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Impressing UK employers as an International Student

(click here to view the video transcript)

This video covers:

  • What employers in the UK really want from students 
  • The skills that you need, and how to develop them at Exeter
  • How to chose the right type of experience for you
  • Why you must write a different application each time

You can read more about the research mentioned in the video by Bright Network on the differences between what students think graduate employers look for and what employers actually want.

You have extra (and unique) skills as an international student

As an international student, you already have a unique set of skills. Make sure you highlight them in your applications. 

  • You are adventurers finding your place in new worlds.
  • You are risk takers, independent decision-makers, skilled communicators (often in more than one language) and cultural chameleons.
  • You bring knowledge and experience from your home countries as well as commercial insight into the ways businesses work at home.

You are amazing!

Sometimes students struggle to identify their unique skills or experiences. Your story is a mixture of your experiences from home and from the UK.

Questions to help you identify your unique skills

Spending some time reflecting on these questions can help. Try discussing the questions with your UK friends and course mates to really highlight your unique skills.

  • What surprised you most about moving to the UK?
  • What experiences have you had, both at home and in the UK, that have shaped your cultural and global perspectives?
  • What were you hoping to gain or develop by coming to the UK that you couldn’t get in your home country?
  • How was your education different to UK students?
  • How is your work experience different to UK students?
  • How do you use your international background to re-think a problem or see something in a new way?
  • How are you a different person now compared to before you started your studies in the UK?

These questions will help you to identify skills and experiences beyond the obvious. For example, you may realise that you have studied topics/subjects that other people have not, or can see problems from multiple perspectives and bring unique points to discussions.

Be clear about what you bring as an international student

Think carefully about what you bring as an international student for each role you apply to. Different employers may be interested in different things. For example, the ICAEW said there is a need for accountants who can work with clients and colleagues in different countries and time zones. If you were applying to a company who operated in this way, you could highlight this as a skill that you could bring.

Add impact to your skills

When you describe these unique skills, try to be as specific as possible, and link it to what the employer is looking for. So rather than saying:

‘As an international student, I have experience of working in different cultures’

Say this instead:

‘Your job advert highlights teamwork as a key requirement. As an international student I have worked in a busy UK office, and taken a leadership role in several group projects on my course. Both have given me experience of successfully leading teams of people from different cultures. From the research I have done into your company, it seems this skill is especially relevant to your increasing emphasis of developing the business outside the UK.’

Can I compare with UK students?

Often international students worry that they cannot compare with UK students when applying for jobs in the UK.

Start by identifying exactly what your concern is - is it your lack of experience in interviews or that your language skills will let you down? Or that your work experience in your home country won’t be valued by employers? Or that your qualifications won’t be recognised?


  • Get help from Career Zone to learn about and practice interviews.
  • Get help with your English language skills from English Language Development.
  • Book onto a "English for Interviews" or "English for Applications" workshop on Handshake
  • Explore what your international qualifications are equivalent to in the UK using UK ENIC.
  • Work out how to explain your prior work experience and skills in a way that is relevant for a UK audience. Ask Career Zone if you need help. 

Show your passion and enthusiasm

Employers love to see evidence of your passion and enthusiasm for a job. Many UK employers say this is the most important thing to them, even more impressive than high grades or industry experience. You can show your passion and enthusiasm by learning more about the company and the industry. Showing your passion and enthusiasm will help you stand out amongst other applicants- both from the UK and international. 


  • Read information about your chosen career area to find out more. You can do this through several ways, such as the sector profiles on Prospects and TargetJobs.
  • Contact the person in the job advert, to ask questions. You could ask “what is the culture of the organisation?” They will be impressed that you called! Make sure you prepare some questions to ask before you get in touch.
  • Talk to University of Exeter graduates who work in the industry or company that interests you using the LinkedIn alumni tool or our Ask an Alum or Career Mentor Scheme.

When you apply for jobs in the UK, you may be asked about qualifications such as:

  • GCSEs
  • A-levels
  • UCAS points
  • Bachelors degree

How do international qualifications compare?

These qualifications are part of the UK National Qualification Framework (NQF). You can find out how qualifications from your home country compare by contacting UK ENIC.

Some large graduate recruiters have guides to help international students work out whether they can apply. For example Deloitte provide International Academic Requirements.

I don't know if my qualifications will be accepted

If you're unsure whether your qualifications will be accepted, contact the employer. They should be able to tell you whether they would accept your qualifications and how to present them on their application form.

A helpful workshop

Career Zone and International Student Support deliver a workshop several times a year which runs through a range of ways to develop your skills while you study, as well as the visa regulations for each activity. 

You can book a place on "Maximising your time as an international student in the UK : Work experience, internships and other ways to shine in front of employers" via Handshake. 

Other resources

As an international student, you will need to consider your visa regulations when planning ways to develop your skills. There are rules about the amount of hours you can spend doing certain things, such as part-time work. There are things that you cannot do, such as self-employment. There are things that are not restricted, such as volunteering or joining societies.

Help from International Student Support

Be sure you understand what you can and can't do before you start working or volunteering. International Student Support and UKCISA provide lots of information that you'll find helpful. If you are not sure about how your visa affects your particular situation, contact the team directly for advice. 

A helpful workshop

Career Zone and International Student Support deliver a workshop several times a year which runs through a range of ways to develop your skills while you study, as well as the visa regulations for each activity. 

You can book a place on "Maximising your time as an international student in the UK : Work experience, internships and other ways to shine in front of employers" via Handshake.