How to Get a Job in London for Expats

As a HR professional having lived and worked in London twice over a combined period of around three and a half years, these are my tips on how to get a job in London as an expat.

1. CV / Resume

Visa: Update your CV with your Visa details to show you have the right to work in the UK, including Visa type and expiry.

UK mobile number: Add your UK mobile number to your CV to show that you are already in the country and easily contactable within the same time zone.

UK home address: If your current UK address is within one hour from the company address, you could include it on your CV to show that you are already in the UK. If it is further away, don’t include it. The reason for this is because recruiters and HR professionals may have concerns about your reliability if you have a long way to travel to and from work. And really, no-one needs to know your home address these days unless they specifically ask you for it anyway.

Standing out: With many others competing for the same role, you’ll need to make sure your CV stands out from the crowd. Add in up to three key achievements for each job before the list of responsibilities. Keep your key responsibilities to a maximum of eight per job. And overall, keep your CV to a maximum of four pages if possible. Ask a friend, family member or even better, someone in recruitment or HR to review your CV to ensure it makes sense and highlights your key roles, achievements, skills and experience.

Customisation: Depending on the job, you may also need to customise your CV. Read the advertisement and job description thoroughly and use their language including keywords where you can throughout your CV. Some companies even use recruitment systems to shortlist based on keywords. For example, if you’re applying for an experienced data analyst position, ensure you use the words ‘data’ and ‘analyst’ in your CV somewhere.

2. Job Applications

Permanent versus temporary: If you are on a two year working Visa, broaden your job applications to include short term contracts. Why? Well, let’s be realistic. It may take a while to get a job and you will probably want to do some travel, so your actual working time is limited. Don’t let a Visa timeframe stop you from applying for permanent positions though. I was on a five year Ancestry Visa and was offered a permanent Senior HR Business Partner role with a drinks / FMCG company where I worked for about two and a half years before resigning.

Daily applications: Get yourself into a routine of applying for jobs for a few hours every weekday morning. To get your application in front of a recruiter or hiring manager earlier than your competition, you’ll need to be one of the first applicants. Have the job search engine websites open and refresh them regularly. If the job has been open for more than five days and/or you can see that there has been over 20 applicants, your chances will have already reduced. Unless it is a job you are particularly keen on, focus your energies on newer job advertisements with less applicants. Also be aware that because of the high number of applications received in a short time, companies and agencies sometimes close job advertisements early. So don’t leave it until later!

Cover letter: While your CV is the most important part of your application, your cover letter is a close second. For roles with a high number of applications, a shortlisting method that can be used is to consider only those who have bothered to write a cover letter because it can be perceived as meaning they want the job more.

Don’t forget to update your cover letter for each job application including the role title. I’ve seen quite a few CVs in my time that refer to the wrong job title so I don’t bother reading any further! Also, keep it to one page if possible.

3. Recruitment Agencies

Direct versus agency: Companies generally try to fill their own vacancies first before turning to recruitment agencies for help because of the associated fees. For example, for a role paying £40,000, based on my experience with recruitment agency fees ranging from 10% to 30%, it could cost the company anywhere from £4000 to £12,000. If you think that’s a lot, convert it to Australian dollars or your respective currency for a real shock.

So, whilst recruitment agencies are helpful in selling you to the client and are given vacancies that may not get advertised to fill directly from their talent pool, apply for jobs advertised by the company too. Don’t get lazy and rely solely on recruitment agencies. Your options will be limited and to an extent, the leftovers.

Industry specific: Depending on your industry, it may be better to register with industry-specific recruitment agencies. For example Finance. They’ll have clients that go to them for the best people in that industry instead of the larger and more generic recruitment agencies.

4. Interviews

Career versus fun: Before applying for a job and getting to interview stage, have a think about what you want to get out of living and working in London. To further your career? Or earn enough cash to fund your expat experience and travels? There is almost always an interview question related to ‘why you want to work there’ or ‘why you should be the successful person for the role’. It’s a selection process for a reason. If you don’t really want the job, unless you’re a good actor it will be obvious that you are not as motivated as your fellow potential candidates. Save yourself and  the interviewers the time if your heart isn’t in it.

Speaking of fun, London has some of the most amazing places to work. Before I secured a long term role in HR I did a Finance Administration role at the Shard for two weeks, bar work at Infernos (where a scene from the InBetweeners movie was filmed) and waitressing at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Even my HR roles have been in interesting buildings and places including Fleet Street, the Treasury building, V&A museum, Mars Factory and the ‘Gherkin’ building. Keep your options open if you can, you may not get the opportunity to work in these historic and infamous places again.

5. Q&A

Feel free to ask me a question in the comments! I’d be more than happy to give advice based on my experience living and working in London and as a HR professional. To kick things off, I see these common questions asked in expat support groups online.

Q: Is it possible to get a job in London before I move over?

A: Unless you’re a specialist or working for an international company with an office in London, it is unlikely that you will secure a role before arriving in London. The job market in London is competitive and fast paced. Recruiters will want to be able to contact you easily or they will move onto the next candidate. Interview timeframes can also be short with sometimes only 24 hours’ notice or even less for temporary opportunities.

Q: Will I earn the same amount of money in the UK?

A: It will depend on your industry. For me in HR, I had no experience in UK employment law so entered the market at around half of what I was earning in Australia. After three and a half years’ experience my salary was closer to what I earned in Australia but still less. It also depends on the currency exchange rate at the time.

If you’re in an industry like Finance and in a specialist or senior role you might get paid at a comparable rate to back home because of the number of banks based in London with bigger budgets to compete for talent. Even in a temporary HR role at a smaller bank in London I earned an additional 50% on top of my base salary in Australia which didn’t even occur to me before because I only worked there for seven weeks. There were also no expenses spared at Friday night drinks! As you can tell it is hard to answer this question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This was also before Brexit. Do your research and don’t assume.

For recent movers to the UK, I hope this helps you get a job in London. For those of you with job search experience in London, do you have any other tips to share with your fellow expats?

August 2018


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