Five things international students can do outside their degree to boost employability

Careers experts share five things you can do beyond your degree at university to make you more employable

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Joy Hunter

Student content curator
November 19 2021
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Many international students often believe that simply receiving a degree from a well-known university is enough to get them a job. However, while the academic education you receive is very important, there are things you can do outside your degree study to help you boost your employability skills.

Joining clubs and societies, expanding your network and doing some part-time work can really help to set you apart from other graduates and show your employer that you have a range of skills and qualities to offer.

Below, three graduate employability experts and an international student share their five top careers tips for international students.

Get a part time job

Many students will take on a part-time job to support themselves financially during their studies without realising how valued this will be by future employers.

“Many students will focus on landing their dream internship, but these are very competitive and only a few students will get them. There are many other ways to get the skills and experiences future employers are looking for,” says Andy Coxall, chief executive of Common Purpose Student Experiences.

You might not think that your part-time work is of interest to your employer if it’s not directly related to your career, but the skills you’ll learn will be highly transferable.

Employers will want to know that you’re a reliable employee with strong communication skills and teamwork, all which can be learned in a part-time service or retail job.

“Part-time work is extremely important,” says Louise Nicol, founder of the Asia Careers Group. “I wouldn’t have got my graduate position if I hadn’t waitressed – I learned just as valuable career lessons through waitressing as I did in my three years at university.”

Practise your language skills whenever you can

It’s one thing to have a good grasp of academic English, but many employers will also want to see how good your conversational English language skills are.

“One thing that can let international students down during the job-hunting process is an understanding of the quirks of the English language,” says Richard Carruthers, deputy director of the careers service at Imperial College London.

Students can often forget about learning the nuances of the language that are picked up through joining societies and socialising with students from all countries. This is really valued by employers.

“Things like understanding the difference between signing letters with either ‘yours faithfully’ or ‘yours sincerely’ among many other things, can really help to set international students apart,” says Richard.

Watching English-language films or listening to podcasts, spending time talking to as many fellow students as possible and asking questions if you are unsure of the meaning of certain words can really help you to immerse yourself in the language.

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Embrace the international environment

“Employers want graduates who have a global mindset, can work across cultures, adapt to new environments and work in diverse teams,” says Andy.

“You’re giving yourself a great start with this by studying internationally, but you’ll only develop that mindset if you make the most of the opportunities it will offer you,” he adds.

“Try to immerse yourself in the multicultural environment of your university,” advises Prachi Dang, who moved from her home in India to the UK to pursue a master’s in strategic communication at King’s College London. After graduating in 2020, she now works as a junior account executive at Avian WE, an Indian communications and PR agency.

When you first arrive in a new country as an international student, it’s natural to gravitate towards other students from your home country, but pushing yourself to expand your social circle can pay off in all sorts of ways.

Challenging yourself to make friends beyond other international students “gives you a lens to see things from different perspectives and pushes you out of your comfort zone, which can be great experience when it comes to working as a team on challenging projects later in your career”, she says.

Become an active member of a society or club

“Look at the skills and capabilities needed for your dream graduate job and then work backwards to intentionally find the extracurricular experiences at university that will enable you to develop and practise them,” advises Andy.

“Of course, getting a good grade is important, but all the project-based teamwork you do in societies is often the most relevant to your future career,” he adds.

As you go through university, try keeping a note of all the extracurricular activities and responsibilities you take on and reflecting on what you learned from them, so you can easily communicate your experience to employers later down the line.

Andy also adds that showing your commitment to a society over time can be just as valuable as a shorter work experience placement in a field more closely related to your career aspirations.

“Taking on a leadership role in a society or volunteering regularly for a local charity every week will give you much better experience and opportunities to develop key employability skills than a short placement over the summer,” says Andy.

Develop the right mindset

You may have lots of impressive experience and qualifications under your belt, but many careers experts will tell you that the most valued thing employers will be looking for is the right mindset.

“I’ve met students on huge scholarships with all sorts of internships and qualifications, but it’s the students with an exemplary attitude who stand out,” says Louise.

“The most impressive students are ones you could imagine having an easy conversation with a CEO or chairman, and then emptying the bins if you asked,” she adds. “Employers want graduates who will get stuck in at every level.”

It’s also important that students don’t come into the job search with unrealistic aspirations. “However well you’ve done at university, you’re not going to walk into a corner office and become the next CEO on your first day of a graduate position,” she says. “Graduates need to be open to earning their stripes.”

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