“I WANT TO WORK ABROAD!” That was my overly-enthusiastic answer to everyone who asked about my study abroad experience when I returned. In response, my study abroad advisor talked about Peace Corps and teaching English as possible options. My mom suggested I get a job at a company in the US that would transfer me. My American friends shared words of encouragement and promises of meeting up for glorious expat parties. Everyone had ideas but nobody knew exactly how to turn my study abroad experience into an international career. It wasn’t until an Australian friend passed through my town and shared news of a job that later took me to Canada and New Zealand that I learned the truth: there’s no fast, direct path to an international career. Instead it’s more of a slow meander, with plenty of pauses for inquiry and conversation.
An international job search involves equal parts research and hustle, plus a dash of right place/right time luck. If your study abroad experience has you dreaming of the expat life, start your international job search during your time abroad. Here are 6 steps you can take during your time abroad to help you tackle the search.
Step 1: Know what you’re good at
You international job search starts with knowing your skills. Employers don’t care that you love (insert your favorite country here). They don’t always care about your global mindset. They care about your skills. What can you do that other candidates can’t? What knowledge do you bring to a position? Knowing the answer is what will help you differentiate yourself in the job search. Try this exercise to figure out what you’re good at or research the skills required to work for the world’s most in demand employers and then match them to your own experience.
Step 2: Master LinkedIn
LinkedIn makes the international job search so much easier. Learn how to use the alumni tool, create advanced searches with key words and set up saved job searches. You can also have a LinkedIn profile in more than one language, increasing your visibility to international recruiters.
Step 3: Read all the jobs
The best advice I ever received came from a friend who read jobs as if she was reading the daily news. She told me to start reading jobs daily so I’d know how to position myself for international opportunities. Job posts give you all the information you need to better understand your target industry or company:
- Skills: Do you have them? Take note of the skills you have to gauge how marketable you are in your field; if you don’t have the skills, figure out how to get them (MOOC’s, coding camps, volunteer projects, etc)
- Language: When you write contacts or submit your resume/CV you need to use appropriate language for the industry and position. Use keywords gleaned from job posts to better articulate your goals, improve your LinkedIn profile, and include in your cover letter.
- Additional information: Job postings often note where can you learn more about the company such as on LinkedIn and Twitter. Use information from these sources as the foundation for informational interview questions or to start conversations at networking events.
Step 4: Keep up with your international friends lives
Sure you’ve shared bottles of wine and traveled to beautiful islands together. But your travel buddies have friends and family in the workforce (plus they’ll have jobs soon too). Don’t underestimate the power of your international network. They may be able to help you find a job. Stay friends on Facebook and find them on LinkedIn too. Check in with them and catch up on their lives and careers. Tell them you’re interested in pursuing a job in their country and ask them if they know any companies or people who hire international candidates.
Step 5: Embrace the Informational Interview
Informational interviews are simply casual conversations with professional people. They also open up doors. I know a former student who had over 120 informational interviews with professionals to understand the employment opportunities in his target country and build his network (he got a job too). The goal of informational interviews is two-fold: learn the paths of people who were successful in landing their jobs and get advice. If all goes well your curiousity and willingness to learn about this person will impress them and they may refer you if a position opens up. Ask your host family, site director, professors, and/or friends if they know someone in your industry of interest who is willing to talk to you about their career path. Look up alumni from your school who are living in your host country. Spend 20 minutes talking with a contact and you’ll get insider knowledge about organization and insight into what employers look for in candidates. For outsiders (read: foreigners) this information is priceless as you’ll need to navigate an application and interview process filled with new cultural challenges. Bonus points if you can do the informational interview in the language of the country you are residing in.
Step 6: Start small
Don’t start your international career search with a big-time, high stakes jobs in mind. It pays to start small. You won’t the big expat job like Director of Emergency Services relief for the Red Cross right out of college. Instead, search for entry level jobs at startups abroad. Find English tutoring projects. Or ask a local hostel if they need extra support. Seek out small opportunities to volunteer in your host country. Ask your site director if he or she needs help on extra projects like marketing, event planning, or logistical support for trips. Ask if they have a family member or friend who needs help with English tutoring. Small opportunities lead to bigger ones for people who have an open mind, cultural understanding and a solid work ethic.
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