This article was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 5 Jun 2022.
The number of people graduating from university in the UK is increasing and those gaining a first class degree is also at an all-time high. So, if you want to stand out in the job market you need a competitive edge. By complementing what you’ve learnt in the classroom with practical experience, either in your chosen field or more widely, you can show that you have the skills and attitude to make a great employee.
Why is work experience important for university graduates?
Work experience is important because it is a way to show potential employers that you’ve gained practical skills in the course you’re studying. It’s a good way to apply the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in your university course in a real-life work environment.
It can help develop skills like teamwork, communication and confidence, as well as understanding how your chosen industry works. And most importantly, it can also help you to figure out whether you really want to enter the profession and where you want to specialise.
What are the main ways of getting work experience?
- Internships: An internship is a valuable way to get hands-on experiences of the profession you want to enter. You’ll often shadow someone and contribute to projects. They can last a few weeks or months and can either be paid or unpaid.
- Volunteering: You can do voluntary work through your university and charities. It is a great way to experience what it is like to work in the UK and with Brits. Plus, it shows employers you are able to manage your time, are a team player and what you are like as a person. However, remember voluntary work does count towards the hours you are permitted to work as part of your student visa.
- Part-time jobs: Sometimes getting a part-time job that isn’t exactly in the field or industry you’re studying to work in can be a great way to gain transferable skills. For example, working in a call centre part-time while studying a media degree can help build confidence with talking to people over the phone. A part-time job is also a great way to make friends and network with people who may be helpful later in life.
- Sandwich degree: This is not a degree where you learn about sandwiches – rather, one that offers a compulsory placement year or internship in your chosen industry. For example, you might spend two years at university and then the third in a placement relevant to your degree and the last year back at university.
Can I be paid for work experience?
If you’re on a student visa, you can work a maximum of 20 paid or unpaid hours per week during term time. But if you’re in a work placement as part of a university course, those rules don’t apply and you can do both placements at the same time. If in doubt, check your university’s careers page.
How to find work experience opportunities
There are lots of different ways international students can find and apply for work experience opportunities in the UK.
You can attend networking events for your industry (lots of trade bodies offer great student membership discounts), write to companies you’re interested in working with or research opportunities offered within your university, such as working for the Students Union.
Marin Harrington, who is an international student from Central College in Iowa, United States, did just that. She told Great British Mag, “When I applied to study in London through my home university’s study abroad office, I also had the option to apply for an internship.
“With the help of my university I wrote a British CV that was forwarded to companies in the UK to help me secure an internship. Any interested employers who thought I might fit well with their company then reached out to set up an interview with me,” she added.
Can I be self-employed while I study?
You cannot earn money from being self-employed if you’re in the UK on a student visa. This means you will not be able to work as a freelancer, contractor or consultant in exchange for payment. Some of the work that’s not permitted includes:
- Online tutoring
- Delivery or courier driving (Uber, Deliveroo, DPD, MyHermes, etc)
- Social media influencing (advertising revenue for YouTube videos, sponsored Instagram posts, etc)
- Owning or dealing in shares, currencies and cryptocurrencies
- Income for owning property
- TV talent shows
- Writing and publishing articles
- Babysitting or dog walking
- Professional sport
- You can sell some items on eBay, Depop, etc but you cannot do regular business.
It’s worth noting though that you can still do things like publish articles, babysit or tutor if you don’t receive payment for it.