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How to Find Your First Paid Job Overseas

Five Proven Strategies to Find International Work

Finding Work Overseas
Setting off to find a paid job overseas can be both exciting and daunting. Photo by Gregory Hubbs.

I understand the dilemma of the first time international job seeker: You can’t get a job overseas unless you have experience. But how do you get experience if you can’t get a job? In this article, I’ll share five proven strategies to break out of this Catch-22. Plus I’ll suggest some additional creative options to explore to get yourself overseas without breaking your piggy bank.

1. Teach Abroad and Build Your Network in Your Field for Lateral Move

If you chose this option, consider investing in a 4-week TESL/TESOL certificate program that will provide you with assistance in finding a job.  While you can teach without it, a certificate will make you a better teacher and will give you access to a worldwide network of schools. You’ll pay a couple of thousand dollars to get the certificate but you’ll almost certainly make it back in teaching wages. My husband used this technique to land a 6-month teaching job in Vietnam. He then volunteered at a local newspaper, got a paid job there, and stayed for six years. Transitions Abroad has dozens of resources on teaching and certificate programs. Plus also try Dave’s ESL café and the classic book Teaching English Abroad: Your Expert Guide to Teaching English Around the World by Susan Griffin.

2. Get a Job in an International Organization and Make a Geographical Move

Use your career center, alumni network and informational interviews to identify internships and jobs at international organizations. You might land an entry level job as a receptionist or administrative assistant. If so, make a goal of having lunch once a week with a co-worker. Learn from them about options in the field. Attend your organization’s presentations and workshops to sharpen your skills and learn from colleagues who have worked overseas. Do the best job you can in your current position. Let your supervisor and HR office know that you want to go overseas eventually, but be prepared to pay your dues and work domestically for a while first. Check Interaction and Going Global for lists of international organizations. (Some content at Going Global requires access from your alma mater.)

3. Become an Expert with a Technical Skill, Then Use this Skill to Get a Job Overseas in Your Field

Technical skills include medical (nurse, EMT, PA, or doctor), veterinary, grant writing, accounting, non profit management, training, photography, solar technology, small business development. Whatever your skill, join a professional association and attend local meetings and annual conventions so you can learn from peers with that skill who have worked internationally.

4. Get In-Country and Do Your Job Search There

The in-country job search is a great option only if you can support yourself for at least a month upon arrival and are good at networking.  Plan on joining the local Rotary Club, Toastmasters, and/or faith organizations. My friend Jeff moved to Uganda with his wife (who used strategy #2) and, through networking, found out about a job he never would have found if he hadn’t been in country—directing Mango Tree, a fair trade small business. You might also consider finding a part-time volunteer job to give structure to your day, learn local business practices and expand your network. Research visa issues so when you get a job offer you know how to proceed.

5. Apply for a “Paid” Volunteer Program

Programs that cover all expenses for recent grads: Peace Corps, International Foundation for Education and Self Help, or faith based non-missionary programs such as Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Brethren Volunteer Corps, Mennonite Central Committee. Programs for those with lots of work experience or high level skills include UN Volunteers, International Executive Service Corps, Doctors without Borders.  

Additional Options to Consider:

Fellowships: The Boren fellowship and Fulbright have wonderful (but competitive) options for folks who are comfortable in academia and want someone else to pay for their overseas experience. Rotary also has a plethora of options for people of different ages and life stages.

Study abroad or graduate school abroad: You can use scholarships and student loans to participate in programs that will get you an MA and international work experience. The School for International Training and the International Partnership for Service Learning are top notch programs to consider. 

Research: Ask your professors about opportunities in your field. If you are long graduated, get to know faculty at local universities by attending lectures and staying afterwards to talk. Many professors know people who need research assistance overseas. 

Writing. Be it journalism, freelance, blog, or website. These days, writing doesn’t often pay well but if you have talent, you might be able to create a niche for yourself.

Take any Job, then volunteer in your field of choice: Be open to au pair work or hotel work—if you are young, consider BUNAC, if over 25, see Susan Griffith’s book, Work Your Way Around the World: The Globetrotter's Bible.

Don’t get overwhelmed by all these options. Skim the list, circle the one that appeals to you the most, and start with that strategy. If that does not work, move on to another approach. Use the worksheet below to help you plan. If you stay committed to your vision of a job overseas, you will realize success.

Worksheet for International Experience
I would like to work/volunteer in the field of:
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Refugees
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Small business development
  • Arts or Culture
  • Music
  • Democracy building/ Solar/ sustainable energy
  • Eco-Tourism
  • Research Writing
  • Hospitality
  • Other
In the geographic area of:
  • Africa
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Asia
  • Former Soviet Block
  • Middle East
  • NZ/Australia
  • Pacific Islands
  • Other 
For the following type of organization:
  • Grassroots
  • Non profit
  • For profit
  • School
  • University or Research Institute
  • Government   
Timeline:

 

 
Budget:
  • I can pay
  • I must earn
 
Skills I already have:

 

 
Skills I need/want to develop:

 

 
My initial approach will be:

 

 
A friend or mentor I can share this dream with, and meet with regularly, who will be a practical and encouraging ally (if none, find one at the Career Center!)  
My next steps:

 

 

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