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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- ELSA – European Law Students’ Association – has around 450 traineeship places each year, throughout and occasionally outside Europe
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- L.E.K. Consulting, SWAP program
- BCG, International Employee exchange program
- McKinsey, Working around the world
- Edelman, Citizen of the world program
- EY, Global exchange program
- Coca-Cola, Short-term assignments
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.
- 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.
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.
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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