International students have better career prospects in Asia, says market research expert

McKinsey data suggests that the East could bounce back from the pandemic in advance of the West.

By Geetha Bai 

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The recent pandemic has caused significant upheaval for international students returning to their home countries in Asia.

U2B spoke to Louise Nicol, founder and managing director of Asia Careers Group Sdn Bhd, an organisation that maps International Graduates career outcomes and progression when they return to Asia.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, students can no longer expect recruiting processes to remain the same. The main question international students should have in mind is “where should they start looking for career opportunities?”

This question has a growing significance as a large majority of international graduates have joined the throngs of job seekers in their native countries and are struggling to find employment.

It comes as no surprise, that some employers are no longer relying on graduate schemes to recruit talent and are increasingly carrying out ad-hoc recruitment to fill vacancies.

“This greatly affects future recruitment patterns and students will have to find new ways of landing their dream roles upon graduating,” Nicol cautions.

Essentially, graduates in the era of COVID-19 will need to sharpen their job search skills, in contrast to previous generations that could apply to graduate recruitment schemes in hopes of securing a job offer.

One piece of good news is that graduates returning to Asia to seek employment can expect things to take off sooner than for their western counterparts as data from McKinsey would suggest that the East could bounce back from the pandemic in advance of the West.


Graduates can expect a decline in hiring as companies move away from traditional hiring practices

According to Nicol, there is a dip in the number of vacancies available for graduates, and data from the Institute of Student Employers in the UK would suggest that this is a global phenomenon.

Nicol suggests that international students, whether those returning to their home countries or seeking employment in their country of study should start thinking about how data and insights can support their decisions.

“Students must display initiative and decide on their future direction and this includes deciding between becoming a “job-taker” or a “job-maker,” Nicol told U2B over a telephone interview.

If an international student decides to find employment, lobbying their universities to invest in data and insights to support them in finding jobs in their home countries if they wish to return is a good place to start.

Students must speak to their careers service and international office to ask them specifically for data and insight to understand the graduate employment landscape in both their home countries and countries of study to better support them into the workforce.


How can graduates secure employment during the pandemic?

Inevitably, students who aim to join the ranks of “job takers’ need to identify potential employers by applying some “out of the box” thinking which will allow them to identify the myriad of opportunities offered by both big and small firms.

Essentially, graduates, even those with MBAs can no longer expect to be picked up by large firms upon graduating and should expand their job search to include smaller firms.

Nicol explains that historically large firms have recruited from elite institutions and can expect to receive multiple CVs from students who have graduated from prestigious universities.

However, it is those who have interesting and unique credentials that stand out, Nicol adds, “To get noticed by employers, graduates must find new and unique ways to highlight their skills.”

Nicol recommends that graduates should find a way to showcase their attitudes and soft skills in their CVs and cover letters to get noticed.

Students should be thinking about highlighting their “side hustles” to prove that they are individuals who are more than capable of going above and beyond to accomplish what they set out to do.

They should also consider showcasing their personal achievements how they have overcome adversity in the past, succeeded against the odds, or even highlight interesting aspects from their university dissertations.

Nicol adds that employers are more inclined to hire graduates who display instances where they have gone above and beyond at school, university, or in their personal lives.

Additionally, graduates who can demonstrate their ability to overcome significant challenges, how they plan to innovate, or positively contribute to the company they have applied to work for and how would they be an asset to the existing team.

“An important point to note here that this should be conveyed humbly with a passion to learn and that they do not have all the answers but do have good ideas and drive,” Nicol said.

With many graduates competing for the same jobs, graduates will need to stand out and package skills that could be appealing for non-traditional jobs.

Alternatively, there is a lot of scope for graduates to take an entrepreneurial route for their careers.

Louise Nicol is the founder of Asia Careers Group SDN BHD.

Should Asian international students return to Asia to find jobs?

Unsurprisingly, due to the current on-going pandemic, governments are changing policies to keep domestic employment rates high.

Nicol foresees that the Graduate Route for international students to work in the UK that has been much-publicised may not actually enable students to find work without investment from the sector in regional labour market information and significant international student support.

“Plus this year, international students in the UK are unable to secure post-study work, as the Graduate Route is only available to 2021 graduates,”

The situation is different in Australia and Canada, where post-study work is available to graduates.

However, Nicol adds that across the board, despite visas being issued, the Australian experience shows us that employers in the country of study are less likely to employ international graduates for post-study work compared to domestic graduates.”

Additionally, the availability of part-time work or non-graduate vacancies is drying up due to lockdowns with a decline in jobs in areas such as hospitality and retail.

International students who require part-time work to fund their studies will experience difficulties.

Nicol adds that the Asian Century is most definitely upon us, providing more jobs for graduates returning to the region with good career progression prospects and more opportunities for returning graduates to start businesses in Asia.

Nicol has some sound advice for Asian graduates who are keen on starting a business of their own, “You will be successful if you are able to identify a challenge and provide a solution, a new idea or perhaps something gleaned from your studies and experiences overseas, that can touch millions of people in Asia!”