Posted by: Gillian | November 18, 2011

Tips for stagiaires finding work in England

So, you are a European student and want to improve your English by working in Britain for a few months. That is good – but jobs are hard to find so you need to prepare. First, if you need Google Translate to help you read this, you need an English language course before you write a job application. Second, you need to make a list of your requirements. Third, you need to plan your applications to employers.

Your requirements

  1. Does your university require you to study or work in Britain? If so, for how long?  When must you be in your own university? (A job that starts on May 1st in Leeds is no good if you have an exam in Boulogne on May 3rd.) Does your university help you find a place and, if so, have you asked there first? Does your course specify the type of work you must do? If you are going to study, check the Erasmus programme and talk to your own university about this.
  2. Do you have health problems that limit the type of work you can do?
  3. Do you have any family commitments (e.g. your brother’s wedding) that you must attend? Is this going to be a problem for an employer?
  4. If you plan to visit home while working in England, how much will this cost? Do you need to look for a place near a cheapflight airport?
  5. How soon after arrival will you need to be paid? If you rent a room, it is normal to pay one month in advance and one extra month as a damage deposit (French ‘caution’). You also need to eat. Some jobs pay every week.
  6. Which is more important: the job or the English language? If you are applying for a skilled job (e.g. temporary laboratory technician) remember that you will also be competing against British students so your English must be good. Consider a month working in a pub or a hotel or a sports centre instead.
  7. Is it really important for you to be in London or Edinburgh? Remember, competition for jobs is strong and looking outside the big cities may be better. You can visit the big cities on your days off.

Plan your applications

If you want a job in Summer 2012, you need to start writing now. If you wait until Easter and want a job starting in May, you will be too late.  If you use an online agency, do not send any money and check all links yourself. Good agencies do exist but they are all busy and only you will make you ‘top priority’. Good agencies also explain minimum wage (see below) and contracts that say ‘I agree to be paid less than minimum wage’ are illegal. Your safety is important so think and check.

Your cv must be in English and show your certificates accurately. It is useful to explain your certificates e.g. “Bac S (Science Baccalaureate with specialism in ….)” because the British education system is different. Change your spellchecker in Word to “English-British” and use it.

Your covering letter, the one that goes with your cv, is different for each application because you need to say why you are applying to that particular company. Think of reasons that are professional.  You need to let the company know why they are useful to you (e.g. “I want to improve my English by working on a reception desk”) and how you will be useful to them (e.g. “I am hard-working and mix well with people” or “I have already worked for six months as a laboratory intern in France.” Applying to smaller companies or companies in rural areas has many advantages so remember to be positive about this.   Note: French students often write “I have Bac+2” to show they are not school-leavers but this format is not much used in Britain.  Instead, say: “I am in my third year at university” or “I have finished my second year at university”.

The rules on payment are complicated. If you are doing the work as an assessed part of your own university course, payment is optional (frequently non-existent) but some companies will pay local travel expenses. If you are doing a ‘real job’, minimum wage rules apply.  For more information click to see the official Government website on this topic. Of course, you may be lucky and find a job that pays more than the minimum! Remember, you will have to fill in a tax form somewhere.

If you only want to visit a company for a week or two weeks to observe a job (e.g. see how market research is done in England), write to the Head of Human Resources or to the Head of the relevant department (in this case Marketing) and say you would like “unpaid work experience observing market research methods…”. Say why you want this experience and why with that company.  Try to be flexible about dates.  You must expect to arrange and pay for your own accommodation, travel and meals. You may “only” be watching but that still makes work for the company so be prepared to try several companies. In big companies, lots of people may be involved in the decision and it can take a long time.

Whatever you want, remember to give a return postal address and also an email address that uses some or all of your real name, not a nickname. Also, check your other online accounts: would you employ the person that is seen on your public Facebook pages? A telephone number is helpful but remember to prepare answers to common job-related questions and practise saying them.  For example, prepare answers to questions like: “Have you worked in this industry before? “Can you start on June the fourth?” “Can you send me copies of your certificates and your passport?” “Do you have a clean driving licence?” Remember: when British people ask for your passport, Europeans can use their identity card and a ‘clean’ driving licence is one with no penalty points on it. It also helps to keep a list next to the telephone of the names of the companies to which you have applied, the town where they are located and, when you discover them, the names of the contact people. It is embarrassing to tell someone that yes, you want to work in Manchester when their company is in Bournemouth.

When you have a place, remember you will be in a professional environment. Ask the person in Human Resources for the dress code (for example, students may not need a suit but jeans may be forbidden) and arrive on time. After that, work hard and play hard – in English! Good luck and enjoy it.

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