How to Do an International Job Search

If only finding a job anywhere in the world were as simple as pushing a button on your computer's keyboard. See pictures of corporate life.
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Have you ever dreamed of living and working in an exotic locale or making a fortune as an international business mogul? Maybe you work in an industry where all the real opportunities or scientific advances are happening overseas, or you're a new grad hoping to spend a year or two after college experiencing life abroad before you enter the "real" working world back home.

With the U.S. unemployment rate stuck above 8 percent since 2009, jobseekers have heard endless advice about how to stand out from the crowd and survive a traditional job hunt [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. But what if your search for employment takes you overseas? The idea of an international job search can be daunting even to a seasoned professional, partly because it involves all the challenges of a local quest for employment along with added obstacles like distance, cultural differences and sometimes language barriers.

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When your potential job pool is spread across the entire globe (or at least a few time zones), how do you know where to start? Whether you're looking for a new career challenge, daydreaming about buying a one-way ticket to Europe, or trying to find work overseas in a hurry because your significant other has received an offshore transfer, the next few pages will cover everything you need to know to embark on an international job search.

Beginning Your International Job Search

First, define your objectives as clearly and specifically as you can, beginning with the reason for your international job search. Are you looking for a position in a certain field, no matter where on the map it takes you, or do you have your heart set on a particular country or region, regardless of the work available there [source: University of Texas at Austin]?

If you want to find a position in your current field, you may already know who the biggest international employers are, as well as what sorts of opportunities exist overseas, but you'll still want to carefully define the position you're looking for. The job titles in other countries may or may not be the same as they are in the states, so be sure to consider not just the name of the position but also the job description, responsibilities, qualifications and situation in an employer's org chart (e.g., management vs. entry level; marketing vs. operations).

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To the extent that you can, make a list of five countries or regions that you would consider living in [source: University of Texas at Austin]. Would you take a job in the Middle East? Do you hope to stay in Europe, South America or Asia? Fortunately, the Web makes it easy to research the major employers in your field and find out where their locations are; in many cases, you can even find job openings by country on many company's corporate Web sites.

If you know what region you hope to move to but aren't sure what kind of work you'll be able to find there, begin by taking a realistic inventory of your skills and qualifications. What sorts of job would you apply for back home? What types of opportunities are likely to be available in your target destination? Is it a tourist area, a research hub, a manufacturing center or an agricultural region? Is your heart set on Spain, or would Portugal be equally acceptable?

You may feel reluctant to narrow your choices too much, too soon (after all, isn't the notion of endless possibilities one of the attractions of landing an international job?), but the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to begin your search. You can always expand your parameters as your search progresses.

Now that you've started to zero in on the kind of job you want and your preferred destination, it's time to see what's out there.

Finding International Job Openings

Take advantage of the Internet; many job search Web sites focus on international jobseekers and most corporate companies also list available job openings on their Web sites.
Take advantage of the Internet; many job search Web sites focus on international jobseekers and most corporate companies also list available job openings on their Web sites.
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You've identified your ideal job description and no more than a few potential locations; now where do you go from here? First, thank your lucky stars that you live in the age of the Internet. In some ways, seeking out job openings halfway around the world is no more difficult than finding opportunities halfway across town.

We've all heard the adage that "it's not what you know, it's who you know," and the same holds true in an international job search. The expatriate job site Expat Careers estimates that 75 percent of international jobs are unadvertised, so if you have personal or professional contacts in the country or industry you hope to work in, begin with them [source: ExpatCareers.com].

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Set up a LinkedIn profile if you haven't already, and reach out to connections in your extended network to let them know that you are looking for positions in the field and geographic region you've identified. If you are a college student or recent graduate, ask your career services center if they can help you locate internship programs or entry level jobs abroad. No matter when you graduated, your school's alumni network can be a terrific resource for worldwide connections in any number of professions [source: Morgan]. More than 6.32 million U.S. citizens live and work abroad; with any luck, at least one of them will be in your network [source: Association of Americans Resident Overseas].

While you continue to network, take advantage of the many job search Web sites that focus on international jobseekers, such as ExpatCareers.com, ExpatJob.net or Expatnetwork. All three list international jobs, and they can also be great sources of information about whatever country you're considering. Sites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com also offer international job search engines that let you filter by industry, job title and location, just as you would for a U.S. search. If you've been able to identify the major employers in your target area, look for openings posted in the careers sections of their corporate Web sites. One other trick is to go to the Google site for the country you're targeting; for example, search "engineering jobs" on google.co.uk to find local job listings in the United Kingdom.

Of course, finding job openings is one thing. Landing an interview -- not to mention the job itself -- from 5,000 miles away is quite another.

Landing an International Job

To some extent, the process of landing a job in another country is the same as it would be here in the states, although the added challenges of distance and cultural norms mean that you'll probably need a bit more planning and coordination to succeed in your international job search.

