If you were interviewing me for a job, you might notice the number of years I spent outside the United States.
In 2000, I worked in Kobe, Japan teaching Year 1 at a British school (thats kindergarten for you yanks) and English classes at night. From 2002-2004, I worked in Kathmandu, Nepal, selling solar panels, solar vaccine refrigerators and LED lighting systems to remote Himalayan villages.
In the first case, Japan, the only qualification for the job was that I could speak English (and put up with 25 adorable five-year olds for 6 hours a day).
In the later case, Nepal, I had to have sales and specialized technical skills to do the job.
The irony was that it was easier for the British school in Kobe to justify my position than it was for the Kathmandu company. There just weren’t that many Japanese English speakers competing for my job, and there were plenty of tech-savvy salespeople from Nepal perfectly qualified to do what I did.
The school got my work visa almost immediately, whereas the solar company had to jump through many hoops to get my work visa. Each company took on risk and expenses to make sure I could stay with them.
The main issue for most companies looking to hire foreigners is the visa issue. They need to justify to their government why they are hiring people from outside their direct economy.
Furthermore, multinational corporations like Deloitte or Citigroup find it much more affordable to hire locally and train talent, than it is to move someone from overseas and pay them a higher salary.
So for foreigners looking to work abroad professionally, and not for teaching English, they are competing against several powerful economic drivers, not to mention the inevitable culture clashes and communication problems.
Yet living and working abroad is still a very popular and appealing career move for many, in fact millions of Americans live overseas. Companies like GoingGlobal and World Education Services strive to provide services for adventure seeking professionals (like myself).
In a study by Manpower of 30,000 American professionals, 79% were willing to work abroad. Of those, 40% were willing to move permanently in pursuit of professional opportunities and new life experiences.
I recently asked my fellow career professionals on LinkedIn to provide their best advice for you, if you are looking for overseas work experience. Here’s what they came up with.
1- Make it Easy to Justify Hiring You
The company you want to work for needs to justify hiring you with their local government. Why hire you when they could hire someone locally?
If you can’t articulate at least one extra bonus that you bring to the table, you won’t have much chance. This could be a specialized skill, or a set of unique experiences that relate directly to the success of the organization.
LinkedIn has some tools you can use to help you identify those skills. Try looking up someone who does the job you want to do in the country you want to do it. Take a look at the Skills listed on their LinkedIn profile. Here’s another advanced technique for finding skills.
Ruth Winden, a career coach specializing in international employment, told me that, “Relocating candidates (and potentially their spouse and family) is an enormously expensive undertaking for a company…Candidates from abroad need to clearly show the additional value they offer, so they can compete against local or national candidates.”
Offering a different strategy, career coach Hank Boyer, says, “The employer has to show that they could not fill the position with a citizen of that country, which may be very hard to do. So the advice to the job seeker is to look for jobs where you meet the qualifications and it is a hard-to-fill position in the country in which you want to work.”
2- Have Some International Experience
As an MBA who graduated from an international program out of Boston University, I know how difficult it can be working with people who don’t share your most basic working values.
Trying to get our group projects done was twice as hard as what culturally homogeneous groups had to go through. First we had to navigate our cultural differences before would could even start to tackle the business case. I confused silence for assent, rather than defiance. I thought yes meant yes. I thought being on time meant being 5 minutes early. I was the only one who had these particular set of assumptions which made decision making almost impossible.
If you’ve never worked with foreigners or had to adjust to a completely different culture over a long period of time, then your chances of failure at that job double or triple. And the company knows it.
If you can’t show a history of working abroad or with working with foreigners, you will probably need to volunteer in order to get that experience before you have a chance.
Maureen Farmer, a resume writer based out of Canada, told me that having your travel documents ready by the time you apply could help your job application. Not to mention having friends in your target company willing to recommend you!
Sharing her own experience working abroad, career counselor Tanya Maldonado said, “When I worked overseas (it was a developing island nation) I made the mistake of taking my American work attitude with me. Working in a culture where people said yes but really meant no. The different understanding of time, urgency, deadlines ended up frustrating me – not the locals. Know the culture is my advice.”
I would add to this. Have some kind of direct experience with that culture. Go there for a visit. Get involved with a local community of them. Reading Lonely Planet won’t prepare you.
3- Network into Your Target Country
All of my jobs overseas came from networking. All of them. The job in Japan came to me through a girl I was dating at the time. She emailed the head mistress who agreed to talk to me.
The job in Nepal came from a buddhist monk I was friends with, who introduced me to the business owner who happened to be one of his sponsors.
Cynthia Orme told me, “I have also lived and worked overseas for a number of years…My starting point was to connect with other professionals for networking. I learned much about that culture and the job market from doing that, as well as getting a job offer.”
Hiring from outside the country is probably the last thing on a recruiter’s mind…unless they are friends with a foreigner or have a role unfillable by locals. So get to know as many professionals in your target country as possible.
LinkedIn is increasingly becoming a global network, with most of its members outside the US. But it’s always a good idea to see if there’s another social network you can join to further boost your chances of meeting the right people. Here’s some research I did on the state of global professional social networks.