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A Practical Guide to Finding International Jobs

Job abroadPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

Whether you are looking for jobs as a teacher, researcher, or consultant, conducting an international job search can be a daunting process. However, your search can be more effective, less stressful, and even more enjoyable by embracing a few of these basic guidelines.

As someone who finally scored her dream international gig, which now sends me to a new country every several months to live and work, my success came down to three key factors: laser-sharp focus, effective use of email and LinkedIn, and strategic informational interviewing.

After looking for more than two years for the right opportunity, I also know what did not work: submitting resumes, hoping a large multi-national company would eventually send me overseas, and searching in multiple countries at once. Here's my practical guide to finding a job overseas.

Focus on Your Summary Sentence

It is vital to begin your search by nailing down a strong summary sentence, one that positions you for your ideal job. It should sum up where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go next. For example, mine reads: “International sales and marketing professional from a management consulting background looks to leverage Mandarin language skills and extensive experience in emerging markets in a business development capacity for a Chinese company.” This kind of clarity at the onset allows you to conduct a focused job search and helps people help you.

Job abroadPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

Write Your Own Job Description

Before you even begin looking at what is out there, it is important to take time to write your dream job description. This forces you to concretely specify what is the ideal - and logical - next step, and prevents you from settling for whatever jobs pop up first online.

Instead, you spend your time looking for what comes as close to your vision as possible. Without the vision, you risk blindly applying to too many jobs or settling for a poor fit. This process also empowers you to critically analyze your past experiences, interests, skills, and education to understand what makes you relevant to your ideal position. Having a solid grasp of that understanding is the only way you will ever get hired.

Pick One Country

Next, it is important to narrow your focus to one country, and one city if possible. This was one of the biggest mistakes I made in my search, looking everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to New Delhi. I considered it “keeping my options open,” but in reality such a scatter-brained search inhibited my ability to strategically do what is necessary for any successful job hunt: build a network in that location and spend time understanding what is available to do there.

Imagine someone saying, “I want to leverage my accounting background to try something different in an emerging market.” I don't even know where to begin to help this person. But if you tell me, “I want to work for a local bank in Lima, Peru because I have 3 years of experience in accounting, speak Spanish, have previously visited Peru, and minored in Latin American Studies in college,” I can try to think of who I know in my network who lives in Lima, and feel confident recommending you as someone who knows what she wants and is qualified in that space.

Additionally, picking a specific location lets you to use LinkedIn and Google in a sensible way, searching your industry in that city and finding companies or organizations that interest you in that city. “Accounting jobs in developing countries” won't get you anywhere. “Accounting jobs in Lima, Peru for US citizens” is far more effective.

It is vital to begin your search by nailing down a strong summary sentence, one that positions you for your ideal job. It should sum up where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go next.

Job abroadPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

Stop Submitting Resumes

Most people fill out online application forms and frantically email their CV to contacts, hoping this lands them a job. Occasionally it does, but unless I know that the person wading through resumes submitted through an online portal is specifically looking for mine, I don't bother. If I have to apply online, especially to a company halfway around the world, I do so only after I have a human being at the company on my side.

Instead, start by making a list of everyone you know who you feel comfortable reaching out to and send them a brief, personalized email with what you are up to now, the description you've created of your ideal next step, the exact country or city where you are looking for work, and a polite request for any ideas or introductions that could help. Don't forget to ask how their work and personal life is going, as well.

This process allows you to inform friends, family members, former colleagues or mentors about your interests and secure relevant leads. Even if nothing comes out of the email exchange, you still had an excuse to say “hello” and check-in with that person.

Pursue Contact and Leads With the Mentorship Approach

With the contacts you receive from your first round of friendly emails, you can reach out to these individuals with a basic self-overview (a less formal version of your summary sentence) and a suggestion to meet for coffee or have a 20-minute Skype call to discuss their career in the field and what advice they have for someone interested in doing what they do.

Make sure you follow these three important rules:

  • Don't ask for a job (yet): You are just making a personal connection and should focus on learning about them and their career and indicating a general interest in considering new opportunities. If you happen to make a connection and have casually sprinkled in your qualifications, you can then later inquire about a job you see on that company's website or ask for the introduction to a third party they mentioned. Otherwise, it's more natural to wait for them to suggest a next step if they see you as a fit for something they know is available.
  • Never send your CV unsolicited: After you have connected on a personal level and it is determined that you're a fit for a position, they will ask for your resume.
  • Nurture the new relationship: Keep in touch with new contacts after your conversations, send them links to relevant articles you think they may enjoy, offer to do something helpful for free, or just drop an email to say hi now and then. Always keep the lines of communication open with successful, interesting people you admire.

This method is beneficial on multiple levels: you nurture and expand your network, learn about different careers, solicit personal and professional mentorship, and (ideally) secure direct, human links to employment opportunities that prevent you from tossing your CV into digital black holes on the Internet.

