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American living in the UK uncovers the hiddend realities of searching for a job
Categories : Living in the UK
Currently, I am working as a recruiting manager for one of the UK's largest employers.
The reason for this article is to uncover, for Americans considering moving to the United Kingdom, the hidden realities of searching for a job in the United Kingdom. By discussing the little known biases and by discussing the secrets for obtaining a job in the UK, I hope to make your job search easier. It is worth noting this article is more applicable to those entering the United Kingdom on a spousal or fiance visa. Those looking for a job via the Tier 2 visa, look for an upcoming post.
My story starts, many years ago. Originally, I am from a large city in the industrial mid-west but in my teen years, my parents decided to move to a very remote part of the United States. Whiling living in the very desolate part of the United States, one of the greatest joys occurred when I met my spouse. While living in the United States I had an extremely satisfying as a substitute teacher and my spouse had a similar experience working as a nurse.
Whilst, my parents still live in the remote part of the United States, when I met my spouse, my spouse and I decided to move to the United Kingdom. My spouse, is British by birth but lived in the United States since birth. So, for the each of us we did not know what to expect.
The First Year
When I arrived in the UK, with my spouse, it was during a time of a lot uncertainty because it was before 9/11. Nonetheless, the move was a short-lived cheerful time for us that brought a lot of hope and optimism. We located to a beautiful, quiet, and picturesque suburb of a major UK city. Our first rental an inexpensive 1 bed-room flat. The flat was near both the train and bus station, which provided easy access to transport. This made it easy to keep our expenses low.
Since my spouse had a British passport they could immediately work but because of my visa I had to wait to work. My spouse's job, was only part-time. However, it gave us a reason to celebrate because it was a first step on our long journey.
Celebrating our step forward only lasted a few weeks before quickly tailspin into demise. My spouse lost their job and they tried a few other jobs. However, living in a suburban town the opportunities we limited.
During this time, I received my approval to work and again, another reason to celebrate. So, we decided to move to a larger city that had more opportunities.
At the time of our move, about six months after arriving in the United Kingdom, my work history in the UK was a few short-term temporary assignments. The money was a bit sporadic but it was progress.
First Permanent Job - 2 Years Later
Living in a larger city made it easier to apply for jobs. At the time, permanent jobs were available but not as readily available as temporary jobs through agencies. By this time things were quite wonderful. My spouse had their first permanent job and I have more stable temporary work.
Things were going good, a stable income and the ability to travel. About two years after coming to the UK I accept my first permanent manager role.When I took the role, I was advised the company was undergoing a merger and the merger will complete in 2 years.
At this point, I experience a lot of trepidation, worry and fear about my role. A lot of this stems from anti-American attitude that seems to plague the workplace and my employer not willing to do anything. Along with carrying a very heavy workload and uncertainty what will happen with my role once the merger completes. This leads to periods of sickness because of the stress and problems on the job. Because my employer is going through a merger and the merger is completing, my role comes to an end and I am made redundant.
Things tailspin quickly out of control, sizable amount of income lost and not sure what will happen. At this point, the economy is really heating up, Pound to Dollar conversion reaches a high of $2.10 for every £1.00.
British Citizenship worth the investment
Luckily, I have been in the country long enough to apply for citizenship. I decide to apply for citizenship because I feel it will help me with my job search. Even though, I am unemployed I feel the money spent is an investment. My application for citizenship takes about 3 weeks.
My job search takes about 3 months and by the time I find another role I have my British citizenship. This time I have two companies bidding for me and it gives me the power to negotiate my pay. This time, the role pays even more than my previous role.
On the surface this looks like another reason to celebrate and it appears things are looking up, again. However, this role is for a bank and the role requires that I commute every day for an hour each way. The additional pay, is absorbed through commuting related expenses. Everything is going good but the market crashes and I lose my second job within a year.
Job search during a recession
Economy collapses and heads into recession and for me, job search is very much a struggle. I return to school for more qualifications and try to take a different career path. After obtaining new qualifications, it takes me a while to find a job. Many job seekers, including myself, worry if we will find a job. It takes me over 200 applications to find a job. The job pays near minimum wage and it is 1.5 hours commute each way. This means much of the money I make goes towards commuting.
My spouse underwent a 2 years skills development course that should lead to a job afterwards. However, their underhanded employer refused to give them the job and left them scrambling for one. Luckily, they were given a job. In comparison, my employer was under investigation by an industry regulator and they were closed down by them a few months after I left.
By this time, I can see my morally bankrupted employer will not survive much longer and I decide to look closer. After a few applications, I am offered another job that is for more money and closer to home. Again, this job does not last long.
