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Ife Tokan: 4 Reasons Why You Do Not Get That Job As an International Student



It is very important for any Nigerian that has the opportunity to go to university outside the country to gain some work experience in that country.
Let’s think back to our independence. The reason we have independence today is because people who were abroad saw the advantages gained from independence and decided to come back to lead the fight for our independence for a better Nigeria. The same principle applies; the UK is far more advanced than Nigeria in many sectors of business. For Nigeria to move forward we need foreign financial investment and most importantly people with international experience and exposure. In fact international corporations are aware of the value international exposure brings to the future growth of their firm, and they factor it into their long-term growth strategy. A good example is PwC – the international professional service firm, in order to become a partner there is a compulsory requirement to get an international work placement. Below are the four reasons why Nigerian International Students do not get internship or graduate jobs:

We Lack Work Experience
I have had the opportunity to review a lot of CVs for people and I have noticed something common with most Nigerian students – they emphasize their academic excellence more than anything else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but to an employer a 1st class or an A* only tells the employer that you are good at storing information in your head and putting it down on paper. It doesn’t tell the employer you have the essential skills, such as leadership, networking or even presentation skills, for their business to grow. Work experience, whether it is in corporate world or a charity, will enable you to show off some of those keys skills that employers love to see.  You don’t need relevant work experience or paid work experience to gain those skills.

We Start Late
In the UK timing is so important. Most employers will aim for their new employees to start around September for graduate jobs and June or July for summer internships. Therefore, some employers will open for applications as soon as August (the year before). Some really keen students get their internships and grad jobs sorted in good time before they even start Uni. I have seen a lot students realize that they need an internship or a grad job way too late in the recruitment process. At this point most applications are closed or filled up. An early start gives you more options that can increase the probability of getting a job.

We Give Up
It’s a Nigerian thing; we are all to used to calling that uncle who knows the MD or CEO of a company that can get us that internship or job in 24 hours. I myself have enjoyed that privilege once; unfortunately it is not the same in the UK. Even those who have connections in the UK do not get the job in 24 hours they still have to go through the long recruitment process. With this 24-hour mentality most of us tend to give up after we get rejected the first three or four times. Not knowing that the only way to succeed is through failure. As long as we learn from each experience. I have had to send 52 applications before I actually landed my first job. Never give up. We must learn that every  time we fail, we are given an opportunity to learn and become better.

We Have A Cultural Barrier
This is something I still struggle with a little. Needless to say, the British culture is different from the Nigerian culture. What we see as acceptable will be different from what the average white British person sees as acceptable. I was invited to dinner at my Scottish friends house. As a Nigerian man I turned up to his house empty handed and with an empty stomach. It came to my understanding later on that he was offended by that, I was suppose to at least bring a bottle of wine or dessert. That concept of you inviting me to your house to eat and me bringing part of the dinner was very new to me. Obviously this example is not career related but we can see how our cultural difference can offend one another without even realizing. This can then hinder us from achieving well at an interview or an assessment centre. How do we combat this important issue? It’s simple; all we need to do is ensure we embrace diversity in our friendship groups. This is the safest way to learn a different culture and gain exposure. If you are privileged enough to study in the UK you don’t only get an international qualification but you also get the opportunity to mix with people from different backgrounds. It is essential you utilise it.

Some people may read this article and it may be too late to go back to the UK to apply for jobs. What is very important here is that we ensure we give the knowledge and opportunities we didn’t have to the younger generation. Share this with someone young that you love or care about.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime |  Atholpady 

"Ife was listed in the Top 100 Outstanding Graduates by the Future Leaders Magazine, UK. He has interned in top global brands like Accenture, PwC and Deloitte. He is a big believer in giving back to the community through any capacity possible. He describes himself in three words: Purposeful, Passionate and Proactive. Ife loves building and mentoring future leaders." Twitter: ife_tokan LinkedIn Ife Ade Tokan


  1. Tunmi

    July 28, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Another thing is eye contact. In Nigeria and many Asian countries, Japan and Korea for example, subordinates do not look their higher-ups in the eye. So students may not make eye contact with the interviewer and this comes across as weak or incompetent. Adding to that is the handshake. The handshake must be firm and not soft or too strong. A firm handshake indicates confidence and capability.

