Living and Working Overseas on an
International Job or Career
|Jean-Marc on the Charles
Bridge, with Prague Castle in the background.
Clay Hubbs: Before
I get to my first question, please tell us how this project
began and how you've been able to keep it going and growing:
What was your own international experience? Why did you
see a need for such a compilation of resources? And why
has your guide on living and working abroad expanded so
Jean-Marc Hachey: As
a young professional graduating with a master's degree
in political science I was filled with a desire to go
overseas. When I announced to my professors that I wanted
to work abroad, they were unified in their response: "Impossible!
There are no entry-level international positions!" Well,
I ignored their discouraging comments. Within three months,
I found five international positions—three were
well-paying professional jobs, and two were excellent
volunteer assignments. I accepted a position with the
UN High Commissioner for Refugees and had a fascinating
experience setting up refugee camps in what was then
During my job search I realized that
the international job search is different. The resume, the
interview, the hiring process—all are unlike what's
involved in a domestic job search. I started putting notes
in a file, and, when I returned from Zaire, I started work
on the first edition that came out in 1992. Since then the
guide has been a big hit here in Canada, where it is affectionately
know as "the bible on international careers." The fourth
edition is the latest, recently released; it has been greatly
expanded and updated for both Canadian and American audiences,
college students, and professionals.
CH: Picking up from
there, what has been the single greatest change in the international
employment scene since you began your work?
JmH: The single greatest
change in the international employment scene during the
past 15 years has been the explosion of international work
opportunities in all sectors of the economy; what's more,
there are so many more ways to gain international experience
prior to finding overseas employment.
There is one thing that has not changed
in the international employment scene—overseas employers
almost always require that new staff have international
experience. Job applicants need to start building their
international careers step by step while going to college.
They need to possess a high international IQ—they
need to be knowledgeable on how to interact with people
from other cultures in a cross-cultural work setting.
CH: What are the most
common profiles for individuals seeking overseas jobs? Are
more business-oriented students seeking work abroad, or
is the trend toward liberal arts graduates who wish to live
outside the U.S. and Canada—regardless of compensation?
JmH: There is no doubt
that the private sector provides many more opportunities
to work abroad then any other sector. But this does not
necessarily mean that business students are going abroad
in greater numbers. There is a proliferation of liberal
arts graduates who are building international skills and
applying them in the private sector. Whatever their background,
most international employees start their careers in the
same place: they study abroad, learn a foreign language,
travel extensively, intern abroad, take international courses.
The lesson here is you need to gain
exposure to other cultures, so that you can become proficient
in dealing with people who have a different perspective
than you. Do you have an international personality? If you
do, international employers want you on their team.
CH: Do you see consequences
in job opportunities abroad resulting from the recent trend
toward outsourcing? Could anyone have imagined that Americans
from top schools in IT would be seeking internships in India
or Malaysia in IT?
JmH: Outsourcing will
provide more opportunities for more people to move overseas
on long- or short-term assignments. Outsourcing is creating
numerous new cross-border relationships in all sectors.
A professional workforce is emerging in North America to
manage these new relationships. And these professionals
have a new currency—they have a clearly definable
set of "international work skills."
Outsourcing is one of the most important
changes reshaping our world. Just like the revolution created
by the "containerization" of shipping, which greatly reduced
world transport costs, outsourcing is generally raising
our living standards.
Labor markets around the world are
becoming more mobile, and not just for professionals. In
Europe today, English gardeners and plumbers are moving
to Spain, Italian teachers are moving to France, and vacationers
are retiring earlier by working part-time in their new vacation
digs in low-cost Croatia. North Americans are also taking
to the road in greater numbers. Many other changes are coming.
Southeast China is massively reshaping world commerce. There
is no stopping these changes, and those of us who have international
experience will benefit and be at the forefront. The rest
of the world is on the move, and so should we be.
CH: In the first chapter
of your book you write that an effective overseas employee
needs a lot more than specialized technical knowledge. "You
should have a sound knowledge of the local culture and be
able to apply it in your workplace." Can you suggest ways
that a prospective overseas employee can gain such in-depth
experience when he or she must stay at home and support
a family (or finish their schooling)?
skills are built by interacting with people from other cultures.
You can interact with other cultures here, while at home,
by befriending recent immigrants, studying foreign languages,
immersing yourself in cultures other than your own. You
will need to go abroad, however, at some point, and this
is often most easily done during your 20s when you are not
hindered by family responsibilities.
Those who break into the international
job market have used all kinds of stepping
stones in building careers. One example is to teach
English overseas to gain experience (there are one billion
people in the world who want to learn English). Others use
job-hunting vacations to build experience or look for work.
