How to find work in the UK, including information on the current job market, job vacancies, British work permits, and where to find jobs in the UK.
The UK has typically been a popular place for jobs, with a good economy and many big cities hosting big employers. However, rules are changing following the country’s exit from the EU due to happen at the end of 2020.
This guide to finding work in the UK has sections on:
- Work in the UK
- How to find jobs in the UK
- Self-employment and freelancing in the UK
- Traineeships, internships and volunteering in the UK
- Applying for jobs in the UK
- Support while looking for a job in the UK
- Requirements for work in the UK
- Starting a job in the UK
- Useful resources
Work in the UK
Job market in the UK
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the overall unemployment rate in the UK was 3.9% in May 2020. This is the lowest it has been for 40 years. However, this is partly explained by the growth of “zero hour contracts” which have more than quadrupled over the last decade to 896,000 in 2019.
Economic growth is concentrated in London and the south east; unemployment is higher in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The London jobs market is booming with 10 times more jobs on offer than the next best area of the country but of course there’s a lot more competition for those jobs.
The biggest sectors in the UK in terms of number of employees, according to the 2018 ONS Business Register and Employment Survey, are:
- wholesale and retail
- healthcare and social work
- scientific and technical
The largest UK-based companies in terms of market share in 2020 are:
- Unilever (consumer goods)
- AstraZeneca (pharmaceutical)
- Royal Dutch Shell (oil & gas)
- BHP (mining)
- Rio Tinto (mining)
- GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceutical)
- HSBC (finance)
However, public sector organizations tend to be the biggest UK employers, with the NHS, the British Army and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) having the most employees in 2018.
Read more in our guide to the UK job market.
Job vacancies in the UK
The UK government website publishes and regularly updates skills shortage occupations on its website. The shortage list in August 2020 includes:
- scientists (biochemistry, physics)
- engineers (civil, mechanical, electrical)
- IT (analysts, systems designers, programmers, web designers, software developers)
- medical (practitioners, psychologists, radiographers, nurses, vets, occupational therapists)
- education (secondary school teachers)
- graphic designers
- skilled chefs
Job salaries in the UK
The UK national minimum wage is updated each year. From April 2020, it stands at:
- £8.72 per hour for employees aged 25 and above;
- Between £4.55 and £8.20 per hour for employees aged 18-24;
- £4.15 per hour for apprentices
Average UK salaries vary greatly in the UK according to factors including job sector, region, gender and skill level. In 2019, the median weekly salary for a full-time worker in the UK was £585. The gender pay gap stood at 8.9% in 2019.
See more in our guide to the UK minimum wage.
Work culture in the UK
Most UK companies still have distinct hierarchies with managers making most of the decisions and being very firmly in charge of teams of employees. Leading a team efficiently and having a good relationship with staff are considered important management skills.
Teamwork within the team is highly valued. It’s common for staff to go out for a drink at a pub or bar after work.
The British like meetings; lots of them. They are usually planned in advance with a set agenda and while they can be informal in tone, everyone leaves with a specific task.
Labor laws and labor rights in the UK
Employment contracts are the norm when working in the UK and every employee has the right to ask for a written contract. The contract contains the terms and conditions of your employment and cannot be amended by your employer after you have signed it.
Your employment contract should contain details on:
- Your weekly working hours. For full-time workers these are typically 35-40 hours per week. The maximum working week is 48 hours, although employees can choose to work more;
- Your annual leave entitlement. This is a minimum of 28 days for full-time employees, including the eight UK public holidays;
- The notice period for termination of contract.
Job notice periods depend on the length of period employed by the organization. It currently stands at:
- At least one week if you have been employed for between one month and two years;
- One week for every year if you have worked for between 2-12 years;
- 12 weeks if you have been employed for more than 12 years.
How to find jobs in the UK
Check out Expatica’s UK job pages to find a constantly updated selection of jobs throughout the UK in a range of different sectors.