    • Babs

      July 28, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      Spot on! Struggled with eye contact in the initial stages of my interviewing and it was fed back to me as a negative

  2. Destined for greatness

    July 28, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    You took everything out of my mouth. You literally wrote the article I’ve been dying to write.

    • Immanuel Worship

      August 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Its not surprising how two innovations comes from two different places at the same time in history….When you are inspired just put some down…start it

  3. Titi

    July 28, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks Ife,very insightful and helpful too

  4. MiMi

    July 28, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    The first point is SO important and probably our biggest issue. I worked in the Career Services department at my school, and that was something we told everyone, don’t depend on your grades alone. Find a job, internship, volunteer work even to supplement your good grades. It is very important to go beyond the grades. Even if your grades are just ok, the whatever experience you have will help supplement it (and that includes volunteer work).
    I know what a difference that made for me. I started out with a menial job collecting tickets and I also did some volunteering, eventually I was able to work my way up into more valuable experience like the Career Services job. When I was interviewing for internships, the companies were impressed with my resume and it wasn’t anything special..

    Your school should have a career services department. Make use of them while you can.

  5. Benbella

    July 28, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Let me add my 2 kobo (or 2 pence in this instance)

    – Dear job seeker, take the time to work on your resume. Your CV, even with all the PHDs and qualifications is not worth spit, or worth the paper it is printed on, if it is not properly formatted, and does not flow coherently. Make sure your current phone number is listed there – put an alternative number you can be reached on if necessary. Outline the responsibilities and roles performed at all relevant jobs. Good form is to only go as far back as 7 years, and limit the resume to 2 pages. No HR manager is interested in reading your biography or about how you helped increase the sales in one old generation bank in 1976. If necessary engage a professional resume writing service, or use one of those agencies like Hays or Robert Half, or Search – sometimes they do a resume workshop or review for free. Your resume has to contain keywords and catch phrases specific to your area of expertise so that the resume selection software the hirers use can flag it after you submit an application

    – Dear job finder. Go and review your social media reputation. Google your name. What do you see? A LinkedIn profile chronicling your achievements or a Facebook photo of you partying and bullshitting/breaking the internet. Make your Facebook page private, and remove scandalous photos/posts from your timeline. Employers are hiring agencies to research employee’s online activity. Lame and ridiculous you say, but shebi na you need job. Do the needful. After you have arrived, if you like, you can re-break the internet

    – Dear job application sender, work on your interview techniques. As Ife aptly pointed out, there are cultural difference which sometimes impact our job search. Nigerians have a natural “I no send frown”. That scowl has got to go, before it renders you perpetually employable. Soften your face when you walk in for an interview. Be friendly and courteous to the receptionist at the front desk sef. Speak clearly and concisely when asked interview questions. There are some basic interview questions which are always asked at interviews: Tell me about yourself; Why should we hire you; What do you know about the company; Where do you see yourself in 5 years; How do you deal with workplace conflict etc. Master answers to this questions and learn how to answer them in 2-4 minutes without narrating a story about how you fetched water in your village to put enough ticket money to come to Jand. Smile, but do not shine your teeth like the village jester. After the interview, thank the HR person for his time, and be sure to collect a business card. Send an email thanking them and re-enforcing your interest in the job.

    – Job finder, tailor your resume to the job description so that there is a correlation, but be realistic. Someone who did a Masters in Yoruba Education can never, despite his best efforts be considered for a role as a Petroleum Economist at Shell, BG or Anadarko. He can apply for roles as a translator at the Borough of Kensington.

    Good luck

    • Tosin

      July 29, 2015 at 3:35 am

      i still have a plain resume with unsexy formatting after all these years. what can i say, it represents me – substance over swag. lol.

    • Ephi

      July 29, 2015 at 9:07 am

      Spot on, minus the “Someone who did a Masters in Yoruba Education can never, despite his best efforts be considered for a role as a Petroleum Economist at Shell, BG or Anadarko. ” —

      You would be surprised at how different the BSc courses of some Senior guys in the big coys is to their current roles. So never say never.

