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Short Guide to Working in the UK as a Foreigner

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The United Kingdom, home to the world’s sixth-largest economy and numerous international business hubs, is an excellent place for ambitious graduates to begin their careers. According to the latest figures, the country’s unemployment rate is at just 4.7%, and the graduate labour market is as strong as it’s ever been.

Competition for graduate positions is tough, but those with the appropriate qualifications, skills, and experience are likely to find good jobs in their fields. Due to the increasing importance of language skills, many foreign nationals are becoming desirable prospects. As a foreign worker, you’ll be in good company in the UK, which boasts numerous multinational communities.

The UK Labour Market

The UK labour market is very competitive because the country is highly globalised. Economic development is higher in London and the southeast, while the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have higher unemployment rates. There are ten times more employment opportunities in London than in the second-best area, but as you would expect, those opportunities also come with a lot more competition. 

In terms of employment numbers, the following are the most important sectors in the United Kingdom:

  • Retail
  • Healthcare 
  • Social work
  • Administration
  • Education
  • Science
  • Technical
  • Manufacturing
  • Hospitality
The United Kingdom, home to the world's sixth-largest economy and numerous international business hubs, is an excellent place for ambitious graduates to begin their careers.Click To Tweet

In terms of market share, the following companies are the largest in the United Kingdom:

  • Unilever – Multinational consumer goods company headquartered in London;
  • AstraZeneca – British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company headquartered at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus in Cambridge;
  • Royal Dutch Shell – Dutch-British multinational oil and gas company headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and with a registered address in Shell Centre, London;
  • BHP – Anglo-Australian multinational mining, metals and petroleum company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia with offices in London;
  • Rio Tinto – Anglo-Australian multinational and the world’s second-largest metals and mining corporation, behind BHP. It has headquarters both in London and Melbourne, Australia; 
  • GlaxoSmithKline – multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in London, England;
  • HSBS – one of the largest banking and financial services institutions in the world, headquartered in London.

However, it’s public sector organisations like the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the British Army that tend to be the biggest employers in the UK. 

UK economic growth is fuelled by the services sector, which includes banking, insurance, and business services. Other important sectors in the UK labour market are metals, chemicals, aerospace, shipbuilding, motor vehicles, textiles, food processing, electronic and communications equipment, design and the arts. 

The manufacturing industry has been on the decline in recent years but still employs a considerable number of people. 

The labour market currently has shortages in the following sectors:

  • Business services
  • Construction
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • IT
  • Education
  • Social care
  • Engineering
  • Research

UK Work Culture

The typical working week in the United Kingdom is Monday through Friday, and workdays start at 9 AM and end at 5 PM. 

Work hours should be specified in your contract, and you should not be required to work more than 48 hours a week unless that is what you choose to do. Full-time workers usually work between 35 and 40 hours per week. Note that all employees also have the right to request flexible and part-time arrangements. 

There is a minimum of one day off per week for adult workers. As a full-time employee, you are also entitled to sick pay, four weeks of paid vacation as well as maternity and paternity leave. 

It’s not legally required for employers to also give you days off on public holidays, but most do anyway. There are eight public holidays per year in England and Wales, nine in Scotland and ten in Northern Ireland.

If you get a job in the UK, you’ll most likely start on a probation period that shouldn’t last longer than six months. During this time, the length of notice required to terminate your contract may be shorter. 

Your employer is responsible for enrolling you for social security and making monthly contributions from your salary, which will give you access to benefits and entitle you to a state pension. Depending on your employer, you may be able to enrol in a business pension to supplement your state pension.

Employers also need to have liability insurance for any work-based illnesses or injuries. They are responsible for your safety while you’re at work, and you’re entitled to compensation in case you get injured while working or develop occupational health problems. 

Many UK firms provide additional benefits, such as private health insurance.

UK companies usually have clear hierarchies, with managers making the majority of decisions when directing their teams. Leading a team effectively and maintaining positive working relationships with employees are considered crucial skills for a good manager. 

There’s also a lot of emphasis on teamwork, and employees frequently go out for a drink together. 

If you work for a British company, you can expect a lot of meetings. Although the tone of these meetings can be rather informal, they have clear agendas. The goal is for everyone to leave with a specific task and the information they need to get it done. 

How to Get a Job in the UK

You can apply for most jobs online either by filling out an application form or by sending your CV and cover letter. Your CV and cover letter should not be very long – two pages for your CV and one for your cover letter

However, most job vacancies are filled through word of mouth, so networking is very important. You’ll want to reach out to any contacts you might have in the UK and let them know you’re looking for a job in the country so they can recommend you. 

Small and medium-sized companies don’t usually advertise job openings, so speculative applications might get you a job as well. 

The recruitment process tends to be long. You’ll want to start applying as soon as possible. It’s best to apply while you’re still in your home country and move once you’ve found a job. 

On average, job interviews last between 30 to 60 minutes and involve speaking with 2 to 3 interviewers. Some interviews also require additional tests, so they’ll last longer. 

When you go to an interview, you’ll want to dress and behave formally but at the same time appear relaxed and friendly. 

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