Working while studying at Surrey

I’ve been wanting to write a post about job applications and what working as an international student entails but I keep putting it off because so far my job search hasn’t been very successful and I don’t want my experiences to make people think it’s impossible to find a job, but on the other hand I wish something had prepared me for what searching for jobs in the UK is like so I decided to write about my experiences up to now and perhaps write a more positive post when I actually manage to find a job.

The first thing you need to be aware of before you start looking for jobs are the restrictions that you have to follow if you want to work and you have a Tier 4 visa. The things you’re not allowed to do are as follows:

  • be self-employed
  • engage in business activity
  • take a permanent full-time job
  • be employed as a professional sportsperson including as a sports coach
  • be employed as an entertainer
  • work as a doctor or dentist in training, unless you are on the foundation programme.

An important thing to be aware of is the UK’s definition of “self employment”. One of the first jobs I looked into was tutoring through agencies but when I was about to sign the contract I was told I would be working as self employed. I was initially confused because I would be working through a company, surely that meant I was an employee? But I was wrong to assume that. To be considered an employee in most cases tax has to be deducted automatically from your wages. Things like freelancing, tutoring or selling goods or services are generally considered self employment, even if you’re doing it through an agency.

The next thing to do after making sure the kind of work you want to do is permitted is to apply for an NI number. NI numbers are similar to social security numbers in the US and as far as I know they’re what companies use to pay tax on your wages and what UK citizens use to file their own tax returns if they’re self employed. If you use unitemps to apply for jobs you can get your NI number after applying but you can’t start working until you have it, however, most job applications I’ve completed to date require that I have an NI number to apply. To get my NI number I had to make a phone call and give them my details, fill out an application that was mailed out to me and then wait for a letter with my NI number. Overall it took a bit over a month, so I recommend you do that as soon as possible.

Another thing I wasn’t aware of until a career’s workshop I attended is that CVs and resumes have a different format in the UK than in the US (both Guatemala and Mexico use the US format, I’m unsure about other Latin American countries). The main differences are that you don’t have to limit your CV to one page, generally two pages are acceptable and that you need to include a reference’s name and contact details alongside your personal details. Other useful things to include are skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying and languages you know. The university has lots of resources for CV writing and you can actually go in and request feedback on your CV (I haven’t done it myself yet but I will soon, I wasn’t aware that was an option until this week).

The main place I recommend using for job searching is unitemps because they have lots of things either at the university or in the local area but other places I’ve looked for jobs at is the friary (the mall in Guildford town), fast food places as well as just asking around for jobs at stores I frequent (I’ve found that not all jobs are posted, there’s been openings at a lot of stores that I went in and asked at that weren’t posted on their websites). At the university aside from unitemps there’s also the student ambassador scheme, the student life mentor positions as well as some positions at the student’s union (primarily at rubix).

For most jobs I’ve applied to I’ve attended a job interview, something else that took me by surprise is how much people dress up for job interviews, even if they’re just at McDonald’s for example. I was told to wear dark pants (but avoid jeans) as well as dress shoes (the kind that you wear to school, for example, and to avoid tennis shoes and the like) and to wear either a buttoned shirt or a formal polo shirt and a belt in a light colour. After the interviews some places had me do an on the job evaluation so they could see how well I worked and I could see what kind of work I’d be doing and I heard back about my application within a week or two weeks.

I hope this post is useful. If you’d like to hear about my experiences more in depth rather than an overview please let me know, I just kept this post a little more general since I thought it might be more useful to people that way.