The Expat’s Survival Guide Part 2
How to Search for International
|The international job search takes various
forms, and networking is key.
While sitting in my apartment on a cold and
rainy Sunday afternoon in Milan, I started to think about a piece
I wrote in January entitled The
Expat’s Survival Guide — Go from Expatriate to Compatriot.
It really got me thinking about the first part of that article
and, thus, the first part of my overseas career. Where and
when did it all begin? How
did I arrive at this point in my life…in my career? Basically,
how did I come to live and work in Milan? Thinking back, my path
was neither linear nor so clear. Not to say that I didn’t
What I want to get across is that there is no clear cut way of obtaining an overseas work assignment. The light at the end of the tunnel came after an advanced degree, building up years of professional experience in
a multitude of places, and, let’s face it — persistence.
There are so many ways in which a person can arrive in a foreign country. From my first day in Milan, I have met individuals with diverse backgrounds. Some of their reasons for being in Milan included academic or study
abroad programs, following a partner or spouse, government posts, advanced research and science projects, journalistic assignments, entrepreneurial initiatives, consulting, or corporate expat work. The list is endless. As for me, I can
only speak to my own professional experience and the steps I took to being recruited by a large Italian multinational.
|Milan city center — the financial
capital of Italy has both an ancient and modern face, like
much of Europe.
Below I’ve tried to outline some suggestions,
in the form of five primary tips, to help jumpstart your overseas
- Look inside first. In
today’s global economy almost every business has an overseas
presence — a supplier, a distributor, or a branch office
in some other part of the world. Furthermore,
the internet has made it possible for even small-to-medium size
companies to compete in markets far from home. Granted, the
bigger the company the more likely there will be a formal structure
for moving employees from one office to another. Also, bigger
companies will more likely be able to handle the legal issues
tied to relocating employees.
Survival tip: If you are currently working for a multinational, check out what is happening internally. This might be your best shot of transferring abroad. Given that you have a solid track record, the first step
is to get into an international department or role in your current company. This, generally, requires networking. My very first international experience started when I convinced the vice president within my group to allow me to manage international
assignments which included frequent travel abroad. While I was not relocated to another office, I was building up my international experience for my next role. On top of that, I was becoming sensitive to the various cultural issues in foreign
work environments. While cultural sensitivity sounds like a non-issue, it is not. Moving a person overseas requires enormous effort and resources, thus it is imperative for companies to choose individuals that are not only talented but adaptive.
- Go to business school abroad. Thinking about getting an MBA? There are a multitude of options to pursue including many programs that specialize in preparing business professionals for international
assignments. From 10 month to two-year programs in almost any discipline you can imagine, an MBA can give you the education, insight and edge over other professionals. By attending an international business school you are demonstrating
to your current or future employer that you are serious about an international career. Plus, it gives you access to classmates and alumni with international contacts and jobs.
Survival tip: An advanced degree is not for
everyone. Business school is a decision that should be well
thought out as it requires substantial financial commitment and
personal sacrifice. Additionally, there are
no guarantees that you will get the job that you desire. A
bad economy or recession can limit recruiting and thus put you
in the “unemployed” camp. With that said; an
advanced education gives you the tools to develop new skills
and provides you with credentials and resources that can be leveraged
throughout your career. While the choices are unlimited,
it is important to have a clear understanding of what you want
out of an advanced degree. Do
your due diligence to determine if your goals and objectives
are reasonable and inline with the strengths of the program.
I attended a very small international school that required all
students to focus on a geographical area overseas and do an internship
abroad as well. Basically, you could not graduate if you
did not meet this requirement. There are many books and
resources that rank and explain the pros and cons of the best
business school programs. The
following resources gets into the nuts and bolts of the top
global MBA programs. It
is also important to speak with current students and past alums
to get first-hand feedback.
- What’s in a CV? — Everything, so do it right. Your curriculum vitae, more commonly known as a CV is your future employer’s first impression. Don’t make stupid mistakes. While
there are various styles for writing a CV, make sure you cover the basics. Depending on the country this could mean including your age and your marital status. Of course, there will always be some wiggle room. If your resume gets into
the hands of a recruiter and you are a solid candidate for an open position, you will probably still get a call even if your CV is incomplete. However, you do not want to miss out on an opportunity by not providing the appropriate information.
