Do you love learning about other cultures? Can you communicate in multiple languages? Do you have a knack for seeing things from a broader, more global perspective? Did you major in international studies or international business? Looking to broaden your corporate experience with a stint working internationally? Do you want to work in a foreign country?
If you answered yes to any and all of these questions, please continue reading this article — where you’ll learn about the 10 most important tips for landing a job overseas.
1. Develop a Job-Search Strategy
The first thing you need to do is develop an overall job-search strategy. It’s imperative that you develop a plan for finding employment because if you don’t, your job-search experience will likely lead to frustrations and missed opportunities.
What’s involved in developing a job-search strategy? Sit down and determine the types of companies that interest you, as well as the different methods you’ll use to track down job leads. In terms of the types of companies, determine whether you are interested in public or private firms; domestic, foreign, or international (global) firms. You should also consider what type of corporate culture you are seeking.
Tracking down job leads involves developing a strategy for how much you will use the various job-search tools:
- networking (with members of professional organizations, alumni, former supervisors and co-workers, family, friends, etc.)
- cold contact (direct mail campaign to selected companies)
- corporate Websites (using company career centers of selected firms to search for openings)
- job sites (including general job sites and international job sites)
- foreign newspapers and trade journals
- recruiters (both by discipline and by geographic location)
- government sources (including governmental agencies, embassies, trade offices)
- international job fairs
2. Determine What Jobs You Want to Pursue Overseas
One of the biggest problems we see with inexperienced job-seekers is having no real focus in their job-search. They know they want an “international” job that involves travel, excitement, and foreign cultures, but have no real sense of job titles or requirements.
If you know the job you are seeking, skip to the next section.
Where to begin? First, go back and examine why you are interested in an overseas job. Second, review the college courses you’ve completed and develop a list of skills you’ve mastered. Third, assess your accomplishments from various work and volunteer experiences. Fourth, analyze the results of the first three steps and see if you can develop a profile of the types of jobs that interest you and that you are qualified for. Be specific. If you’re having trouble, consider using our Career Assessment or Career Exploration resources.
3. Research Potential Jobs, Companies, and Countries
In this step, consider building a spreadsheet that contains all the information you need to know, including job titles, skills and experience required, company name and location, and citizenship or work eligibility requirements. Focus your efforts on domestic and foreign companies as well as global conglomerates. Realize that one of the best methods of securing an international position is first working for a company in your native country — and building your reputation and skills — before seeking a transfer to a branch office or division in a different country.
Where can you get the information you need on companies and countries? Lots of resources are available, including:
- Guide to Researching Companies, Industries, and Countries
- Job and Career Resources for Global Job-Seekers
- Quintessential Directory of Company Career Centers
4. Develop/Polish/Acquire Key Job/Language Skills
Once you’ve completed your research, you should have a clear understanding of whether you have all the skills you need for the jobs you seek. Studies show that the three key items global employers desire from job-seekers are: technical knowledge in your field, cross-cultural adaptability and language fluency skills, and prior work experience. If you feel you are weak or lacking in a certain area, now is the time to get the education/training you need.
If you’re still in school, see if your college or university offers the coursework you need; otherwise, consider colleges in your local area or distance-education programs. You can find more in our College Planning Resources section.
5. Prepare Job-Search Correspondence
As with any kind of job search, your job-search correspondence is critically important; perhaps even more so because of the regional differences in resumes and curriculum vitas (CV).
First, your cover letter. Remember the key rules of any cover letter: address the letter to a named individual (the hiring manager ideally); write an enticing and attention-grabbing first paragraph explaining why you are writing; relate how your mix of skills, accomplishments, and education matches the employer’s needs; and end the letter proactively, asking for an interview. Take advantage of our Cover Letter Resources section, where you’ll find everything you need to write a dynamic cover letter.
Second, your resume. More than likely, you will need to convert your resume to a CV. Most countries outside the U.S. favor the CV over the resume. Do your homework on the region of the world where you want to work and tailor your CV to fit. Read our article, Culturally Competent Resumes for the Global Job Market and find other key resources and samples in the Resume Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
6. Build and Use Your Network of Contacts — Locally and Internationally
While networking is important for job-hunting in your home country, it is absolutely crucial in the global job-search. Take advantage of all networking sources, especially college alumni and professional organizations. People in your network can not only help you by alerting you to job leads, but can also help you with developing other contacts, understanding the economics and culture of the country where they reside, and other key background information that may be helpful in your job-search.
To learn more and find key networking resources, go to The Art of Networking section of Quintessential Careers.
7. Prepare for the Global Job Interview
The majority of your initial job (screening) interviews will probably be conducted in an non-personal medium, such as through email, telephone, or video conferencing. You need to be prepared not only for dealing with these specific types of interviewing methods, but also be confident in your language skills. While you need to be prepared for the challenges you face with these interviews — showing enthusiasm and confidence — stay focused on the point that if these companies were not willing to do unconventional interviews, you wouldn’t have much of a chance for a global job.
As with any job interview, the key for your success is preparation and practice. Whatever the medium of the interview, you still need to articulate how your unique mix of accomplishments, skills, and education make you an ideal candidate for the position… and you still need to show your knowledge of the company as well as ask questions.
Resources that can help you prepare:
- Job Interview Tutorial
- Job Interview Questions Database with Practice Interviews
- Phone Interview Etiquette Can Propel You to the Next Step in the Hiring Process
8. Follow-Up All Job Leads
It’s essential — for your job-search success — to make the effort to follow-up ALL job leads… don’t let any potential jobs slip through your hands. Make phone calls and send e-mails to all your prospective employers and inquire about the status of the job openings. You have to be a bit more assertive in your follow-up, but be careful of sounding too aggressive. Again, know the culture of the country. And be sure to send thank-you notes after all interviews and other contacts.
Finally, remember that it’s better to err on the side of seeming too aggressive in your follow-up then to not follow-up at all.
9. Consider Obtaining a Graduate Degree
Consider attending graduate school — either a top-ranked school in your home country or a graduate school in the country/region where you want to work. Whether it’s an MBA with a specialty in international business or a graduate degree in international affairs, be sure to do your homework on the best programs to fit your needs and goals.
Read our article, Considering Graduate School? Answer These Five Questions Before You Decide.
10. Contemplate Going/Moving Abroad
In job-hunting, nothing beats meeting with prospective employers face-to-face. If you have the resources, consider traveling or moving to the country or region where you want to work. Once there, meet with potential employers and consider volunteering, interning, or other work alternatives while you continue to search for that ideal position.
Just remember that moving to a foreign country takes a lot more planning than simply moving across town. You’ll want to have enough money to live without a paycheck for three to six months, and you’ll want to have a number of network contacts and job leads you are ready to follow-up with as soon as you arrive. And even after you move, you’ll want to keep a lifeline back to your home country in the event your job-searching fails and you need to return home.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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