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Working in United Kingdom - Advice & Tips

United Kingdom

Expatriate Affairs Consultant Nannette Ripmeester tells you below what it takes to get a job in one of Europe’s most international markets. The UK is the fourth largest economy in the world and the fact that they speak English (!) makes it an even more attractive market for foreign job seekers.

Job hunting in United Kingdom

Speculative applications are worth trying, but only successful if they are well researched in advance. You have to know why you want to work for that particular company in that particular branch. You need to know exactly what products they manufacture, where they are based, etc. Useful information in this respect can be found in the many directories and yearbooks that are available on the UK graduate market place (Prospects, GET) and the websites such as Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk) and TargetJobs (targetjobs.co.uk) .

It sounds like an open door, but be aware employers are looking for graduates who match their needs. So the most important thing you can do when applying for any job is to read the vacancy advert carefully! Not meeting the requirements for the job is in most cases the reason for failing to pass the selection round. 

A major tip when looking for work in the UK: Do not underestimate the importance of language skills. Having a conversation in a pub is something different from a business conversation during a staff meeting!

The Application Letter

In general a letter of application should create enough interest to make the potential employer want to look at your application in more detail and hopefully invite you for an interview. Your application letter, however, should not provide too much information about experience and qualifications; this will be provided in your CV.

In the UK it is common to send a typed application letter and a CV of one to two pages maximum. In the letter you should explain who you are, why you are applying to that organisation, what relevant skills, qualification and experience you have and why you are the right candidate for this particular job. But do not overestimate your qualities, since this could offend the British sense of modesty. Use instead a straightforward, respectful tone and illustrate, wherever possible, particular skills with examples. If you mention for instance your team working skills, make sure you illustrate this with an example where you had to use these skills.

If you do not know to whom you are addressing the covering letter start with ‘Dear sir/madam’ and finish with ‘Yours faithfully’. However, if you do know the name (which is of course a better starting point) it is customary to start with ‘Dear Mr/Ms X’ and close with ‘Yours sincerely’. Some companies may ask for a photograph.

Many companies use application forms (98% uses them for at least some vacancies). Employers will use your application form as a first-stage filter, in order to draw up a shortlist of interviewees. Extra-curricular activities are considered of great importance. Make a copy of your form, so you can refresh your memory before the interview.

The Curriculum Vitae

A British CV is short, maximum two pages, but the tendency is even to shorten the CV to one page, as busy employers may not make it to the second page of a CV, certainly not when there is nothing attention grabbing on the first page. That is also the reasoning behind the reverse-chronological order of CVs. You start with your personal details, but omit your place of birth, your marital status and religion. Since UK companies generally attach less importance to the candidate's marital status than in most Continental European countries, this saves space for a list of hobbies and sporting pursuits. It is customary to give the contacting details of two references at the end of your CV. Do not just mention ‘references available on request’, but do provide at least people’s name and job title, but preferably their entire contact details. You can also ask a professor of your university to be a reference for you, but you have to ensure that these people know you are putting them in your CV as referee, because most British employers will contact the given references.

The Application Procedure

UK companies make extensive use of assessment centres. The tendency among some companies is to use aptitude tests at the beginning of the selection process before interviews take place. During an assessment centre - which can last up to three days - intelligence, social and communicative skills and management qualities are assessed. (Please note, that teams do not need leaders only!)

At the interview, a panel of three or more selectors often confronts a candidate. Rather than attempting to discern your personality, they will try to assess your technical competencies. If you have made it towards the interview stage, you have passed the first hurdles. The employer is seriously interested in you and during the interview they want to find out more about your qualifications, skills and personality.

Making career decisions can be challenging and sometimes graduates struggle to know where to begin. Looking at vacancies is a common starting point but many vacancies are never advertised, so looking at job adverts will only ever give you a biased and partial picture of the graduate labour market in the UK. If you are unsure which career will suit you, you would be better to spend some time thinking about yourself. Become better acquainted with yourself; be aware of your skills, interests and what motivates you. Think about the skills you wish to use at work, your feelings about further study, which working environments appeal to you, the sort of lifestyle you want and so on.

On-line applications are nowadays common. In fact, a lot of job agencies, but also employers who publish their vacancies on-line provide the opportunity to complete the job application form on-line.

If we got you started on the UK – get the guide ''Looking for work in United Kingdom'' to help you secure that job.

About the author

Looking for work in United KingdomNannette Ripmeester is the expatriate affairs consultant to several multinational companies, which she advises regarding the strategy of international assignments and the practical implementation around expat issues.  Ripmeester started her international career at the European Commission, has worked on a project basis in 17 countries and is founder and Managing Director of Expertise in Labour Mobility (www.labourmobility.com).
She is co-author of a series of country-specific guides, the guide "Looking for work in United Kingdom", (ISBN-13: 978-90-5896-059-7) is part of that series of guides. To order this guide or other guides that will help you to secure the international job you want, visit our website: www.labourmobility.com.  As a reader of Eurograduate we offer you a 10% discount if you are your copy here.