If you’re from the EU or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), you can still currently look for a job in the UK through the EURES (European Employment Services) website. EURES is a job portal network that is maintained by the European Commission and it’s designed to aid free movement within the European Economic Area. As well as looking for work, you can upload your CV and get advice on the legal and administrative issues involved in working in the UK.
However, as a result of Brexit the UK ceases to be a part of the European Economic Area as of 1 January 2021. This currently means that EURES services will no longer apply after the end of 2020.
Find a job is the government-run online search engine for jobs throughout the UK. There are also Job Centers on the high streets of larger towns throughout the UK where you can browse job vacancies in person.
You can browse thousands of full and part-time jobs, upload your CV and manage applications on websites such as CV Library, which is the UK’s leading independent job board with nearly 200,000 live jobs across all sectors:
- Caterer – hospitality, restaurants, hotels, pubs, bars and catering
- Charityjob – charities
- Computer weekly – IT
- CWJobs – IT
- Design Week– design, branding, copywriting, artworking, exhibitions, graphics, interiors, furniture and packaging
- Exec Appointments – executive jobs
- Hays – management and professional level jobs
- Justengineers – engineering
- Madjobs – marketing and advertising
- Mandy – TV and film
- Music Jobs– all aspects of the music industry including performers, producers, teachers
- NHSjobs – jobs in all sectors of the National Health Service throughout the UK, from medics and nurses, through administration to cleaning and services
- Prospects – graduates
- Splashfind – top 100 UK specialist job sites
Most recruitment agencies specialise in a particular sector like IT, retail, childcare or secretarial. Some agencies are ‘headhunters’ who are employed by large companies to recruit executives and professionals on their behalf. Others are ‘temping’ agencies who can help you find temporary work in offices and retail, for example.
Newspapers and print
The Guardian newspaper is one of the best sources of graduate and professional jobs, especially in the arts, culture and media, marketing, government and politics, housing, social care, environment and education. Look online for jobs across the sectors; the print editions focus on a different sector each day.
Have a look on company websites for available vacancies and also for information you can use in making a speculative application. You can find out background information about the company and its rivals, as well as the name of the right person to contact if you’re making a direct approach.
Look for the name of the person who’s responsible for making decisions about hiring or the budget, not the human resources or personnel office. If the name is not on the website, send an email or phone and ask.
Embassies and consulates
Look for job vacancies at your home country’s embassy or consulate in the UK. Whatever the job, you are sure to need a high standard of spoken and written English.
Networking is very important in the UK as many jobs are filled by word of mouth and are never advertised. So make as many contacts as possible. Join the professionals networking website LinkedIn and connect with others in the same field (trawl through your contacts’ contacts and ask for introductions).
Create an online profile
Put yourself out there – virtually – with a dynamic online profile and a CV that employers can easily download. Make sure you use lots of keywords relevant to the type of job you’re looking for in the profile and filename, so that employers see your profile first (look at other people’s CVs and profiles to help you draw up a list).
Use a PDF or compatible format so it’s easily accessible by as many employers as possible. Once you’ve compiled your profile, download and print it out yourself to make sure if looks how you want it to look.
Self-employment and freelancing in the UK
If you have the right to work in the UK, this includes the right to start your own business or register as a self-employed freelancer. You will need to check visa requirements as you may need to apply for a business visa.
If you start a business in the UK under its own trading name, you can choose whether to be a sole trader/unincorporated business or register the business as a limited company. Becoming a limited company means that you can employ yourself as a director and have your business income treated separately from your personal income. However, you will have additional administrative and tax filing requirements.
Traineeships, internships and volunteering in the UK
You can currently find traineeships in the UK through the European Commission Traineeships Office, however this is only until the end of 2020 when the UK officially leaves the EU. You can also search via the UK government website.
Search for internship opportunities in the UK on AIESEC (for students and recent graduates) and IAESTE (for students in science, engineering and applied arts). Europlacement and Go Abroad also advertise internships.
