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How to Find Your First Paid Job Overseas

Five Proven Strategies to Find International Work

How to Find Paid Work Overseas
Setting off to find a paid job overseas can be both exciting and daunting. Photo © 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.

Editor's Note

At the unprecedented 2014 White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, to which Transitions Abroad was invited, among the remarks made by the Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce included this very powerful economic statement related to increasing the need for Americans to study, work, and travel abroad:

"In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true 'world view' — with the adaptability and openness that comes with having experienced other cultures. In fact, a MetLife survey found that 65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as 'very important' or 'essential' in order to be ready for a career."

At Transitions Abroad, we believe that paid and even unpaid jobs abroad are one of the very best ways to demonstrate an understanding of global awareness and an ability to cope within that context, even as study, extended travel, volunteering, and other forms of international experience and cross-cultural communication remain extremely important. Whether you work for a corporation, as a skilled technician, or as a freelancer, the core values you learn while working/studying/volunteering/traveling overseas are critical to long-term success, in our view. We believe this applies to any future job or career decisions you will make during the course of your life.

After all, whether your jobs are overseas or at home, you will very likely be in constant communication with individuals and companies around the world, and may have the option to relocate your work to another land.

1. Teach Abroad and Build Your Network in Your Field for a 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 many resources on teaching and certificate programs. Also try ESL Café and the classic book Teaching English Abroad: Your Expert Guide to Teaching English Around the World by Susan Griffin. In sum, teaching can be a career in itself, or a paid stepping stone for an international career.

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 out very highly recommended My World Abroad by long-time expert Jean-Marc Hachey, Going Global, and Interaction for lists of international organizations. (Some content at My World Abroad and Going Global may require access from your alma mater or paid registration.) Such an international career route is more prevalent than commonly realized for those with long-term career ambitions.

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, freelancing, blogging, or articles for a website. These days, writing doesn’t often pay well, but if you have the talent and ambition you might be able to create a niche for yourself. One of the attractions of taking this route is that you can do your work in a location-independent manner, as so many of the articles on this site demonstrate.

Take any job, then volunteer in your field of choice: Be open to au pair work or hotel work—if you are 18-30, consider BUNAC for jobs in Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland. See Susan Griffith’s book, Work Your Way Around the World: The Globetrotter's Bible, for more information on other options, but always research the visa options for any given country (the European Union has stringent restrictions for long-term work, work greater than 90 days).

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, intern or volunteer in the field of:
  • Business Administration/Management
  • Small Business Development
  • Marketing
  • Informational Technology/Software
  • Web Design
  • Social Media
  • Graphic Design
  • Hotel/Hospitality/Restaurant
  • Sales
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Buying/Selling Websites
  • Teaching English
  • Teaching preK-12
  • Education (University)
  • Healthcare
  • Engineering
  • Au Pair/Childcare/Nanny
  • Research Writing
  • Technical Writing
  • Freelance Writing
  • Professional Blogging
  • Professional Photography
  • Translation
  • Arts or Culture (Entertainment)
  • Tour Guide
  • Social Work
  • Human Rights
  • Refugees/Aid Work
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Democracy Building
  • Eco-Tourism
  • Farming (Organic)
  • Environmental Development
  • Solar / Wind / Heat other Sustainable Energy
  • Working on boats of all sizes
  • Sports/Sports Training
  • Busking
  • Other (suggest others in comments section below)
    • ________________________________
    • ________________________________
    • ________________________________
    • ________________________________
    • ________________________________
    • ________________________________
In the geographic area of:
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Former Soviet Block
  • Middle East
  • NZ/Australia
  • Pacific Islands
  • Other 
For the following type of organization:
  • For-profit
  • Non-profit
  • Government
  • School
  • University
  • Research Institute
  • Grassroots
  • ___________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________
  • ___________________________________________
  • I can pay
  • I must earn
  • My room and board is covered

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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How to Write an Effective International Resume
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