Job abroad. How to start?

We live in a truly globalized world, where international work experience is a necessary step towards career growth for every ambitious and growth-oriented professional.

The motivation behind it can be different: industry hub atmosphere experience to accelerate your career, stepping out of your comfort zone to broaden horizons and take up a new life challenge, or developing cross-cultural competencies, such as leadership flexibility or working in a multicultural environment.

In this post, I would like to share some ideas and sources that I discovered while looking for a job/internship abroad.

To make this insight more objective, I have asked 20 other young professionals who have also moved to a  foreign country to work, about the main lesson they learned while searching for a job abroad.

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Even if you know exactly what type of position you are looking for,  job hunting is still not an easy process that certainly requires a strategic approach. Looking for a job abroad is even more complicated and a well-thought-out strategy is definitely needed.

Below you can find an overview of the most important aspects to be considered and further I will elaborate on each point.

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1. Objective

First of all, you should define your personal objective. What are you trying to achieve by working abroad? The overall strategy should be based on your answer to this question.

In my opinion, there are two primary types of motivation:

  • CV enhancer

International work experience just for the sake of it: you want to work abroad for a certain period of time, mostly short-term, to improve your overall employability and attractiveness as a potential candidate. You do not want to relocate for a long period of time and you definitely want to come back to your native country after this experience.

  • Immigration

You seriously consider relocating to a foreign country for a long/uncertain period of time and you would like to build your career there growing both personally and professionally.

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2. Destination

Secondly, focus on the  choice of location. Where do you exactly want to go and why? You can tackle this problem analytically using numerous information sources available online.

For example, check out this amazing expat explorer platform developed by HSBC, where you can compare life for expats in different countries across the globe, study certain country guides, access hints & tips from other expats and even take a test to find your perfect country – match.

Another  interesting source that demonstrates the overall state of the job market in different countries – Manpower employment outlook survey developed by the Manpower Group. This quarterly survey measures hiring confidence among approximately 66000 employers in 42 countries.

If you want to compare tax and legal aspects among different countries, EY publishes annual global personal tax guide summarizing personal tax systems and immigration rules in 162 jurisdictions.

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3. Barriers

Now, when you understand which part of the world you would like to go, it is time to think about barriers.  You need to consider all major difficulties that might arise  in advance and try to take actions to eliminate the risk.

With a help of people participating in my small survey, I managed to identify the most common barriers to finding a job abroad.

  • Languages

Language is the most frequently mentioned barrier by young professionals. Looking for a job outside their home country makes people realize how important it is not only to have a perfect knowledge of English, but also to  be fluent in local languages and speak several languages in  general.

This barrier can be eliminated by allocating time and energy for learning the required language before applying for a position to increase your chances to get hired.

However, if you are pressed for time and an express language course is not an option, you can still try your luck with looking for a job that does not require the knowledge of local language . It can be a position in an international company/institution that does not involve direct communication with customers or a position in business development/customer support function abroad focusing on your home market.Picture5


  • Visa/Work permit

Another important issue for non-EU citizens relates to visa and legal permission to work in a foreign country. While this topic probably deserves a separate post, the main advice is to focus only on the companies that are legally allowed to issue work permits. Normally this information should be available online. For example,  here you can find the list of the UK companies who have rights to sponsor a working visa.

Keep in mind that large international companies have more authority, expertise and financial resources to hire an expat rather than small/medium-size business.

The more you apply, the more likely you will get a positive answer to your long-expected “do you sponsor a visa?” question. Therefore, think about expanding your desired industry segment and trying your chances also in the surrounding areas.

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  • Unrecognized experience

Sometimes your previous experience might not be recognized in the country of your destination.

For example, recruiters might simply not know that the BSc program you completed is the third prestigious financial program in Russia and they prefer other candidates from local universities to you even though their profiles are less attractive. Another example is if you practice a local law in your home country and when you decide to move abroad, you realize that your current experience and knowledge might not be applicable at all.

In this case, some actions to prove your employability and make your profile more competitive should be taken. Consider taking a summer course/studying a full program/ doing an MBA abroad or passing industry certification exams (CFA/ACCA) before applying for jobs to highlight your relevant skills/experience that is currently not fully recognized.

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  • Cultural differences in recruitment

A behavior of recruiters can also differ from country to country. For example, in Russia recruiters get back to candidates most of the time, even if the answer is negative while in Europe it is more common not to answer to an application at all rather than saying no.

Due to this cultural difference, the conversion rate of applying to jobs in Europe is significantly lower, which can be really disappointing in the beginning. To avoid unnecessary concerns and regrets, it could be a good idea to ask locals about specifics of the application process and recruitment behavior in a certain country before sending your applications there.

