Are international students unemployable? – This student says no!

Imagine a scenario: you are a young person arriving to a foreign country for studies – the country that is famous for its developed infrastructure, digital world, and snowy winters. You, as a young person, are socially active, feel comfortable in the multicultural environment, know a couple of languages and study an interesting programme that you enjoy at the university. During your stay in Estonia, you become acquainted with the culture, get to know new people, and feel like at home. You then realise that you do not want to leave after graduation, that the country is now very dear to you and is the cosiest place in the world. So, you do what is logical – you start looking for a job.

Or just imagine that you are a foreign student who wants to get working experience and earn money during their studies. So, you do what is logical – you start looking for a job. One scenario or the other, the goal is the same – securing employment in Estonia – the country where great opportunities and no less greater challenges might be encountered on a foreign student’s way towards that goal.

From the statistical point of view, the picture looks promising – about 50% of the 5,520 international degree students studying in Estonian universities worked in 2020/2021. But nevertheless, looking for a job in Estonia might take some time and energy, especially when you are aiming for the specific sector that interests you.

Embarking on the search for jobs as a student is like walking in fog – you do not see the situation unless you get closer, you might bump into a few things on the way, and well, there is a chance to get lost and take a longer route. There are dozens of questions, starting from: “Where do I begin?”, “What is out there on the labour market?”, “How do I approach companies?” and progressing to “Why should they hire me and not the Estonian citizen?”, “How many more CVs would it take until I find something?” or “Why does the company not reply to me?”

Research studying employment of international students in Estonia has shown, that the biggest challenges in landing a job for them are knowledge of the local language, the low payment that is offered for the entry level positions and the narrow specialization of the study field that only leaves a few vacant spots on the Estonian labour market.

Not as scary as it looks

Good news is – either the weather eventually changes, or you get yourself that fancy anti-fog flashlight. Even though these are indeed the obstacles you may encounter during your job search, and they can be quite demotivating, there are more than 2,500 international students a year who secure a job. Since 2020, Institute of Baltic Studies has been implementing a project that is aimed at introducing foreign students to Estonian labour market through a series of online and on-site events that connect the employers and the students. During the events we have received a number of job-landing tips from the employers that can serve as cornerstones for those who are in the process of applying for work positions and we will gladly share them with you:

During the introduction to the labour market trainings for foreign students, our coach shared a few recommendations as well:

Students who participated in the events and are employed in Estonia also shared some helpful bits of advice. We have learned that the key steps are having a concrete strategy, being open to or trying something new, building connections in the new country and looking at how your hobbies or volunteering can be helpful on the career path.

As for us, we would encourage you to keep going! However big or small the steps you take are – the pieces will fall into place eventually, and you will grow and learn as you go along. And if you are looking for that first step to take, you might check our YouTube channel with the recordings of “Unlock your potential in Estonia” networking events to find additional tips and potential employers. Best of luck to you! You are almost there.

Maria Khrapunenko
Former international student at University of Tartu
Junior Researcher at Institute of Baltic Studies

Cover picture: Mette Mari Kaljas (our collaboration with the young artist is supported by the National Foundation of Civil Society)