    • oj

      July 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

      there’s one reason – CONNECTION!

    • Ephi

      July 29, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      I am not talking about connection here, don’t misinterpret what I wrote abeg

    • Mr Ifektive

      July 30, 2015 at 9:28 am

      Benbella you are so funny lol, WHat everything you wrote is so right. Thank you for the comment. please connect with me on LinkedIn Ife Ade Tokan

  6. Emy

    July 28, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I quite agree with the poster but on the other hand i have so many reasons why Nigerians dont get jobs in the UK, well some. I applied for jobs in the UK even before i finished the LLM degree, no hope until i finally got a contract job. First of all Law is not something that can fetch u a job easily in the Uk with a Nigerian degree. Secondly i only had a post study work permit which was going to expire after two years. Not all companies are willing to sponsor your visa. So if they have three candidates for a job, british, someone from an european country n a Nigerian, sorry o even with ist class n distinction, no hope. I think per hour jobs are even better sef.

  7. Ojie

    July 28, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Makes sense.

  8. Olori Tari

    July 28, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    “we lack work experience”. <<<< this is the summary. The beginning and the end. The no1 and no4. The genesis and revelation. I cannot stress this enough.

    Their CVs (for the most part) are always so scanty. It's is made up of " I can do this, do that, I got best in physics, my hobby is bla bla" and I'm thinking…whatever happened to compulsory volunteer from like year 10? Honestly, it was compulsory in my school. Year 10, year 11, A-level. You HAD to…it was part of the school curriculum.

    Can majority of Nigerian schools start to make it compulsory for students to volunteer to work for FREE and well, if money comes with it, then perfect. Maybe for like +2 weeks towards the closing of the term perhaps? It's not okay to wait till university or after – even at university level my friend was still looking for the perfect placement place? In year 3…YEAR 3.

    On the other hand, year 3 students are like 18/19 years old. When you look at it from that perspective, then it's not as outrageous. Its equivalent to the age those who have passed through Uk curriculum get into university anyway.

    Ejo…Parents, DRAG that 15+ years old for enrichment and work experience today. Not everyday summer school, enough of book.

  9. anon

    July 29, 2015 at 12:02 am

    But I hear the UK does not give jobs to international students. How true is this

    • Bunmi

      July 29, 2015 at 11:18 am

      They are in the process of enforcing that into law. So now, all you would do is read book and go when you are done.

    • Tomi

      July 29, 2015 at 11:55 am

      That’s not true. ‘I’m technically still classified as an international student, even though I’ve lived here for over 6 years (came here when I was 18) and I currently work in a company that sponsors my visa.

  10. lyon

    July 29, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Very true. Great article. And yes work experience is key. I have been told that since I entered university and sobi acted accordingly. Thanks

  11. Iris

    July 29, 2015 at 1:28 am

    The first two are big ones. I went to school in Canada and I know people who went to school in the States. Many of us had part-time jobs by the time we were 19, even if it was a cashier job. It’s good to start early so as you continue through undergrad, people know you’ve actually been through the employment system, no matter how small a position it is. None of the people I knew in England were working as students. I even thought they weren’t allowed to work, but it turns out they were.

  12. Gorgeous

    July 29, 2015 at 1:56 am

    The number one reason is that it is cheaper to hire a local citizen. There are a lot of top companies that will throw your resume in the bin once you need sponsorship. The country and their governments demand that you consider citizens first. Nigeria has a long way to go in that respect

  13. Zill paul

    July 29, 2015 at 2:58 am

    This working whilst you’re in school (In Nigeria) still stretches itself to the unemployment rate of the country.
    You have qualified graduates that haven’t gotten placed in the labour market, regardless of their qualifications and endless searches and you expect a spot for unqualified – mentally(sometimes) – 15-19 year old to get a job without disturbing his/her full time education.

    It’s not an excuse, I’m just saying the Nigerian economy isn’t that ripe, our educational system doesn’t provide that kind of balance and there are not that much Jobs that accommodate that!

