6 Things to Know About Getting a Job as an US Expat in the UK
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Unless your visa is a work-based one, or you plan to be a lady (or gentleman!) of luxury, you're going to need to tackle the job market once landing in the UK. It can seem like a daunting task, but there are a few key things to remember when approaching it - hopefully my tips below will help!
1. Get Yourself a National Insurance Number
The first thing you need before starting to work in the UK is a National Insurance Number. While I was applying for my visa, NI numbers were vaguely mentioned, but I wasn't at all sure what they were. The only thing I can equate them to in the US is a social security, but even that isn't an exact correlation. However, for employment purposes, it's important to know that like your social security number, National Insurance number in the UK is an identification number that allows you to be taxed correctly. I got mine by calling the National Insurance Number application line, and then having an appointment at my local job centre so that they could confirm my eligibility to work in the UK.
2. You'll Have Slightly Different Credentials (from GPA to Class Degrees)
As a kid, I thought the testing system in the Harry Potter books was completely fabricated for the purposes of a wizarding school, but it turn out that the schooling systems in the UK really is entirely different than the US. For example, at a school level, you get your grades based on individual subject, and at college (or university in the UK), their grading system is completely different to ours. There are four results you can get; First-class honours, (70%+) Second-class honours, upper division, also known as a 2:1 (around 60 – 69%) Second-class honours, lower division, or a 2:2 (50 – 59%), and Third-class honours (roughly 40 – 49%). Because of this, I had to completely change my US GPA to match something that was roughly similar to the UK system, because when applying to jobs, nobody knew what my grades meant. Similarly, my SAT scores were practically irrelevant, so I had to notate what the average grades were the year I took the test, and what percentile I was in.
3. Resumes vs. CVs
...which leads me to the unfortunate fact that upon my arrival to the UK, my resume was entirely full of irrelevant information, not to mention designed the complete wrong way. I've found that in comparison to US resumes, UK CVs can be a bit longer (although I still wouldn't go over two pages!) UK job seekers also tend to include more details about their education - grades, etc. Another big difference is that British people include their extracurricular activities/hobbies to flesh out who the candidate is as a person - this is important, and Brits are also likely to ask what your hobbies are in interviews as well.
4. There's a Big Difference in Salaries
A huge difference in having a career in the UK vs. the US is that salaries are overall much lower in the UK. This sounds like it should be frustrating, but I also find that the cost of living is much lower, too. Things like groceries and even rent are proportionate to the lower salaries. It's also important to note that added benefits such as healthcare, which are job perks for companies in the States may not be included in the UK, as the NHS covers healthcare for all (though, some companies do still offer private health and dental schemes for their employees!)
5. But You'll Get More Paid Holiday!
When it comes to work/life balance, Brits definitely take the edge. Another major added perk of working in the UK is that companies are required by law to allow a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid holiday for their employees. That's 28 days, including the country's bank holidays! As a minimum!! By comparison, the US has no legal requirement to offer paid holiday days, but on average, most companies allow 10 days a year.
6. Accessibility/Commute is Key
One thing to consider when choosing which company to work for in the UK is the commute. Because the public transportation is so much better in England than it is in most parts of the States, many people commute to work by train or tube. For me, as somebody who was terrified to get my license and drive in the UK from the start, it was important that I found companies that I could get to on the train. Thankfully, the rail systems here are fairly expansive, so this isn't a huge issue - and in London, it's really no issue at all.
As always, please feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions about living in the UK as an expat - I'm happy to help where I can! And make sure you follow along with my day-to-day adventures over on my Instagram page, @elisedumont!