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5 Essential Steps to Landing an International Job

job search, skills, international
Credit: Relocating overseas image via Shutterstock

An international job search can be a daunting experience, but it's one that more people are willing to take on today. In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Graebel reported that 41 percent of millennials are willing to move overseas for work, and more than 70 percent are prepared to make significant personal sacrifices, such as postponing marriage or taking a pay cut, to relocate to their dream destination. 

Some people's adventurous streak leads them to look for work opportunities outside their home country. Others hope a move will improve their quality of life or provide them with more economic stability. Indeed, expats earn an average of 25 percent more than they did at home, with 1 in 10 reporting their income has doubled since moving abroad, according to a 2017 HSBC Expat Explorer survey completed by nearly 28,000 expats across the world.

Regardless of your reason for moving, if you are considering relocating to a foreign country, there are a few steps you can take to improve your chances of landing your dream international gig.

"Submitting a job application in an as-yet-unfamiliar place can be a minefield, but building an understanding of the expectations of your prospective employers ahead of time will put you in the best position to be considered for a job outside your native country," said Elspeth Rabey, human resources advisor with Nigel Frank International, a technology recruiter that places candidates in tech roles all over the world.

Want to land that international role? Here's how to do it.

Being fluent in multiple languages is a surefire way to increase your appeal among international employers. According to the University of Phoenix Research Institute, demand for bilingual employees is expected to continue to rise, with 70 percent of employers predicting Spanish-speaking skills will be in high demand.

Since only 25 percent of Americans speak more than one language, those who are bilingual have the upper hand when applying to foreign companies that want employees who can speak both the local language and demonstrate an excellent grasp of English. 

"Even in our Turkish office, we hire employees who have English language proficiency," said Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of JotForm. "They still need to interact with partners and vendors who speak English, and also work with our San Francisco office. Plus, because most of our customers speak English, it's important they can review support requests written in English as well."

But don't despair if you are among the majority of Americans who are monolingual. Those who don't speak a second language can still find jobs abroad by promoting the value of their native language skills. 

"One of the easiest ways to work abroad is to teach your native language," said Amy Ahlblad, partnerships manager for Glamping Hub, which has offices in the U.S. and Spain.

Even if teaching is not your ultimate career goal, it will give you entry into a new culture and the opportunity to meet locals, explore the country and study the language intensively. Once you become comfortable communicating in the local language, you can expand your employment search.

International employers want to hire people who can easily adapt to the cultural norms and expectations of the countries where they will be working. In addition to understanding the broader culture and social customs of a country, it helps to learn about the nuances in the region that influence the company where you plan to work or the local industry culture, advised Noriyuki Matsuda, founder and CEO of Sourcenext.

"For example, there are employee benefits such as stock options that are not as common yet in Japan," said Matsuda. "Companies in Japan also tend to spend more time and money training employees compared to the United States."

Cultural immersion – whether through a long-term visit, a graduate program, volunteer work or an internship – may be the most effective way to stand out in an overseas job market.

"If conditions allow, actual time spent in the country you're researching will be the best way to expose yourself to the culture," said Matsuda.

Though you may be able to put together a stellar resume and cover letter in the U.S., these same documents may not be as impressive to an overseas employer. The rules for what should and should not be included in a resume and job application are so diverse that it's important to take the time to learn local norms.

"Doing a bit of research – not only on things like average salaries and living costs, but on social and workplace customs – ahead of submitting any applications or attending interviews can make all the difference," said Rabey.

In Germany, Rabey explained, including a recent photo is considered a must for any job application, whereas this would be highly unusual in the U.K. In Spain, you must include your passport or identification number on your curriculum vitae, but few employees ask for a list of references, she added.

It the United States, it's illegal for employers to base hiring decisions on age, race, gender or nationality, so these details are never included in applications. "Apply for a job in some parts of the Middle East, however, and you may be expected to submit more personal information, like marital status and country of origin; and in Japan, applicants are often quizzed about dependents," explained Rabey. "It's also considered a necessity in Japan to turn in a handwritten version of your CV (with no smudges or liquid paper in sight), as it's thought that handwriting reveals a lot about a person."

To further increase your chances of landing that perfect job, make sure your resume is extremely specialized and tailored to the position you hope to fill. "The company may have to prove that you are the one and only candidate for this job," explained Ahlblad.

Once you find a company willing to sponsor you, make sure you have an updated passport, apply for your visa and work permit, and submit any other forms or required documents.

If you want to become more appealing to international employers, consider pursuing a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which are in high demand around the world.

"Professionals like engineers and software developers are always sought after, particularly as the digital transformation era continues across the globe," said Rabey. "Plus, as much of a STEM pro's skill set is hard, technical knowledge, it can be applied no matter where they are, and no matter what language they're speaking."

Possessing some of the specialized skills found in STEM fields may also make you more attractive to companies in countries that have skills shortage lists.

"Foreigners looking to get sponsored by a company and have longer-term working visas approved need to possess skills on these lists," said Valerie Streif, who works remotely from Australia as senior content manager for San Francisco-based Pramp.

Many STEM fields have industry standards that are quite similar across borders, making the transition from one country to the next much smoother. However, other lines of work may not fare as well, according to Matsuda. 

"Job functions such as marketing, sales, logistics, and even legal and finance are less likely to lend themselves to overseas moves due to large differences in the way these roles operate in one territory versus another," he said.

If you can pick up your life and move overseas without much fuss, it might not hurt to let a prospective employer know that upfront. But don't lose hope if your situation is not as flexible. If you are willing to be creative, adaptive and patient, you can still find your perfect overseas destination.

One option is to look for employment with a U.S. company that has locations overseas and eventually ask for a foreign transfer. Your assignment overseas might be for only a few years, or you might arrange to make it permanent. The benefits here are that you'll already have insight into the corporate culture, and your company will help you arrange your visa and might even handle the logistics of your move.

While you might've always imagined yourself living on the West Bank of Paris, you can increase your possibilities of finding work overseas if you broaden the scope of countries you are willing to call home.

"Many developing countries around the world are happy to have talent come and work for them," said Peter Contreras of Lean Staffing Solutions, who has worked as a mechanical engineering designer in the U.S., Colombia and the Dominican Republic. "Usually, in those countries, talent is leaving towards first-world countries where competition is greater."

Regardless of where you end up securing a job, it is up to you to make the most of the experience. Working overseas can provide staggering opportunities to grow personally and professionally to those willing to take on the challenge.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.