    • Ross

      July 29, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Then we have to provide the opportunities for ourselves. The poster couldn’t be more right.
      Many Nigerians get their first jobs at 25 and that’s already 7 years too late.
      We are lazy (although we believe we’re hard working) and the average Nigerian will only ever ‘work hard’ if there’s someone to impress. Of our own accord we don’t like to work and soo many young people are growing in this ”wait for Oga to give you a job”-mentality

      Our work ethic is very poor and young people are always looking for hand outs and for people to ‘give them opportunities’.
      How about we create these opportunities???? Our communities are in shambles and people can rally themselves together and provide holiday programme’s for street children.
      Mr XYZ can rally his nephews to get the children on his street (or wherever from) together for a basketball match. Teach them the rules, teach them to play and give them something to look forward to everyday outside of their monotonous lives. The entire process is a full-time job which teaches leadership values, discipline and a long list of other values.
      That goes on a 17 year olds CV and a leader for tomorrow is born.
      This is just one example of a hundred others, but we don’t care as a people and we are breeding lazy young people which is so so dangerous for a nation.

    • Mr Ifektive

      July 30, 2015 at 9:04 am

      Spot on Ross. The young people in Nigeria need to wake up and realize that our future is ours to create for ourselves. I have seen that Nigerian young people are baby fed way too much where as in the UK you even contribute to your university fees by getting a loan even if your parents are well off. Another thing that is scary is the mentality of young people to make quick money. I have learnt that the quicker the money gets into your pocket the quicker it leaves, this is why casinos will always be in business. Thanks for your comment Ross connect with me on LinkedIn..

    • Mr Ifektive

      July 30, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Hi, I completely understand where you are coming from but i disagree with you. My first job 5 years ago in store as a store assistant was in a Health Store called Holland and Barrett. It paid a little but most importantly I learnt key skills like communication, problem solving organisation skills (I was 18 at the time). A typical Nigerian teenager will never want to work in shoprite because of there ego. They want to work in a big bank where they wont be given anything to do and not develop any skills where as on the shop floor at shoprite you learn to communicate with people, your learn organisation skills. The opportunities in Nigeria are endless to develop skills. I don’t see why our young people cant take up farming during their 3 months summer holidays, there is a lot of skills and entrepreneurial lesson to be learnt by investing your time in such.Thank you for the comment.

  14. VISA Issh

    July 29, 2015 at 8:06 am

    From the 3rd of August, international student would be unable to switch to a working visa in the country so you can go for as many interviews but would not get s job due to sponsorship reasons. Thank you Theresa May.

  15. Tobi

    July 29, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Thanks so much for this article. I’ve been singing it in my younger brother’s ear that holiday jobs/internships while in university are important, gotta build his skills.

  16. Bisi

    July 29, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Who ever thought of work-experience at secondary school in nigeria, surely not me because there was no form of information or even opportunities for such.
    The eye contact palava was the worst for me when i came into the UK because we were not taught to look up neither speak up. That country has a long way to go. Seriously
    Provision of more jobs can not just be overstressed.

  17. red

    July 29, 2015 at 10:39 am

    thanks. insightful

  18. Beautrice

    July 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    This post has really been helpful….will work on my Resume now

  19. Daniel

    July 30, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Thanks a lot for the post and the various comments. Now I see what my dad has been trying to do clearly. I just need to put the necessary finishing touches and help myself not rely on others. Thanks a lot.

  20. Lola

    July 31, 2015 at 12:55 am

    This is so spot on.

    Employers and recruiters in Nigeria have much to learn from this too.
    They need to start being practical about recruitment because 3 degrees doesn’t necessarily mean you can do the job. The current processes only make Nigerians seek to stack up degrees rather than experience and this needs to change!

    Well done Ife!

  21. Segz!

    July 31, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Spot on Ife!

  22. Immanuel Worship

    August 12, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Good job, My sin is that i assume we all should know this coz I learnt this just by leaving Lagos to school in Abakaliki….Getting to Cyprus it was working with grace abundance.

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