In all cases, you will need to take some risks. Your first
job may not pay well. You will need to divest yourself of
your possessions and move to gain experience. But the rewards
are great. The international lifestyle is intellectually
interesting, stimulating, and rewarding. The great thing
about building an international career is that you may go
abroad only once (to study, to learn a language, or to do
extensive travel), but you will have memories to last a
lifetime. And these memories can be rekindled any time with
another international experience, even as you approach retirement.
So take the plunge and go abroad now.
CH: While most of
us have dreamed of what it would be like to live overseas,
few of us have done it. What would you say are the greatest
myths or misconceptions about what it's like to live and
JmH: Most people have
a realistic understanding that it takes courage to leave
your friends and family to go abroad—for an internship
in Malaysia for example, or to learn Spanish in Guatemala.
It is a common practice, however, to underestimate the rewards
of international living and work. These are life-changing
experiences. People who go abroad are often surprised by
how much they learn about themselves and their own culture,
and they achieve these insights while learning about how
others live and interact.
Another misconception about living
overseas is the fear of sickness or political violence.
The main fear should actually be car accidents.
If you want to do a self-assessment,
think about how you deal with change. The one thing shared
by people who are successful overseas (and many different
character types do well while abroad) is that they all enjoy
change. If you like change, if it drives your curiosity
and is coupled with patience, you are a star candidate for
successfully living and working overseas.
CH: Assuming you are
a university graduate with no international experience and
a burning desire to live and work abroad, what is the first
thing you should consider doing? (You provided a very thorough
answer to a similar question in your article, "Build
an International Employment Profile." But in that article
your advice is confined to those who were still in university.)
JmH: Find any pretext
to go abroad. Teach while traveling; find an internship
in your field; live with a relative who may be in Namibia;
go boldly and ask to volunteer along your route; pair up
with like-minded others in your travels. Make it clear,
however, that you are going with the express purpose of
gaining professional experience. I know of some recent graduates
who have backpacked throughout South America while learning
Spanish, visited eco-tourist organizations to volunteer
their services to set up websites, wrote brochures and became
English-language trail guides. These are the type of career-building
experiences that are essential on a resume.
I have already mentioned the route
of teaching English overseas, but how about the MBA graduate
who goes to Hong Kong and teaches business English? Who
will this person meet while teaching? Business people who
can hire him or her. Another example is to modify the traditional
route of going abroad with a student work visa. Instead
of picking grapes in Australia, or bartending in London,
why not go abroad with a professional resume and business
suit and specifically look for an internship in your field
of work? Creative job seekers are generally successful in
setting up short-term internships abroad.
CH: Do women face
special obstacles in pursuing an overseas career?
JmH: In Canada, women
generally make up 70 percent of all the applicants to international
sending agencies. Women tend to be more adventuresome and
are more successful at long-term cross-cultural integration
because they often have better listening and adapting skills.
This being said, women do have unique challenges that they
must learn to overcome. For example, Western women are often
the targets of sexual attention in many countries. Unless
you learn to roll with this attention and affect a banter
(e.g., "I will sleep with you when it rains frogs!"), you
will be frustrated. One of my female friends, a successful
engineer in Pakistan, learned always to bring her male driver
to meetings. She would conduct interviews and her Pakistani
colleagues would answer by speaking to her driver. She accepted
this fact and was comfortable with being unable to change
the dynamic. Another thing to keep in mind about encountering
sexism in other cultures is that foreign women are often
freed from the oppression imposed on local women. Whatever
your circumstances, women are succeeding in all sectors
of the international work environment. If you want to learn
more about the successes
of professional women on the international scene, there
are now many membership groups and other resources on the
CH: What skills are
most likely to get you a job overseas and a work permit
to make it legal—let's say in Europe?
JmH: There is a big
difference between looking for low-skilled, seasonal international
jobs and international employment as a young professional.
For the backpacking world travelers, legal work permits
will always be a challenge, and they often find work under
the table. For the young professional interested in an international
career, the job search is different however. When a young
professional asks about how to obtain a work permit for
a specific country, this points to two popular misconceptions
about finding their first international job. Firstly, their
international employer will most likely be a North American
organization or an international organization (and not a
local organization in the host country) and it is the employer
who arranges the work permit. Secondly, young professionals
do not generally target specific countries in their international
job search; they target North American employers or other
international organizations operating in their sector of
expertise. It is the employer who then decides on the country
of destination. There are professional international jobs
in all sectors, so they are no specific fields that you
should be studying except to say that all fields have an
international component to them. So study in the field you
most love, and then target your research to find the international
aspects in your field of work. Good luck with your career!