Seven Tips for International Students to Increase Their Employability

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

As an international student who came to Australia at the age of 17, I can relate to the difficulties faced by international students in finding an internship and work experiences in Australia. After working seven different part-time jobs while studying full-time, I discovered that  there are certain skills students need to master in order to increase their employability. I thought I would share my seven tips for international students to increase their employability. From writing your first resume to getting your first paid work, these are the 7 things your textbooks will not tell you to do whilst completing your degree.

1. Hone Your English Skills

The more vocabulary you know, the more eloquently you will be able to express yourself in your resume and job interviews. Having English as a second language is not an excuse to be a poor English speaker. In fact, being an international student means you automatically speak another language (or two!) fluently which brings an extra point to emphasise when applying for jobs.

There is no better way to learn English but to keep using it outside your study. It is easy to fall into the trap of making friends only with people from your home country. However, not pushing yourself to speak in English is a bad habit. You will soon realise that speaking in English at your workplace is inevitable. You may even need to perfect your English to sit exams for your visa requirements. Do not wait until you have booked your IELTS or Pearson English Test to start honing your English skills! Start while you are studying! You will thank yourself in the future.

2. Join Clubs and Societies

Joining clubs and societies in your first few weeks of university helps you to build your network and be surrounded with like-minded students. You can always sign up to far too many in your first week of university and start narrowing down the ones that do not suit you later on. Be a member for the first few years and then apply for leadership roles the year after. Joining clubs and societies could mean you get email updates on what is happening in the industry you want to work in, corporate events or social events they hold. Being part of the committee demonstrates your organisation skills, leadership skills and ability to work in a team. You cannot simply write “Excellent Organisation Skills” in the skill set section your resume. You have to demonstrate it through experience as you talk about it in your job interviews.

3. Get a Part-time Job

Coming from an Asian background, I was told time in time again to focus on my study and get good grades. As I attended personal development seminars where entrepreneurs or recruiters speak about how they select candidates for their companies, I soon realised that good grades are not everything when looking for a job. Holding your bachelor’s degree shows your technical skills and ability to perform your job. Having a part-time job, however, demonstrates your soft skills such as good manners (interpersonal skills), common sense, punctuality and ability to collaborate and work in a team. These are the additional skills employers want!

Being an international student often means you have to study full-time. But working part-time, even for 6 hours a week would really make a difference in adding that experience to your resume. Part-time work could be something completely unrelated to your degree. It is the experience that really counts. Not waking up for your class means you miss a class, but not getting up for a job means you get fired! You would be surprised on what you can learn from working in something completely unrelated to your degree. When I worked in a bakery, I got to learn customer service but also a little bit of Italian and how to cream an éclair!

Tips: Do not expect to be in upper level management in your first job. Working directly with customers (being a waiter, working in a fast-food chain or cold-calling) really gives you invaluable hands-on experience of customer service before you climb up to higher level management.

4. Volunteer Your Time and Skills

Studying, working and now volunteering? How do I have the time for all these? Volunteering means working without getting paid? Why would I do that?! Another great thing to have on your resume is something on your volunteering experience section. Volunteering can be a one-off thing or something you do regularly. Again, you can volunteer to work in your related field of study or something you are passionate about but not studying it in your degree be social justice, music, teaching or even sports.

It’s the experience and skills you get from it that really adds value as a candidate for a job. The organisations you volunteer for would often provide you with training and certificates or even become your referee and write you a letter of recommendation. There is often less expectation to succeed than working in a paid job. The people would really welcome you as the work you do really matters to these organisations who cannot afford paying workers. You invest your time and energy into these organisations, but you will experience the joy of altruism that you do not experience elsewhere!

5. Networking Starts from Day One

It is not unusual to hear someone finds a job from someone they know. The idea of finding work from online websites sounds too mainstream these days. As you would already know, the job-seeking contest is very competitive, especially for international students! The ratio of job vacancies to the number of applicants could go up to 1 : 30.  If you imagine the ratio of available jobs to the number of applicants, wouldn’t it be advantageous to know someone inside the company?

The friend you introduce yourself to on your orientation day is your first networking experience. Similarly, attending social events, seminars or any professional development events could help you meet one or two people from the industry you are interested to work in. Practice your networking skills. Learn how to shake hands firmly, be conscious of your body language, dress up appropriately for an event, practice how to introduce yourself to someone you want to network with. There are many little tricks you need to master. Do not start looking for connections and supervisors on your final semester. Let them get to know you as much as you want to know about them. Build the relationships from early on.

Tips: Prepare a 2 minute pitch, talking about yourself in front of the mirror. You will be ready to introduce yourself to the people you meet at networking events. Watch your body language, your tone, your smile and where you place your hands as you speak.

6. Find a Mentor

A mentor is someone with more experience who could also be your trusted advisor. A mentor can be someone a year ahead of you in your studies, someone you want to be in three years, or someone who can help you plan your own career.  The question here is perhaps why do we need to find a mentor? A mentor could help you in filtering your ideas and challenge preconceived beliefs that you have about certain career paths. You could be acing all your grades in university but often you need that extra perspective, some coaching and good advice. A good mentor could also network you with the right people to help you progress in your career. It is never too early to find a mentor and build the relationship.

Tips: Choose a mentor who exemplifies your vision of success. It does not have to be someone famous or a CEO. You want someone who is available and generous with their time. As you meet someone you would like to be connected with, do not straight away ask them to be your mentor! Slowly build the relationship and ask the right questions.

7. Immerse Yourself In Australian Culture 

If you will be working in Australia and planning to stay for the long term, it only makes sense that you learn a little about the culture too. During your years of study, there will be many opportunities to explore the country you live in. Plan road trips during the mid break. Go on holiday to different states during longer summer holidays. Even within the city, there are numerous festivals you do not want to miss from Moomba Festival, Emerging Writers Festival and Tesselaar Tulip Festival. For coffee lovers there are countless coffee and brunch places you could go to. Take a tour of the city and really immerse yourself in the culture. Once you go to work, it is nice to have something to talk about at work about places you have been to and relate to your colleagues.

There is no set formula to achieve success in your career. There are many other skills you need to learn in addition to the seven things you could do while completing your degree in order to increase your employability. Everyone has a different road to success, these are the things that really helped me in getting to where I am. Perhaps you have other things you find relevant and helpful while completing your degree, feel free to comment below!

JesslynJesslyn Lan is an international student who completed her bachelor’s degree in marketing and psychology at Monash University and took part in the Study Melbourne Internship Program at Monash College.

Discussion — One Response

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