If you want to volunteer in the UK to develop your skills, you can find opportunities and search organizations on the National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) website. Concordia is another UK-based organization offering volunteering opportunities. For holiday volunteering opportunities, check Workaway.
Applying for jobs in the UK
Once you’ve found a job in the UK, you need to prepare your application. If you get through to the interview stage you’ll need to know what to expect in a British job interview, and what to do – and not to do – during the interview.
UK job applications tend to take the form of either an application form (often available online) that includes a personal statement where you need to demonstrate that you meet the ‘person specification’, or a request for a CV together with a covering letter (which should cover the same areas as a personal statement).
Interviews for UK jobs typically last between 30-60 minutes and you will often be interviewed by 2-3 interviewers. Some interviews involve additional testing or tasks which will increase the overall interview time length.
Research the company ahead of the interview to get an idea of its values and work culture, and also to help prepare questions to ask. Dress and behave formally but try to stay relaxed and friendly.
If you are offered the job, the company will contact you by phone and in writing. They will also chase up your references. Typically you have to provide 2-3 of these as part of your application.
For more information, see our article on applying for a job in the UK, including information on British-style CVs and job interviews.
Support while looking for jobs in the UK
You can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the UK to support you while you’re looking for work, however you will need to have worked previously and made Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the last 2-3 years.
Skills training is available to help you build your career prospects and develop your employment skills. Each part of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) has its own careers service that runs courses and offers funding. Find out more on the UK government website.
Find out more in our guide to social security in the UK.
Requirements for work in the UK
UK work visas
UK work-related visas are changing in light of the 2016 Brexit vote. From 1 January 2021, EU/EFTA citizens will be treated the same as third-country nationals and will need a visa to work in the UK.
Currently there are only work visas available in the UK for skilled migrants and those working in shortage occupations. In 2020, the UK government announced the introduction of a new points-based system that will come into effect from the start of 2021.
Language requirements for work in the UK
If you speak another language other than English, you’ll have a big advantage over many British applicants – most of whom will only be able to speak English – but you will almost certainly need to be able to speak English yourself to get a job in the UK. To get a visa to come to the UK to work, you may need to prove your English language proficiency anyway.
If your English needs improving, consider taking a course run by a language school. The UK Border Agency has a list of language tests that meet the Home Office requirements.
There is a shortage of language teachers in the UK. If you hold a university degree and can speak English well, you might be able to take a post-graduate course to allow you to teach your mother tongue in an English school or college. See here for more information.
You can find information on language schools and courses in our guide to where to study English in the UK.
Qualifications to work in the UK
You can find out how qualifications awarded in your home country relate to British qualifications through UK NARIC. The NARIC site also has a section with details on which professions are regulated in the UK, in other words you need a minimum level of professional qualifications before you can practice them in the UK.
If you want to know if your professional qualifications are recognized in the UK, contact the relevant professional body. You should make sure any references or testimonials are translated into English.
Tax and social security numbers in the UK
Once you start working and paying tax in the UK, whether employed or self-employed, you will be assigned a unique tax reference (UTR) number. This is a 10-digit number that is used in your dealings with the UK Inland Revenue.
You will need to apply for a National Insurance (NI) Number before you start working in the UK. Your NI number is used for social security purposes in the UK and you will need it, for example, to claim benefits or a UK pension.
To apply for a NI number, you will need to ring the application phone line (number available here). You may initially be issued with a temporary NI number if you already have a job offer and are looking to start work immediately.
Read more in our guide to ID numbers in the UK.
Starting a job in the UK
It is likely that you will start off on a probation period in your new job. During this time, the length of notice regarding the termination of your contract may well be shorter. Job probation periods in the UK should not be longer than six months.
Your employer should enroll you for social security and will make contributions from your monthly salary that will entitle you to benefits and the UK state pension. In addition to this, you will be covered by employers’ liability insurance in the event of any work-based illnesses or injuries.
Depending on your employer, you may also be offered the chance to opt in on a company pension to top up your state pension benefit. Many UK employers also offer other types of perks such as private health insurance.