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International Jobs

The Expat’s Survival Guide 2

5 Tips to Search for International Jobs

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 have goals. 

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.

Below I’ve tried to outline some suggestions to help jumpstart your overseas job search.

  1. 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.
  1. 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 two resources get into the nuts and bolts of the top global MBA programs: www.ft.com/businesseducation/schools2007 and www.businessweek.com/business-schools. It is also important to speak with current students and past alums to get first-hand feedback.
  1. 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 (www.monster.com) and you will probably find enough information to write a proper CV 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. 
  1. 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 www.linkedIn.com and www.facebook.com. 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.
  1. 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 working overseas.

Leslie Strazzullo
For more by Leslie in this series, see:
Expat's Survival Guide 1: Go From Expatriate to Compatriot
Expat's Survival Guide 3: Women and International Jobs
Expat's Survival Guide 4: Surviving Change and Uncertainty Abroad
Expat's Survival Guide 5: Finding an International Job Post Crisis — I Did It!