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Finding a Job Overseas

By Ruth Halcomb

Imagine -- living abroad and getting paid for it. To many, the idea of living and working overseas evokes images of glamor and excitement. But the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if not approached in a realistic way.

In many parts of the world, especially when unemployment rates are high, local citizens get preference in the job market. In a number of countries, foreign residents are not permitted to hold jobs.

U.S. citizens are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to working in Europe. Citizens of EU countries can move freely from country to country, and most employers in EU countries are obligated to hire EU citizens before giving consideration to others. Jobs in Asia are on the increase and can be quite rewarding. China was seventh in in HSBC’s 2012 Expat Explorer Economics annual survey, which included such factors as disposable income, quality of life. Expats working in India have increased dramatically as well.

If you know you want an international career while you're still in college or starting grad school, your choice of what to study can make a big difference. A large number of overseas jobs in the private sector are in technology. A degree or a major in science, business or finance is valuable, in both public and private sectors. For government, UN and NGO jobs, studying public health and/or public policy can be useful. Know where your abilities lie and do your research.

If you're already in the workforce, your odds are greatly enhanced if you already work for a company with operations overseas. Or, if you qualify for hard-to-fill positions in fields such as nursing, scientific and technical specialties, you're ahead of the game. More openings exist, too, for those willing to go to the world's danger spots.There are a few jobs related to the arts, though not many.

Know Your Motivation

You'll be asked countless times why you want to work abroad. Your first step is defining "why" for yourself. Why does working in a different country appeal to you? What draws you to a particular country? How much do you know about that country? If you don't know much yet, vow to learn more.

Mere dissatisfaction isn't enough. Have you been plotting an international career while getting your education? Have you spent time studying or working in your target country? Do you speak the language? Are your parents or grandparents from there? Or, can you realistically expect to be working with others who speak English? Are you familiar with the economy and business climate of the country that interests you? Are you well informed about your industry and its place in that country? A strong connection to the part of the world where you want to go is a big asset. In many instances, however, you won't be able to choose a specific country, but must instead be open to going anywhere.

Increasingly, industries have or want to have a global presence. though they go about this in varying ways. Human resource departments have begun to focus on global competence. The greater awareness you have of other countries and their different cultures and the more adaptable you are, the greater your chances of moving up the career ladder in many fields.

Try to see working overseas as a building block in your over-all career. You'll benefit more from an overseas experience if you know how this experience dovetails with your long-term goals. Also, you'll appear more valuable to future employers if you can demonstrate how your career goals coincide with the career paths their company offers.

Career plans change, of course. If you're the sort of individual likely to succeed to abroad, you're open to new opportunities and able to change direction. Perhaps you've already shifted your career direction. Showing that you are focused will help you get the job you want, while being flexible will help you cope once you get there.

Resume or CV

A resume geared to employment in the U.S. probably isn't adequate. A resume conveys an idea of the applicant's qualifications and background in a nutshell. A curriculum vitae or CV, which is used in most foreign countries, includes more detailed information about your education and experience.

Whatever you do, get rid of jargon not easily understood outside the U.S., and purge all spelling and grammatical errors. If you aren't confident about writing your own resume or CV, get professional help. Before you hire a professional, however, try writing your own. An internet search will lead you to examples to use as a model.


You've posted your CV on the Internet, sent it out to dozens of companies and nothing is happening. What's wrong?

What you know isn't nearly as important as whom you know and who knows you. Networking with individuals from international companies and from foreign countries is invaluable. If you're in a large enough company, look for ways to interact with its employees or its customers overseas.

If you're in a small town or a small company, you'll need to consider a move to a larger city or a different job where you'll make contacts to help you launch an international career. Consider, too, that contacts from your past - from previous jobs, from volunteering and from college - can be helpful. Foreign students you once knew may now be in important position in their home country.

Individual contacts probably won't offer you a dream job, and it may not be appropriate to ask such a favor. Assertiveness that is valued in the U.S., is often not appreciated in other cultures. What you can ask for is advice, and this may lead to other contacts. Keep expanding your network and the possibilities keep increasing.

Go Now...Job Hunt Once There?

There are many advantages to lining up a position before you leave home. If you're sent or invited overseas by a large company, your employer will probably help with transporting your possessions and with housing as well offering a salary comparable with what you'd receive in the U.S.

Maybe you're not among the lucky ones to be "sent" abroad, but you're still adventuresome enough to go. Should you take a job in a different field or at a lower level just to get a foothold in the country where you want to be? For some, this is the answer.

More than a few working expats started out with the Peace Corps, an internship, a volunteer position with a nonprofit or a job teaching English. This enabled them to make contact with a local company or an international company where they moved into a different type of position.

Some go abroad with no job, but this isn't for the faint of heart. Nor does it make sense when many countries have high rates of unemployment. Before deciding on this course of action, find out what your living costs will be while job-hunting. If you're already out of work, you might decide that you'd rather be unemployed abroad than at home. In any event, be sure to investigate the legal requirements for working in your target country; you may be required to come home to apply for the visa or working papers.

As you're well aware, it's risky to go chasing something that may or may not pan out. Try to calculate how far your savings will go. Taking a chance is easier if you're young and especially if you're single, or if you're moving abroad with a spouse who already has a job.

When you start an international job hunt, you're embarking on an enterprise with many unknowns. If this scares you or the family you hope to take along, take time to re-consider. If facing unknowns stimulates you and bolsters your confidence, you're probably a person who'll thrive in an overseas job..

Ruth Halcomb is the founder of Network for Living Abroad and editor of Liveabroad.com and Updates from Liveabroad.com. She is also the author of Women Making It, Patterns and Profiles of Success and other books, and writes about business and career issues for various magazines.


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