Returning to the beginning
After receiving my new qualification, I needed a change and found that I did not like it. So, grudgingly I enter back into the field I left when I entered the United Kingdom. By this time the recession is over and things are more optimistic. I begin finding my salary is rising very fast and skills are developing. By now I am on cloud nine, everything is going my way. Each job change is a promotion with more responsibility and future is looking very bright.
Warning: don't shatter your dream of moving to the UK by heeding this advice
I have shared my employment journey in the UK with you. It is meant to both inspire and shatter any idyllic ideas you hold about living in the United Kingdom. Finding stable employment in the UK that provide a livable wage for an American can be brutal. You can face anti-Americanism in the workplace. There is legislation that may protect you but the onus will be on you to prove it.
Next, do not expect to find a permanent job right away. Employers in the UK are leery of hiring people that may leave country, due to immigration issues or personal reasons, and be prepared to do agency work in order to establish a stable work history. Even if you can find a permanent role, you have to be in the role for 2 years before you gain certain employment rights and before you gain them, your employer has greater latitude to end your employment.
Also, if your visa provides a route to permanent residency (ILR) and a route to citizenship, exercise those rights as soon as possible. Obtaining ILR and citizenship will greatly improve your job opportunities.
Third point, while living in a small English town might sound quite Rockwell-ish. The reality, most likely you will have to commute and your commute may be more than an hour each way. Therefore, it is better to live in a large town that has a good transport structure rather than living in the suburbs.
Fourth point, especially right after moving to the UK be prepared for a period of devastating experiences that result from a period of instability. A lot of this will be due to finding a job that suits you and if you are working agency, the disruption agency work can cause on household finances. Instability can be mitigated by obtaining British citizenship, having a stable work history in the UK, and by becoming British. Becoming British, means doing what you can to integrate yourself into your community, work place and adopting British ways.
This can seem very counter-intuitive and scary. It may seem as though you have to give up who you are and create a lot of anxiety. Trust me, you do not have to give up who you are to survive in the United Kingdom. Instead it means, reframing who you are. For me it meant being less assertive and becoming more diplomatic. As I transitioned from being assertive to diplomatic, I learned how to say 'no' and how to do it in a very positive way.
Fifth point, be prepared to be pigeonholed. In the United States there was a lot of opportunity to work across different sectors and different departments. However in the United Kingdom, employers see workers with a very limited view. This means, if you are a math teacher and you want to take a break by trying to work as a finance manager. In the United States, you were given the chance. However, in the United Kingdom unless you have the experience and the education then it is highly improbable that you will be able to make the change in roles. This means, if you are a maths teacher then you will be teaching and other opportunities, are probably out of reach without the proper experience and education.
Sixth point, be aware of the British / American dichotomy. By this I mean, British employers love Americans because Americans in Britain are decisive, assertive, and good communicators. However, your co-workers will see you as aggressive rude, inflexible, and will base their perceptions of you based on their perception of the current president. This can cause a lot of anxiety and probably be seen by you as anti-American. User your employer's processes regarding bullying, health and safety, and Equality Act to your advantage.
Seventh point, from my experience British people tend to be more progressive. Political parties that lean to the right, tend have more in common with Clinton democrats than Reagan, Bush, or Trump. This means there is wide support for abortion, alternative lifestyles, and with a few exceptions, there is a high tolerance for non-Christian religions. Also, there is a very prevailing anti-gun attitude and anti 2nd Amendment attitude. Plus the UK has a very large drink culture. It is very common to go out for a whole night to get 'pissed,' drunk after work. Please heed this warning. If you are Libertarian, Evangelical Republican, or a hard-core conservative then be careful about publicly expressing your views. Your views may be seen as abrasive, bullying, or discriminatory. It may make it harder for you to integrate and to keep a job.
Finally, before applying for any job read the job description and research the company. Know something about the role and know something about the company. Submitting generic applications, showing lack of knowledge regarding the role, or showing lack of knowledge regarding the company will most likely result in you not being hired. Likewise, the more your behavors indicate you are integrating into British society the more favorable an employer will look upon you.
My advice to you
Probably the hardest adjustment I had to make transitioning from working in the USA to the UK is the work culture. Working in the UK will mean a willingness to change and to integrate yourself into British society. It will also mean, considering obtaining British citizenship and re-framing your behaviors so that they are more compatible for British values.
Next, do not expect to immediately obtain gainful employment. The process can take months or years before you have a stable enough work history to obtain a permanent job. Also, be prepared for periods of instability that will result from the move and your search for a job that is suitable to you.
Finally, remember the UK is not the USA and be prepared for anti-American attitudes in the workplace. The work culture in the UK has different values. This will mean, what was acceptable at your place of work in the USA may not be acceptable in the UK. In order to adapt to the new work culture you will need to adapt your values and behavior to meet the needs of your employer.
If you can manage your expectations, integrate, and reframe your behavior then it is highly likely you will have a successful and rewarding work experience in the UK.