Start by making a list of everyone you know who you feel comfortable reaching out to and send them a brief, personalized email with what you are up to now, the description you've created of your ideal next step, the exact country or city where you are looking for work, and a polite request for any ideas or introductions that could help.

Job abroadPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

Leverage LinkedIn

As far as I'm concerned, the personal email method described above and LinkedIn should be your primary tools for finding leads and making connections. I've already written quite a lot about how to effectively use LinkedIn during your job hunt. Basically, LinkedIn grants you visibility into your network's second and third degree connections, so you can ask for specific introductions to other friends or friends of friends. The “groups” section of the site is also fundamental. You can find targeted groups like “Beijing Marketing Professionals” or “New Delhi Psychologists,” which can be invaluable sources of contacts. Do note that you can directly message anyone who participates in the same group as you – a huge advantage!

Applying the same principle of making a personal connection with these interesting individuals and taking a mentorship approach to your interaction will open more doors to opportunities. It also allows you to focus geographically, as well. Several hours spent browsing people and groups in your field in your desired location is time spent well – provided you keep track of who you want to reach out to and find a smart, personalized way to take action. Don't simply jealously stalk their profiles, find a way to get introduced or Google their name and contact information as a last resort. You'll be surprised by the positive responses you can get from using this approach.

Google Search - In a Smart Way

Come up with a list of keywords from your ideal job description and extensively Google this list plus the terms “company” or “organization” and your desired location, looking not only at the first and second pages, but the tenth, twelfth, and twentieth pages of the search. While doing this, maintain a spreadsheet of relevant companies, their contact information, interesting positions and requirements, and if they are actively hiring.

If they are not actively hiring, do not despair. The focus is on gathering a database of companies and organizations, not the roles they may or may not be advertising. You simply want to know about interesting companies so you can research them on LinkedIn and repeat the process detailed above to make connections with individuals working there. In fact, they may not even advertise many positions, and the only way you will find out they exist is through a real, live human being.

Job abroadPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

Take a Networking Vacation

If you've done your homework properly - a minimum of 2-3 months of diligent searching, Skyping, and connecting - you should have a database of companies, dozens of relevant individuals in your target location who now know you personally, and more information than ever about the career options ahead of you.

At this stage, my highest recommendation to the serious international job-hunter is to take a “networking vacation” to your desired location. After you've made some contacts and have several companies in mind, fly yourself over, do the interviews and meet-and-greets that you've lined up in advance, connect in-person with your newly cultivated international network, post-up in strategic expat bars, and generally sample the market. This is the most practical and effective way to get a good job in another country, but requires a lot of preparation to make it worthwhile.

By doing this, you may discover you don't even like the country, the opportunity you're looking for isn't available in that market, or that you need to invest more time at home in skill or experience development before you're a competitive candidate. More likely, however, you'll be able to secure a much better job from the start by doing it in-person, which grants you more options and a greater likelihood of being seriously considered than you would have had through a virtual search alone.

Some Helpful Resources

Here are a few links I consistently recommend to international job-seekers:

  • GoOverseas: Not to toot our own horn, but we're a great resource for information about all sorts of work-abroad opportunities, including teaching abroad and being an au pair abroad. (PS here's where you can make bank teaching abroad).
  • Moving Worlds: Get matched with global opportunities based on your field of expertise. It costs $99, but you only pay when a successful match is made.
  • Escape the City: Register for their newsletter and every Monday you'll receive a list of new, usually paid opportunities on every continent.
  • Devex: Focused on international development and public sector jobs.
  • One Day One Job: A great place to browse interesting organizations.
  • ATLAS China: Fluent Mandarin speakers with previous employment experience can get hired by companies in second or third-tier Chinese cities.
  • Just Better Jobs: Posts for for-profit jobs that contribute to a greater purpose. Signing up for their newsletter is highly recommended.
  • InterNations: Designed for expats living abroad, but nothing prevents someone from registering for their dream location and connecting with people living there through the site.

Often times people get hired, especially internationally, because they were in the right place at the right time...and knew the right person. The key strategy of my approach hinges on actively putting yourself in front of the right people in order to be on the radar for exactly what you want to achieve.

With today's technological tools, getting 15 minutes to introduce yourself to a manager in your industry on the other side of the world is surprisingly achievable. The difficult part is developing a sharp focus on what you really want to be doing, deeply understanding how you are qualified to be doing it, exercising the confidence to take action, and effectively nurturing connections with other human beings.

The combination of all these things results in a better understanding of your own goals and competencies, a rich network of knowledge and support, and, most importantly, offers to work where and with whom you want to work!

Elaina Giolando

A former NYC management consultant turned legal nomad, Elaina Giolando writes about the intersection of career, life, and travel for today's 20-somethings. She currently works as an international project manager and has traveled to over 50 countries and 6 continents for both work and play. In her spare time, she focuses on providing her peers inspiration to proactively create rewarding and unconventional lifestyles. You'll find her writing here on Go Overseas and also on Business Insider, Fortune, Fast Company, and Huffington Post.