Finding a Job Abroad

31/07/17

Whether you are looking to realise a dream or to build an international resume, finding a job abroad is an exciting, but also challenging adventure, which often entails sacrifice.

Most people understand that the application process differs from one country to another, however there are many more factors to consider when starting your overseas job hunt.

The recommendations below will help you plan wisely and efficiently for your next adventure.

In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take…

Knowing your destination

Before you start applying for jobs, you need to study your destination. You might be attracted to your destination after having spent a vacation there, or because of articles you have read, videos you have watched, or photos you have seen. However, many factors must be taken into account when it comes to moving to a new country.

The work culture and work-life balance differ between countries, so you will need to know what you are committing to when moving abroad. You might be expected to work longer hours than in your home country, and some workplace practices abroad might surprise you. As an example, direct eye contact is a sign of honesty in the Brazilian workplace, whereas in China, it is at times considered disrespectful. [1]

Renowned sociologists Geert Hofestede and Edward T. Hall studied cross-cultural communication in organisations. You can find plenty of information about cultural differences in the workplace in their books and by searching for papers comparing your home country’s workplace culture and that of your host country.

You will also need to research the difference in wages for the job that you have in mind with your level of experience and to compare them with the cost of living. This will give you an idea of your purchasing power and the quality of life you will have there. The International Labour Organisation published a report[2] in 2015 presenting the trends in average wages across different countries, showing inequalities. This website can help you check the salary you can expect in different countries based on your experience and qualifications.

Before you start applying for jobs, you will need to have a clear idea of what your visa status will be once in the country. You need to have realistic expectations, and keep in mind that visa sponsorship is a long and costly process in most countries. Therefore, you will need to have an outstanding profile if you expect your future employer to go through this complicated process to have you on board. However, visa sponsorship is usually one of many options, and you should learn about all the different work visas your host country offers. In this instance, official immigration webpages are always the most complete and accurate source of information.

Identifying the right job

Depending on your qualifications and areas of expertise, you might have to make personal and professional sacrifices to embark on this new adventure. Your host country might not value your qualifications or experience the way that they are recognised in your home country. Also, your visa restrictions might not allow you to work in your preferred field. However, the sacrifices you make could be rewarded with invaluable international experience.

You will first need to identify the unique range of skills and qualities that you can offer and which will give you a competitive edge over local candidates. In some occupations, your knowledge of a foreign market or your ability to speak a different language could be an asset. It is always easier for employers to hire locals, so you will need to identify your strengths and offer something unique to stand out as a candidate.

Many websites offer international job listings, but as in any job search, tapping into the “hidden” job market will multiply your chances (80% of job openings are not advertised online). Researching international job fairs in your area can be an efficient approach (you can find them through a Google search) and you will need to network with people from your host country as much as possible. Try to build real connections with people and show a genuine interest in their culture rather than considering them as instrumental to help you reach your goals. It will make your experience much more enjoyable and people will only want to help you if they genuinely like you.

When you start building your network, spread the word and let everyone know about your project. Networking is a very powerful tool in your job search and attending networking events organised by the chamber of commerce of your targeted country would be a great starting point. Although meeting people face-to-face remains the most efficient way to connect, your social media presence can also help you reach your goals. LinkedIn is the main social media platform for professionals, but you can also follow many companies on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where you can find their most recent updates and activities.

If your funds and visa allow you to do so, you can also consider arriving in the country early and doing your job search directly from there. This could allow you to network more efficiently, and if applicable, improve your language skills before starting the job. However, this will require financial flexibility on your end since you cannot predict how much time the job search will necessitate. As an alternative, you can also consider starting your own business in the host country, keeping in mind that the geographical flexibility that online businesses offer can suit frequent travellers.

Finally, internal mobility offers a secure alternative, however the process is likely to take longer. If you join a multinational company (or currently work for one), you might be able to benefit from their internal mobility program. This approach would give you the security of being employed locally and to be transferred as part of a well-established and structured program. However, bear in mind that you usually need to have been employed with the company for a minimum of 1 year and your employer would need to have suitable openings in your targeted country at the time you are ready to apply.

Preparing you job application

The most common mistake I see my students make when preparing their job application is focussing on making language translations using the resume which worked in their home country. However, you need to know that resumes need a cultural translation as well.

Different countries have different expectations in terms of what must or must not be featured in a resume. As an example, German resumes must include a professional photo of the candidate, whereas in Australia, this would be considered a major mistake. In Japan, you are expected to write your commute time in your resume. In China, you need to add your date of birth. The musts and must nots should be given the same level of attention. Luckily, this information can nowadays be found through a simple online search, however it is necessary to visit many websites and to check sources in order to avoid following false information which proliferates on the internet.

When you prepare your resume, you will also need to ensure you are using your host country’s spelling (e.g. spelling differences between US and UK English). Also consider the expectations in the length of your resume and in the paper size (e.g. US resumes are printed in Letter format as opposed to Australia, which uses A4 format).

Please note that the cultural differences for job applications extend further than the resume. You will also need to understand how to read a job description in your host country and how you are expected to address the requirements of the job in your cover letter.

Still undecided?

Giving up on the comfort of your routine and heading for the unknown is intimidating by any standards, however the best experiences in life are often to be found outside of your comfort zone. Not everyone wishes to work abroad, but the fact that you clicked on this article means that you are considering making a change and already acting on it, hence you are already one step ahead.

Some questions you need to ask yourself in your decision making process are the following: Where would you like to see yourself in one year from now and which person would you like to be? Which skills and experiences would you like to have gathered? There are usually multiple answers to these question and you will need to identify where your priorities lie. Making a choice means giving up on other options which is always painful. Therefore, you need to ensure that whatever decision you make, your choice is as aligned with yourself as much as possible rather than dictated by external factors.

Remember that this experience does not have to be indefinite and if you decide after a period of time that this life change is after all not what you wish for yourself, your “old life” will still be waiting for you. However, chances are that even if this is not the case, the plethora of new experiences you will have lived will drive you to move forward and certainly not backwards, and it would often present you with new opportunities. Sometimes, the path which leads you to your goal is more formative and valuable than the goal itself. When you move abroad, the experience usually ends up being completely different from what you expected and keeping an open mind will bring you to places you would have never suspected.

What they said…

As you are still trying to decide on your next steps, you are probably asking yourself: What if I fail? You are now left to fight your demons, but you might find some answers below.

  • “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” – Robert F Kennedy
  • “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love” – Jim Carrey
  • “If there’s even a slight chance of getting something that will make you happy, risk it. Life is too short, and happiness is too rare” – A.R. Lucas
  • “Take a chance! All life is a chance…” – Dale Carnegie
  • “We are all living in cages with the door wide open” – George Lucas
  • “When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision” – Paulo Coehlo (The Alchemist)


[1] Veras, Erika & Bicudo Véras, Daniel. (2011). Cultural Differences Between Countries: The Brazilian and the Chinese Ways of Doing Business. Journal on Innovation and Sustainability. RISUS ISSN 2179-3565. 2. . 10.24212/2179-3565.2011v2i2p77-83.

[2] International Labour Organization. (2015). Global Wage Report 2014/15 – Wages and Income Inequality. ISBN 978-92-2-128665-3 (web pdf). https://euro.indiana.edu/doc/archive/past-events/wcms_324678.pdf

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