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4. Method

  • CV enhancer – Erasmus internship

If you are a student or a young professional, one of the easiest ways to experience working abroad is to find an internship opportunity.

Your university can offer you a great support through an Erasmus Internship program. Erasmus+ Mobility for Traineeships enables students at universities to spend from 2 up to 12 months abroad conducting an internship in an enterprise or organization with a grant from the university.

Positions are often related to business development or market research functions, therefore, be ready that you might need to speak your local language extensively.

Also, keep in mind that most of the Erasmus internships are unpaid/low-paid, which makes application for the Erasmus scholarship from your university very relevant. However, if your university doesn’t support this program, you still can look for opportunities directly on the websites trying to find the most well-paid offers and organize your stay by yourself.

You can find a list of some useful sources below:

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  • CV enhancer – Student organizations

Do not forget about international student organizations that can help you to land a dream internship offer.

For almost 65 years Aiesec has been the largest international student organization. The main focus of Aiesec is working with NGO, however during last years, the number of corporate partners has rapidly increased and now Aiesec also offers a big number of internship opportunities around the world.

There are many other field-specific student organizations, such as:

Engineering & Science

  • IAESTE – The International Organization for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience – provides high-performing students with paid, course-related, training abroad, including internships.
  • BEST – the Board of European Students of Technology – also connects internationally-minded engineers with companies.

 Law 

  • ELSA – European Law Students’ Association – has around 450 traineeship places each year, throughout and occasionally outside Europe

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  • CV enhancer – Organized internship

If you are looking for an international work experience, but you are not eager to spend days and nights surfing the web to research companies, there is an easy solution.

There are many companies acting as agents who are willing to organize a job placement for you anywhere in the world for a certain fee. This option is not cheap, but it is definitely less stressful and probably safer since the intermediary normally takes care of relocation, visa application (if necessary) and all other possible issues that can arise. Below you can find several popular agencies.

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  • CV enhancer/Immigration – Institutions

Working in political institutions is definitely a great opportunity for a job placement abroad or a long-term international career start.

Do not think that you necessarily need to study International Politics to get hired there. You can find many open positions for people with different backgrounds and from different countries if you check the websites below.

European institutions:

  • COE – Council of Europe
  • CEDEFOP – European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training
  • EC – The European commission
  • EP – The European Parliament
  • EESC – the European Economic and Social Committee
  • CONSILLIUM – The council of the EU

World institutions:

  • UN – the United Nations
  • UNICEF – Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization
  • WB – World Bank
  • UN HR – United Nations Human Rights
  • IATA – International Aie Transport Association

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  • CV enhancer/Immigration – International corporations

Big business today has no borders. The same happens with its employees. Therefore, if you want to obtain an international work experience, you should think about entering international corporations.

Getting a job in a large company with overseas offices could eventually lead you to a position abroad, but it will take some time. Fortunately, there are also other faster ways to go abroad through international corporations, such as global job offerings, global graduate programs or internal mobility.

Global job offerings/internships

Some large companies provide many global opportunities and you can find it directly on their websites.

  • Loreal, Global Opportunity Program
  • KPMG Global Internship Program
  • Google Internship
  • HSBC Global Research Internship

Global graduate programs

Other companies offer an international work experience to graduates as a part of management trainee / leadership development programs. You can apply to a program in your domestic country first and then, if accepted, go for a rotation abroad.

  • H&M International Talent Program
  • Heineken Management Program
  • AB Inbev Global Management Trainee Program
  • Siemens Graduate Program

More management trainee programs (some of them also include international experience) can be found on the trainee programs or career education websites.

Global mobility

Some corporations promote internal mobility and organize “exchange within a company” sending its high-performing employees to work for a certain period of time to another location. This mobility practice is most common in top banking and consultancy firms, but nowadays it becomes more and more popular also with other industries.

“Ïnternal company exchange” is a great way to get an international work experience, however, in many cases you need to spend at least several years within a company before going abroad.

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 5. Facilitators

  • Networking

Another frequently mentioned advice from young professionals who managed to find a job/internship abroad is not to underestimate the power of networking.

If you are already in the country of your desired destination, you have a great opportunity to attend industry events / career fairs / company presentations, where you can meet potential hiring managers, introduce yourself and then send your CV and motivation letter directly to them to build a personal connection and increase your chances to be hired.

In case you are still in your home country, you can start building your professional network anyway. Search for people who might be interested in your profile on LinkedIn and exploit all possible opportunities. You can read about making the most use out of LinkedIn in this post.