Survival tip: Go to any bookstore, university
career center or online
job search website and you will probably find enough information
an effective CV or resumé for the region or country
that you are targeting. Be
aware of the local standards and common practices. For example,
in Italy it is necessary to include your date and place of birth,
citizenship, civil status (single, married, etc.), education
dating back to high school, as well as a legal statement that
allows the hiring company to view and process your personal data. National
culture will also impact the length and degree of detail of your
CV. In some
countries a CV is an overview of your background because it is
understood that should you obtain an interview you will be expected
to describe your experience in detail. As for the question
of language, this will depend on the position and the company. Common
sense should guide you. If you are interested in a job opportunity
written in a foreign language, then you must respond in that
language. Most people keep their CV in multiple languages. While
globalization of workplaces has relaxed some of these rules and
requirements, it is always best to err on the side of caution.
- Network, network and network. If I’ve learned anything in life, it is that you can not get far without networking. Once you decide to pursue an international career, you must get out and network—more
so in the case of an overseas opportunity as these positions
are even more difficult to obtain. This means tapping into the
contacts of your family, friends, colleagues, classmates, university
alumni, etc. However, this does not
mean abusive treatment of your or other people’s contacts. Networking is a two-way street that should be continuously maintained throughout your professional career. Generally, these are mutually beneficial or mentor-student
relationships based on a give-and-take philosophy, meaning, when someone helps you out, you must return the favor to that person.
Survival tip: Tell as many people as possible
what you are trying to do. Networking has a domino effect,
the more people you talk to the closer you will get to the desired
result. The best place to start is
with family, friends, classmates, alumni, professional associations,
and social networking groups like LinkedIn and Facebook. However,
before talking to your first contact or sending your first email,
you must be prepared. This means having in depth knowledge
of the sector, functional responsibility, company, and geographical
area that you want to work in. And
then you must demonstrate why this person should help you. My
advice is to prepare short, focused pitches that clearly explain
what you want. This allows the recipient to quickly determine
whether or not he or she can help. In
most cases, if your contact can not help you, they will refer
you to someone else. Casting your net too broad with a generic
pitch will get you nowhere. Your contact will not know how
to help you nor who to refer you to. Never
send your CV without first establishing contact and asking permission
to do so. As you begin to create a network, keep a journal
of all your activity. This will help you keep track of who
you have contacted, when you need to follow up, etc. Always
send a thank you note to anyone who helps you. A journal
can also help you track progress in your search.
- Getting what you want takes persistence. This last part is the morale booster section. While international opportunities seem glamorous and cool, they require lots of effort. Unless you
are connected with very influential business executives, it will not come easy and you will have to work very hard to reach your goal. Today, more and more professionals are seeking job assignments abroad and the competition locally
and externally is fiercer than before. However, I’m a firm believer that with the right amount of work, faith, and persistence you can go as far as you want to go.
Survival tip: Make a plan that you can
follow everyday. Be reasonable, if your plan is too aggressive you will need to scale back or you will end up accomplishing nothing. The important elements of your plan
will include your mission/objective, a reasonable time frame to reach your goals, an honest assessment of your skills/capabilities, and then your target industries, companies, jobs, and geographical regions of interest. This will
be followed by the steps that you will need to identify and take in order to get inside the desired company, department or new job. These steps will include your research/due diligence, a list of individuals with whom you must network,
requirements such as the GMAT, a mandatory entrance exam if you are considering business school, and any other credentials or certifications that are necessary. If you are true to yourself and pursue every possible angle then you are doing
everything humanly possible. As with any challenge, it is essential to have a support group (family, friends, partner, or spouse), people you can count on for a shoulder to lean on in difficult times. And always reward yourself
as you achieve various milestones in pursuit of your goals.
A work experience abroad can enrich your life in countless ways. You can gain a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you. The sacrifice and hard work are a small price to pay for the return of living and