Visa curbs have made it more of a pain for international students to get hired in the UK after graduation, but with proactive planning MBAs can set themselves above the pack.
The UK was second only to the US as the most popular study destination among 1,211 business school students from 74 countries surveyed this year by education research group Carrington Crisp. More than half saw the UK as a potential study destination, up from 44 percent last year — often because of the chance to work there.
But visa restrictions on foreign students who want to work in the UK on graduation have damaged the country’s reputation. The government revoked the post-study work visa in 2012, ending the practice of non-EU students spending two years in the UK to find work at the end of their studies.
Also, uncertainties about how Brexit will affect the post-MBA visa and job situation remain, making students and hiring companies a bit more cautious.
All that has made it harder to hire foreign graduates, with employers having to spend thousands of pounds on visas, the supply of which is capped. A recent survey by the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance (MBACSEA), an association of more than 200 mostly US business schools, found that two-thirds of them said they saw fewer employment opportunities for their foreign graduates.
But UK business schools say that plenty of British blue chip firms remain open to hiring foreign MBA students; they just need to work a little harder to secure jobs.
Take for instance Alison Lane, who works at HSBC in London as an analyst and earned an MBA at Imperial College Business School in 2017.
The American considered applying to other MBA programs in Europe but decided that London would put her in a better position to network and secure job interviews. “I feel very at home in the UK because I love the culture and the buzz of the city,” she says. “I find London to be very sophisticated, international and open. The UK is economically strong and easy to navigate as an English-speaking country, and the travel opportunities are incredible.”
There were challenges to getting hired, however, and she had to do extra leg work to secure employer visa sponsorship. “I interviewed with five investment banks and it took me 10 months to secure sponsored employment, from the time of my first interview to my start date at HSBC,” says Lane.
“Some of the opportunities in the market were contract roles and therefore didn’t offer visa sponsorship, so I had to dig deep into my network and work with head-hunters to find the right role.”
The careers coaching on offer at Imperial was invaluable in her job hunt. “The careers team arranged events that led directly to a long interview process at a global investment bank,” she says. A guest speaker at Imperial connected Lane with a recruiter at a firm she later interviewed at. “I never would have gotten this opportunity without the careers team,” she says.
Using an MBA to go from L’Oréal to McKinsey
Sakina Mehenni left her job as a marketing manager at L'Oréal in Montreal to begin an MBA at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School in 2017. She wanted to add more international experience to her CV and gain access to world-renowned universities in the UK. Now she has secured a position at the consultancy firm McKinsey & Company in London as an associate, which she will begin in September.
“The UK is very diverse and therefore globally relevant,” she says. “I also felt that all nationalities were ‘at home’ here, reducing the cultural shell-shock of studying internationally, but ultimately providing a global perspective from one location.”
Visas are less of an issue for her because, as a Canadian and thus part of the UK’s Commonwealth, she can secure an under 30s work visa for two years. In addition, Oxford is among a group of UK universities taking part in a pilot government scheme enabling students to extend their visa by six months to get a job.
“Most companies see that while your schooling is in the UK, your experience is in your home country — and therefore international companies often see you as an excellent asset for their office in your home country,” Mehenni says.
Her advice for making a career switch of any kind is to network. “Make sure to get to know the recruiters and people working in the office you want to transition to,” she says, adding that it’s important to know why you want to live and work in a different country.
Lane advises prospective business school students to “never give up”. “If you want to move to the UK for business school, make sure you hit the ground running in your career search,” she adds. “I started networking and exploring the job market as soon as I arrived, and it was worth it, given how long the process took.”