As with any job search, be sure that you're targeting jobs for which you are qualified. Rather than sending out resumes indiscriminately, apply for specific positions that fit well with your background, interests and experience. Speaking of resumes, be aware that in many countries, the standard job history is presented in a CV, or curriculum vitae, rather than a resume, and the requirements and expectations for length and content vary greatly from place to place [source: Going Global]. In France, your resume will be called a CV (wait, didn't they give us the word résumé in the first place?), and the employer may expect you to include your picture, date of birth and marital status, as well as how many children you have [source: Morgan].

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One very important difference between a domestic and an international job search is that in many cases you'll need to secure a work visa before you will even be considered for a job, and in nearly every country, you will need some sort of work visa or permit before you can be hired or begin work [source: Going Global]. Web sites like Going Global or the various expat sites can help you research visa requirements, but always confirm the information you find with the U.S. State Department Web site or the embassy of your destination country.

When you do score an interview, even if it's just an exploratory or informational interview with someone you find through your network, be sure to brush up on the local business etiquette and accepted interview practices, which can be very different from one country to another. Even if your first contact is a phone interview, you'll need to find out how you should address the interviewer. Are first names acceptable, or are titles such as mister (or monsieur) the norm? If the interview will be conducted in a language other than English (more about that on the next page), should you use formal or informal pronouns? Is it considered rude for a job applicant to ask questions, or will it be seen as a lack of interest or preparation if you don't?

Just as you would for a job interview here in the United States, prepare, prepare, prepare, and then follow up promptly with individual e-mails or thank-you notes to each person you spoke with.

International Job Search Tips

As you continue to do your research, be sure to find out what types of documentation you'll need to enter the country (and leave again!).
As you continue to do your research, be sure to find out what types of documentation you'll need to enter the country (and leave again!).
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Now that we've covered the basics, here are a few tips to keep in mind throughout the job search process.

Know what's important --This goes for you personally, as well as for the employers you hope to impress. Are you more concerned about career development or a new cultural experience? Are foreign language skills required, or can you conduct business (and life!) in English? Some jobseekers expect international employers to be wowed by their knowledge of the local language, but unless you're applying to be a translator or an interpreter, it's usually your work experience, not your bilingual skills, that companies are after.

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Know the requirements -- What documentation will you need to enter the country (and leave again)? Is your passport up to date? When does it expire? Do you need any additional licenses or certifications to conduct business in your country of choice? What about immunizations or medical records? What sort of references or background checks might your new employer require?

Do your research -- As with any job search, international or otherwise, you'll want to find out everything you can about the companies you're targeting, certainly before you interview and preferably even before you submit your application. With an international job search, you have the additional task of researching the country where you plan to move. How do average salaries and housing expenses compare to those back home? Are there cultural differences that may affect you? Can you expect your employer to provide health insurance and paid vacation?

Give yourself plenty of time --Ideally, you will have learned everything you possibly can about the country you want to move to and the industry you hope to work in before you ever pull up your first international job listing. No matter what stage of the job search process you're in, remember to allow plenty of time for research, paperwork, and the inevitable paperwork delays, as well as good old fashioned thought and reflection. Better to deal with any unexpected issues while you're still on your home turf so there are no unpleasant snafus or surprises once you step off the plane.

And, finally, remember that an "international" job can take many different forms. If your international job search isn't working out as you had hoped, you might consider seeking employment with a foreign-owned company here in the States with the goal of gaining experience and eventually transferring to a new position overseas. Or consider a position with a U.S. company that offers the opportunity to travel outside the United States. There's more than one way to reach your destination, so consider any opportunity that will help you build your skills while you continue to perfect your international job search.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Association of Americans Resident Overseas. "6.32 Million Americans Abroad." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://aaro.org/about-aaro/6m-americans-abroad
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Unemployment rates by age, sex, and marital status, seasonally adjusted." Jan. 6, 2012. (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpsee_e08.htm
  • ExpatCareers.com. "Emigration." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.expatcareers.com/emigration/
  • ExpatCareers.com. "Understanding the Hidden Job Market." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.expatcareers.com/finding_the_right_job/the_hidden_job_market/
  • Going Global. "Resume/CVs." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.goinglobal.com/en/topics-overview/?topic_id=12
  • Going Global. "Work Permits/Visas." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://old.goinglobal.com/topic/work_permit.asp
  • Going Global Blog. "Five Steps to Start Your Overseas Job Search." Sept. 1, 2011. (Feb. 2, 2012) http://blog.goinglobal.com/index.php/category/job-search/
  • Morgan, Diane. "Five First Steps To Finding A Job Abroad." Forbes.com. Sept. 25, 2009. (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/2009/09/25/jobs-abroad-advice-leadership-careers-employment.html
  • University of Texas at Austin. "Common Myths About The International Job Market." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/lacs/Students/International/B-Myths.php
  • University of Texas at Austin. "Designing Your International Plan." Liberal Arts Career Services. (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/lacs/Students/International/B-Plan.php