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  • Keeping track

If you are actively looking for a job, it is extremely important to keep good track of all your job applications. It will help you to remember exactly when and where you have applied and what is the current stage of the selection process. Nobody wants to have an awkward conversation with a recruiter when you need to answer questions about the position you even can not remember.

There are many possible ways to keep track of your job hunting process – a calendar, notebook, excel file or project management tool embedded in the email (more info). It is absolutely up to you.

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  • Quality

As mentioned earlier, the quantity of sent applications is important, since a higher number of  applications leads to a more likely positive outcome. However, speaking about job seeking, quantity is nothing without quality. You are not sending your resumes everywhere just to press the final button “apply”. What you are looking for is a result.

Therefore, before starting your applications improve your CV, master your Cover Letter  (read more) and polish LinkedIn profile. Do not forget to personalize these documents for each job before sending them to fit a certain country/company/position.

In case you get an interview, do not miss this chance to show the best of you and prepare for it as much as possible. Every interview is a good opportunity to practice and it is always good to have a choice after all.

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Looking for a job/internship abroad is an extremely complicated process. It can be tiring, stressful and disappointing. No matter what, never give up and if something goes wrong, just try again. If you did not succeed, you did not put enough effort. Just remember that the result is 100% worth the effort.

Good luck to those, who are in a job search and I hope that you found this post helpful.

If you want to have all answers to the “best lessons learned from looking for a job abroad” question indicating also nationality, current position and country of  people participating in my small survey, let me know and I will share it with you.

Thanks for reading.


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45 Comments

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  1. great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice article! As an expat I felt identified with many points in it. This would be useful for any person thinking in moving abroad.

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  3. Fabulous well-researched post. thx so much for the great list of resources. There is a definite growing trend in people moving abroad to live and work, so I am happy to share and bookmark this post.

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  4. Very interesting!

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  5. I’ve been on the other end of this process, having hired overseas interns to work in my company in New York. I can tell you that there were two things that I loked for above all else. The first is that I had to be convinced that the intern was truly interested in what we did as a company or what he or she would be doing in this job. I was wary of the intern who was simply looking for a way to finance a 6-month stay in New York City. (“I love New York” would not be a good interview line if I were the interviewer.) Secondly I always looked for a skill or some experience that would enable the intern to make some contrribution. The most successful internships I managed were those in which I was turly able to give the intern meaningful assignments and to allow he or she some autonomy in fulfilling those assignments.

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    • Ken, very interesting to hear the point of view from another side. And I truly agree that motivation to get the job should be based fully on the position & the company and not on the country, however for all the expats it is one of the first interview questions “Why this country, why this city” and I think it is necessary to have a well – prepared answer

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  6. You have certainly done your homework. What an in depth blog post which would be of use to those who are planning to work overseas.

    I am in awe of young people who move abroad to work or study as it is a major upheaval.

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    • Phoencia, thanks for your input in the conversation! Indeed, I also feel like young people who had/have international experience are able to see a bigger picture of the world, which makes them nice people to be around

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  7. Really interesting! I’ve only considered working outside the US once and it was when I was working for a global hotel chain. I was involved in the development of their property in Sydney and in the process decided to see about moving there to work at our new hotel. The company was all for it, but Australia isn’t the easiest place to migrate to and even having a job waiting for me wasn’t enough to get through the barriers – at least not in terms of making a permanent move.

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  8. I’ve often entertained the idea of working overseas. If I did so, it would be to teach English. I would still want to continue my freelance editing. Maybe someday I will be able to pull it all off.

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    • Jeri, hey! Thanks for a comment. Indeed, going abroad with teaching English is a wonderful opportunity! People need it everywhere and you can discover places hidden for others and contribute a lot to the developing countries. Good luck with that if you ever decide to go

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  9. Kristina, several years ago I decided to take a leave of absence from my teaching job in order to work in China. What a fascinating process it was for me to figure out exactly what I wanted and I did so by determining what I did not want. (Ok, no public school but university level, no being lone cow girl foreign English teacher on some big campus. I want to be part of a team, need a clear Western connection that’s reputable, preferably Canadian, etc. etc.)

    You mention the use of intermediaries, “agents who are willing to organize a job placement.” I’d like to mention, and thank goodness I did not learn this the hard way, that some agents who appear reputable may be anything but. (This is not just in China.)

    Also, positions that may seem exactly what you’ve been looking for just might be “quite different.” The saving grace for me was relying on what you refer to as the “power of networking.” With the help of google, I was able to track down contact info for other Western teachers working at the “wonderful sounding” place and be in communication. So much valuable information came to light. After arriving in China, I listened to (networked with) others teaching from elsewhere.

