Working in the UK for international students – Part 2: Routes into graduate employment


If you are planning on staying in the UK to work after your degree, it’s important that you understand the UK graduate job market. Here’s our quick guide.

  • Graduate Recruitment programmes  (also called graduate schemes, graduate training programmes)

These are usually offered by large employers and offer paid training for between 1 and 3 years.  An organisation can recruit for a number of different specialist streams – for example Management, Finance, Marketing, IT. Or one scheme can offer the chance to gain experience in different business areas.  Some also offer the chance to undertake professional qualifications.

(There are some schemes offered by smaller employers but these are much less common.)

The recruitment process is usually long, competitive and, for many companies, starts early in Autumn term with successful recruits starting work on  summer/autumn the following year. Typically the recruitment process will have some combination of

  • telephone /video interviews,
  • online tests,
  • face to face interview,
  • assessment centre,

before a final offer of a position is made.   The closing dates for popular schemes is before Christmas of Autumn term.  Some organisations recruit to their schemes on a rolling basis as and when applications come in, rather than waiting to assess all applications together after the official closing date.

As an international student  you will face some challenges – we will deal with these in more detail in a later post – but initially  you need to make sure your employer is able to sponsor you under Tier 2.  You also need to make sure the timeframe for the employer’s start date works with your course dates, particularly if you are on a taught postgraduate student.

  • Direct Entry jobs – (sometimes called immediate vacancies)

This recruitment happens all year round, in all sizes of companies and organisations and is used to fill specific, individual job vacancies. There may be a vacancy because someone has left a company, or a new role may have been created because of expansion or new business. Although graduate schemes are very high profile, most graduates in the UK actually work in direct entry jobs with Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SME) which make up around 99% of UK companies.

The recruitment timeframe for these vacancies is shorter and the employer would usually expect the successful candidate to be available to start work reasonably quickly. Some smaller companies may accept speculative applications as they don’t always advertise. You should consider this approach if you have a specialist high level skill or your nationality means you could help an employer’s cultural understanding of or access to new markets.

As an international student the challenge again is to find out if the employer can sponsor you on a Tier 2 visa and it’s important that you understand how this would work.  Check out the links at the end of this post to help with your research or come and talk to us.

  • Graduate Internships

In addition to these two main routes, graduate internships are becoming more common. These are a useful way of getting UK experience and may fit into the four month period at the end of your course, when your Tier 4 visa is still valid and you are allowed to work full time. For longer internships (up to 12 months), you may be able to switch to a Tier 5 visa provided you find an internship related to your academic studies and meet all the relevant conditions.

We have developed a step-by-step Tier 5 Toolkit to help you understand this option.

For more information on all these options check out the Graduate Jobs section of our website and download the information sheet Graduate Vacancies

Read more

Working in the UK for international students

Sources of information:

University’s Immigration Advice Service pages

UKCISA: Working in the UK after your Studies







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