual applicants.

• Employers you are already familiar with, through placements or work shadowing.

What to do once you’re there

Enthusiasm is always valued regardless of sector. So bring a notebook and knuckle down, ask lots of questions and make yourself an asset to the company. Who knows, there may even be a permanent job or potential sponsorship waiting for you at the end of it. We also have numerous blogs containing employment advice available on our website, so check it out.

Now it’s time to search for that perfect position. At Gradlink we have countless jobs and work placements in various sectors advertised on our website. Register with us today and see what opportunities you can discover.


By David Gee Published: November 16, 2016


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