    Thanks for your valuable information.

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    • Ramona, such a great story. Thanks. I am happy for you that you did not learn about the bad agents “the hard way” and everything went ok. It is great and clever to learn from others, however, I think the strongest lesson we can get only from our own experience.

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  10. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve gone overseas to Europe in their 20s to live and work. My Mother’s best high school friend went to Italy right after college. I know it was challenging for her since she is a journalist which is a career that really demands you be 100% fluent in a language. I think she had struggles at first that she wouldn’t have had if she stayed home. But she persevered and she still lives there to this day and has a good career.

    You make a great point about learning the customs of job hunting. When we’re young we can forget that not everyone does things exactly the same. And if you’re not aware, that can lead to unnecessary disappointment and missed opportunity.

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    • Erica, thanks for your input in the conversation. Indeed, I guess Italy in general is the country where the language is super important, therefore if you want to live there, you really need to invest in learning the language. I am glad that everything turned well in the end with your mother’s best friend. Italy is wonderful.

      Yes, I experienced it in “a hard way” by myself, but now I learned my lesson 🙂

      Like

  11. Prasanjeet bawali April 28, 2016 — 8:46 am

    I’m a Commerce Graduate from India. Can i find work abroad?
    Thanks
    ~prasan~

    Like

  12. Wow , you have certainly done your homework with regard to this post. Very impressed with the indept level of research that you’ve put in to it. The fact that you bothered to do surveys to get solutions to many of the problems that people have to encounter when applying for a job in a foreign country is a testament to the quality of the post. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for warm words. I really liked the idea of trying to make the post less subjective and biased and I had an idea of conversations with other expats. The most interesting thing is that problems and main concerns are mostly the same for everyone

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  13. Very informative! What about people from EU going to the US? What is the legislation there for a working Visa?

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    • Thank you! It is exactly the same as for other countries, where the visa is needed. Maybe chances of getting one are a bit higher, but still the idea is to be sponsored and officially invited to the country by your future employer. Or you can be super lucky and win a green card through the lottery 🙂

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  14. Brilliant post! Super helpful – would have loved to read this before I became an expat! Will definitely think af a few of your points next time we move country.

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  15. I agree with a lot of these points. Those drawbacks have definitely held people I know from seeking jobs abroad. I like how you laid it out there and gave us so much information.

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  16. Great post! Going to work abroad may be easy to say and dream, but if someone is serious about it, should definitely read your article! I have lived and worked abroad for a couple of years, so I know it’s not easy. Thankfully, I had help from the beginning, especially when I had to deal with all the paperwork about getting a work permit etc. It’s a huge step, so everyone should think it out very well before doing it.

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  17. Hi dear … Thank u so much for this article. If I want to do farming …which country is the best ?

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  18. Thanks a ton for the advise as its very helpful to people who no idea on how to get started especially me. I am Probal Ghosh from India. I am a Arts Graduate with 6 years of experience in MNCs like HSBC , British Telecom and want to relocate abroad preferably Europe and would appreciate your helpful gesture on the road to Success.

    Like

  19. I’m from nepal. Can i find work abroad?
    Thanks

    Like

  20. Awesome post! Keep up the great work, fil

    Like

  21. Thanks for this well-researched and informative post. I’m forwarding it to my daughter who’s in her last year of college and spent last semester studying abroad. She’s anxious to go back so this will be helpful for her.

    Like

  22. Great article..it will help for persons,who are looking for abroad job opportunities..Thank you so much.

    Like

  23. I am offered a job in poland, and currently preparing for the same. I need to know how safe is the country for Indians and if its a good place for settling for a longer duration in EU. Definitely, i being an indian have no hold on the polish language.

    Please suggest and help with skills enhancement sites to be able to search for job in EU in lieu with current market conditions.

    Like

  24. This is wonderful I will pass it on yo my students. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  25. Excellent post and thank you so much for this information. Also, thank you for the follow.

    Like

  26. “If you did not succeed, you did not put enough effort.”
    Well that just explains everything!

    Like

  27. Really helpful…great post…cleared so many doubts of mine….also the links mentioned in the post are amazingly supportive…it would be a great help if you can provide some of the consultancies around the world.

    Like

    • Hello. I am glad that you found the post useful and thanks for your comment. I am getting quite a few email requests, but indeed it is impossible to help everyone, therefore trying to think of a consultancy based consultations for the future indeed. Good luck with your search!

      Like

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