Top Ten Tips for Finding Short-Term Work in the U.K.
Packing it all up for a temporary move overseas can be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. I have participated in BUNAC Work Abroad programs in Ireland, the U.K, Australia, and New Zealand, and the transition gets easier every time. Moving abroad is a big step, but it will be one of the most rewarding decisions you ever make. Here are my top ten tips to make the job search a little bit easier! Good luck, and enjoy – you are about to have an amazing time.
- Make it legal! A work visa is absolutely necessary, or you risk being thrown out of the country, never to return. Sort it out before you go — I used BUNAC, a respected organization that provided students and recent graduates with six month visas to work anywhere in the U.K. and several other countries. Important note: Currently BUNAC offers an internship program instead of the work program I attended in the U.K. BUNAC has offices in the UK, and they are easily accessible if you have questions at any time.
- National Insurance. Before you can start work, you will need to apply for a National Insurance Number. This is similar to a Social Security Number, and you will not be able to work without it! Arrange an appointment by calling 0845 600 0643 once you arrive. You will be issued with a letter as proof of your NI number while you wait for your official card to arrive. The organization that provides you with your work visa should also be able to assist you with obtaining a National Insurance number. All workers pay National Insurance at a rate of 11%, and this allows you to access National Health Services. If you need to go to the hospital for any reason, this will usually be a free service.
- Buy a mobile phone before you start looking for work! I thought I would save money by skipping this step, and expected potential employers to contact me by email. As a result, I was out of work for three weeks, living on carefully measured pasta and loans from my flatmates. I finally borrowed my roommate’s phone number, and within days had several job offers. Phones are inexpensive and available on pay-as-you go plans, which mean you do not have to sign any contracts – just top up and go. Some leading mobile phone providers in the UK are Orange, O2, and T-Mobile.
- Tailor your resume (called a CV – Curriculum Vitae) to the U.K. Look online at samples of U.K. CVs, which tend to be slightly longer than standard U.S. resumes. Recruitment agencies will often help you adjust or format your CV. Include a brief personal profile, but omit statements such as "I am from the U.S. on an international work-exchange program, and hold a six month work visa." This can often put employers off, as it makes it seem complicated to employ you, when in actual fact, it is not. It is best to answer length-of-stay questions during the interview, when you have already hooked them with your sparkling personality!
- Be flexible! It is wise to arrive with some idea of where you would like to focus your job hunt – are you going to stay in a big city, like London, or a smaller town, like St. Andrews, in Scotland? Do you want to look for a career-related job, or something to keep you going? Narrow your focus, but don’t limit yourself, or you are sure to miss out on opportunities. I arrived in Galway, Ireland, vowing that I would work anywhere but a restaurant. Guess where I saw the most job vacancies being advertised? Restaurants. Once I realized that I was down to my last euro, I walked into a coffee shop and was hired immediately. If I had been willing to do this earlier, I could have saved myself three weeks of destitution and heartache. Also keep in mind that your job can be a great way to meet people, and working in hospitality is almost a guarantee that you will be around others your age, both locals and fellow travelers. A foreign country can be a lonely place, and you will always benefit by meeting new people whenever possible.
- Flexibility is good. Desperation is bad. Don’t walk into a potential place of employment or agency and say, “I’ll do anything, I just need a job.” This may be true, but appear confident and utilize your selling points. What sort of experience/qualifications do you have? What are you good at? What do you really want to do? Be specific – it will impress employers and give you an edge over everyone else who is also willing to do anything. They may not be able to offer you exactly what you want, but they will be able to work with you to find the next best thing.
- Sign up with multiple recruitment agencies as early as possible. Call in advance to arrange a registration appointment, and be prepared with a copy of your CV and the names and contact details of previous employers who would be willing to act as your references. You will sit with a consultant for an interview, and will probably undergo a few computer assessments. Tell the consultant what kind of work you would prefer, e.g. sales, reception, customer service. Often these agencies will be able to find you temporary work in the interim. Google “recruitment agencies” in the area where you decide to work, or just walk around town and track them down.
- Use all available resources when looking for work. Jobs are advertised everywhere: online, in newspapers, magazines, job boards, and in shop windows. If you are on a BUNAC student visa, they often get job vacancies from employers and will help you find work. Social networking site Gumtree also offers job boards, but be wary of these, as legitimate jobs are often posted along with not-so-legitimate ones. Never underestimate the power of hitting the streets with clean copies of your CV – a tried-and-true method that, with a little bit of luck, will bring you success.
- Salary – What kind of money should you expect? If you are between the ages of 18 - 21, the minimum wage is £4.60. If you are 22 and older, the minimum wage is £5.52. Restaurants typically pay about £5.00 – £7.00 per hour, and tipping is not standard practice, as in the U.S. Office work tends to pay more, in a range of £7.00 - £9.50 per hour. Keep in mind that bigger cities, such as London or Edinburgh, will pay higher wages, but your pound may go farther in smaller towns.
- So you’re hired! What now? Make sure to check out your terms of employment, so you are aware of what kind of taxes you are paid, and what sort of holiday pay you are entitled to. In the U.K., anyone who earns less than £5225 is usually exempt from paying taxes. Also ask your employer about their policy on holiday pay – most workers accrue a percentage of their hourly rate, which can be paid out as holiday pay when you leave. Alternatively, it means that you may able to take some paid holidays. It is important to sort this out when you accept a job, as it may be difficult to do so after the contracts have been signed. The UK Home Office will be able to give you some more information, but organizations like BUNAC can also answer your questions.