For most international students, a foreign degree isn’t just about the world-class education or the horizon-broadening experiences of being exposed to a variety of different cultures. It’s also a way to gain a competitive edge in their industry on a global scale.
This is especially true for international students with prior work experience in their home countries and corporations and businesses that are looking to attract a more diverse and international workforce.
A critical part of having a competitive edge lies in the practical application of your education – evidence that grounds your learning in the practicalities of industry work that gives recruiters in your adopted country the opportunity to benefit from specialised, high-skilled labour.
That is why you’ll generally find that countries with strong international student presences will also have robust post-study work visa options such as the UK and Australia, a relationship beneficial to both.
Plans for post-study work, therefore, is a great way to make the most of your time as an international student and needs careful and extensive planning. While some steps may vary from country to country (my ongoing experience in Australia, for instance, may not completely be identical to yours in, for example, the UK), the overall strategy is quite similar. Let’s get to it!
Contact your university’s graduate recruitment team
The first thing you can do to kick-start your post-study plans is to contact your university’s graduation recruitment department and make the most of the services they offer.
And although many fellow international students may advise you that this is a waste of time and irrelevant – I strongly disagree.
Granted, there services cannot guarantee you employment or a visa at the end of your studies, they do provide essential information about how that country’s job market functions, what the work culture is like, how you are expected to conduct yourself and how best to present yourself on paper and in-person.
Without that basic information to help you make the right first impression, you’ll find your post-study career screeching to an unplanned halt immediately.
Leverage the power of every platform
Barring certain industries, most recruitment primarily happens online. We all have an updated LinkedIn profile, right? Right?
What some international students may not know when they move to another country is to consider the presence of online recruitment platforms that play a bigger role in the local job market in their home countries.
And if your main goal is to start your career, I’d even suggest giving those platforms a higher priority than LinkedIn, right up there with the recruitment portal setup by your university.
Learn the ins and outs of these platforms early, from putting up the right picture to building a profile that makes the most of the platform’s search algorithms.
This will be a tedious exercise the first couple of times, but then you’ll have built a profile that you can pretty much copy and paste to newer career networking platforms. Facebook now has a jobs portal, as does Google. Multinationals have their own private recruitment portals.
What I’m trying to say is, make sure you put yourself out there. You want to maximise your exposure to the right kind of employers and there is only one way to do it: be on every platform, optimised to their unique algorithms.
Learn to build targeted resumes
The biggest change between the resume you used for casual uni jobs during your studies and the one you’ll use to apply for graduate roles is that you won’t have ‘the one’ resume anymore.
Instead, you must learn to build and rebuild your resume for every role you apply to, making sure the right skills are highlighted, relevant experience (if any) gets the necessary spotlight and you’re conforming to the industry norms of your specific field. You can even consider creative ways to stand out, such as a video CV.
Why is this important? As an example, a digital marketer and an SEO specialist will have some overlapping skills and tasks, but using the same resume for both may fail to bring out the best abilities.
So, if this you then you may want to highlight your marketing and content strategy skills for the digital marketing role and your technical SEO and analytics skills for the latter –critical distinctions you’d miss out on if you used the same generic resume.
To circle back, your university’s grad or careers services will be invaluable here. They will most likely feature training workshops and interview preparation services to help you build targeted resumes relevant to each unique job.
They’ll also help you with best practices and the common mistakes to avoid, and how to identify and leverage the soft skills gained from your work in other industries or odd jobs – invaluable. It still shocks me that people willingly refuse to utilise these (free!) services.
Embrace industry-specific upskilling
The job market is fierce and competitive, everyone is vying to stand out in an ocean of other highly talented candidates, so you’ll need to put in a lot of extra effort to impress.
In this, I’m motivated by the words of American radio personality Ira Glass. His advice, aimed mainly at those who do creative work but applicable to any work, discusses the importance of doing a huge volume of work to elevate your skill to the level of your ambition – that is something which has stuck with me for years and drives me to succeed.
How does this help you? It’s simple (but oh-so-hard). You need to scout the industries that interest you and see how they do work and get the job done, and just do it yourself.
Throughout your studies, you’ll be doing a lot of project work, so make sure you choose projects that are relevant to your favoured industries and will give you industry-specific skills and a body of work you can add to your portfolio to demonstrate those skills.
Additional upskilling in your free time can be a major boost as well. List down what secondary skills professionals in your industry of choice frequently possess and get cracking on them!
For instance, as a content writer, I’ve found a lot of my peers spend time learning HTML/CSS programming languages to help them better present their work on blogs or websites.
A few weeks of daily practice and I now had a secondary skill that instantly doubled employer interest in my skillset.
This is a time-intensive step so make sure you do your research before jumping into the learning, since you don’t want to waste your time and effort in doing something not relevant in your industry or career ambitions!
Look beyond the country you’re in
As the job market keeps getting more competitive with each passing day, you’ll might find yourself competing in a market that’s oversaturated with talent.
If you find yourself in that position, there may be hard decisions to make. Do you soldier on, hope for the best and put an incredibly burden on yours and your family’s finances? Do you pursue a side job while waiting for the job market to improve but potentially put your career on hold?
I propose a third, equally tough option: look beyond borders. The degree you’ve completed may be in a highly contested industry in the country you’ve studied in, but other countries may have a shortage of such professionals.
This is another time-consuming process and requires a lot of research and would require you to move countries (again) but this is a move that could prove beneficial in the long run.
You can even consider returning to your home country – there is a high chance that your highly contested degree might be cutting-edge back home, giving you major competitive edge in the market there, and the possibility to become an industry leader.
Again, this is not an easy call to make. It requires planning, discussion and preparation, and overriding the ‘glamourous’ lure of working and living abroad that brought many of us there in the first place.
Consider this, though. Being the first to do something has inherent challenges and difficulties, but the success and legacy that comes at the end of that tough road is an amazing opportunity.
Whether you choose to work in the same country, return home, or choose another destination, planning your post-study work career is a decision that may end up defining the rest of your professional career. Give this decision the respect it deserves: plan hard, prepare harder and aim high!
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