Making the decision to study abroad is brave and bold. Moving thousands of miles away from family, friends and familiar surroundings is a pretty big deal, so give yourself credit for getting this far. Studying abroad can be be a rich cultural experience but like everything else in life, you’ll only get out what you put in. Embrace any opportunities that come your way and get into the habit of saying ‘yes’. Do this and you’re well on your way to acquiring the flexible attitude and global mindset that employers value – in the UK and beyond.
That sounds great in theory, but what does it mean in practice..?
Step out of your comfort zone
You’ve taken an important step in making the decision to study overseas, so make the most of the experience by stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s perfectly natural to seek out students from the same background, but try to widen your social and cultural horizons. Even small steps can make a big difference: join a club or society, or get involved with Warwick Volunteers. Try to seek out extra-curricular activities that will allow you to mix with a diverse group of students.
This can be something of an uphill task if you’re a masters student as you don’t have time pack quite as much in. But if you approach the year with an open mind – and a ‘can do’ spirit you’ll be in a much better position to take advantage of opportunities, even on a limited scale.
Stepping outside of familiar territory will also help you practise (and improve) your English, a valuable asset wherever you end up working.
Get some (work) experience
If you are an undergraduate student then make the most of your time here to build a portfolio of work experience. Although current visa restrictions affect your chances of securing employment in the UK, we do know that some of you will be hoping to work in the UK, at least for a year or two. UK employers place a strong emphasis on work experience – academic achievement is no longer enough – so you will have to be determined and proactive in sourcing opportunities.
Ideally, employers are looking for applicants with relevant work experience. After all, this demonstrates motivation and understanding of the business/professional culture. But don’t despair if you don’t get the chance to complete an 8 week city internship, there are other ways to develop those much sought-after ’employability skills’:
- Consider part time work – register with Unitemps or offer your services as a language tutor (within the university or wider community).
- Arrange a period of work shadowing – this could lead to a more structured placement.
- Start volunteering – a great way to develop project management and communication skills.
- Find ‘on campus’ opportunities – get involved with One World Week, join the Warwick Welcome Service or become an SSLC rep.
- Talk to your (faculty) placement learning officer – s/he can help you identify suitable work placements and schemes.
Maintain your home networks
Networking is crucial to your job search, perhaps even more so in countries where personal recommendation can trump a good CV. Get fully established on LinkedIn (and join the relevant interest groups) but don’t neglect professional networking sites back home, like Tianji or ApnaCircle.
Although you may have aspirations to work in the UK or mainland Europe, it’s important to temper these aspirations with reality. Apply for graduate roles here but don’t invest all your energy (and hopes) on a successful outcome. Think of your job search in global, not local, terms.
Stay connected to news and developments back home as this may inform your career choices and help you plan your next steps.
Develop your ‘soft’ skills
UK graduate employers place a strong premium on soft skills (communication; team working; presentation) but I think there’s also been a shift in attitude amongst employers elsewhere. One of my colleagues from our Employer Connect team has just returned from a visit to China, and found that many employers actively seek graduates with a wide range of soft skills. And this is a tangible benefit of studying in a UK university: the skills and employability agenda has a pretty strong foothold. You’ll receive plenty of encouragement to develop both academic and professional skills.
There are plenty of opportunities for you to consolidate existing skills and develop new ones through your academic studies (project/group work), formal skills training (Warwick Skills Portfolio Award), work experience, volunteering or extra-curricular activities.
Acquiring soft skills is often the easy part; you also need to persuade future employers that you’re a rounded applicant. There is no room for false modesty in the applications business. Employers will not infer anything from your CV or application – it’s your job to tell them! Don’t worry if this feels entirely alien, you can talk to one of our careers consultants who will help you articulate your skills (and experience) in employer friendly terms (just a word of caution though: we are not a proofreading service, so please don’t ask!)
You need to put yourself in the driving seat and manage your career development from day one. It is much easier to take advantage of all the resources at your disposal while you are here. Social media and global networks have closed the information gap, but you won’t get such a rich experience online as you do from meeting recruiters, talking to advisers and attending events. If you are considering working in the UK, it is imperative that you get to grips with the graduate recruitment cycle and selection practices. And always factor in a contingency plan.
There is plenty of help and advice available – on and offline – so make sure you use it. Here’s where to start:
- Set your preferences in myAdvantage to customise your job feeds. If you have any problems, contact our help desk
- Look out for themed events relevant to international students. This term we’re running workshops covering ‘Working in China’ and ‘Working in Nigeria’ as well as a small International Fair on 22nd October.
- Come along to our careers fairs – there are four this term and one next summer.
- Read the international students moodle for information, hints and tips.
- Book an appointment with a careers consultant to talk through your career ideas and help you understand what’s practical and achievable.
And to all our international students joining us this week, happy orientation 2013!