I lived in seven different countries. Yes, seven! And believe me, I am not going to stop there. Traveling brings you so much that it becomes addictive.
It all started when I was about 18 years old. I spent few months in the US, worked there and discovered a different way of living and being. I made a promise to myself: “This trip offered you so much, can you imagine what the entire world could offer you? Don’t go back to what you know, travel the world!”
And I did and I still am!
Having worked and lived in so many countries, I have been exposed to human nature in all its differences and similarities. These long-term adventures have definitely influenced my personality and I always want more of them! It invited me to look at things from different perspectives, expose myself to situations I may not have faced in my home country, while showing me that everything is possible and that the world is full of opportunities.
As a life-long nomad, career coach and huge believer that international work experience is now a necessity in today’s professional world, I am pleased to share some tips with you to prepare for the adventure.
• Why this country?
The world is big! Huge! You want to go work abroad but you don’t really know where — This is the starting point of everything. Choose a destination that makes sense to you, professionally but also personally. You want to find a place that will participate in helping you grow, developing your competencies, opening doors to career opportunities, but most importantly, that can align with your values. Why looking at your values? Because your values will influence all your decisions related to your career.
What destination will allow you to live your values? What do you need to find in a country to be happy as a clam? These are essential questions that you must ask to find the right environment to be who you want to be professionally speaking. In other words, know what you want and why!
• What are the best practices for a successful job search?
Research, research and research! Find out what an employer is looking to see in a job application. How does that differ from your home country best practices? You need to establish and show that you are on the same page as them. Define what the local format is for applying for a job. There are millions of different approaches to the job market; job search can be very “local” in the way it is done. There is no international practice per say, it varies from country to country and you must be aware of how to approach the market in every country you are interested in. What is the national scenario? What type of resume and cover letter would you need to use to present your experience?
• How does it fit with your professional career plan?
What’s the plan? Why are you willing to work abroad? What do you want to accomplish professionally in the coming months and years? It would be a good idea to set aside some time to think about your short-, medium- and long-term goals. What is this foreign work experience supposed to bring you? What do you want to gain? Is working abroad part of your plan and directly relevant to your career goals? What do you hope to accomplish in the long term? How will this international experience help you get there?
Your short-term decisions will impact your long-term career goals. Don’t look at it as a set-in-stone plan for your professional life, but rather as a road map that may grow and change as you move through the world.
• Is it feasible? Immigration and laws
It’s great to dream about amazing opportunities in fancy places, but is it feasible? Do you have what is required to work there? Make sure to understand what you need, legally speaking, to work outside of your home country. Each country has their own regulations and without a clear understanding of what is required, you may burn your chances. If you hold a European passport, you may be able to work anywhere in Europe. Easy! But for example, in North America you may have to look at the immigration process on your own, as most employers will be expecting you to have a working permit before approaching them. Some employers may be willing to sponsor you but that’s becoming more and more rare and is typically for those with very specific skills. Another example, in the United Arab Emirates, you cannot stay on the territory unless you have been offered a job and therefore a company will sponsor your immigration papers. Otherwise, just forget it!
• Research and identify who you want to work with
Have a clear criteria for your ideal company. Who do you want to work with and why? Who’s the right fit for you? Find out everything about the organization: products, services, strategy, structure, culture, challenges, opportunities, people and see how it aligns with your values and goals. Check the company’s reputation on Glassdoor. Glassdoor is available in Canada, the US, Europe, Australia and India. Read the local press, follow local social media pages, participate in national events and ask questions!
A targeted job search strategy is proven to be much more effective than mass-distribution of your resume. It’s not the quantity, but the quality that matters.
• Review your resume: what can you do?
A good resume presents your experience and qualifications clearly and concisely to a potential employer and helps convince them that you have a unique value. This is the only common denominator we may find between countries.
In North America, it’s okay to have your resume on two pages. In France, it’s a no go! One page only! North American employers want to see how you performed, what you achieved and want to see as much information as possible on your resume, with a lot of quantitative data to support your experience. Obviously, it’s hard to do that on one page.
It is also very common to see picture, age, nationality and sex on a French résumé. Canada, for example, believes that details like your religious beliefs, age, country of origin are subjective and opens doors for discrimination.
Volunteering is also very important in the Canadian culture so it’s a must to highlight your volunteering jobs on your resume. It is considered as fair work experience, but actually holds little or no value in Europe or the Middle-East.
You’ll notice that practices differ from country-to-country, so you must do your due diligence to find out what the best practices are. What is the typical format of a resume in the country you would like to work in? Find local samples; write different versions of your resume, aimed at different countries. Your resume is just about helping you getting an interview. It’s one foot in the door, but the only way to open that door, so make sure to make it right!
• Review your cover letter: who are you?
A convincing cover letter addresses a specific employment opportunity and demonstrates that your past experience and personal style meet the job requirements. The cover letter is your chance to say “who” you are, so grab it! Clearly explain why you are the right fit for this position. This may not vary too much from country to country, but you’ll still want to double check. Ideally keep your cover letter to one page.
• Networking is a must!
Where you live is your network. But you want to move abroad; obviously your network is not going to move out with you. That means that you need to create a new professional network where you are going to land. Many countries operate through a referral system: Canada, the Middle-East, Latin countries…and if you don’t know anyone, you will basically never, never, never land a job.
Use LinkedIn to connect with people, ask them for a quick call, Skype, an informal interview, whatever! As long as you connect with people who live and work where you are aiming to go. By connecting with these people, you will better understand what is expected from you as a new immigrant looking for a job. It’s getting your foot in the door, better understanding how things are run in a foreign company and how your industry operates in that country you are targeting.
Speak the same language, understand the social codes, ask questions and discuss the differences between your culture and theirs. They will not be offended, they will appreciate the fact that you want to understand them and just blend.
In some countries like Canada, it is actually recommended to be physically present, so if you’re willing and able to, book a flight ticket and meet them in person. 80% of the total work market is invisible, so where do you want to spend your time? Hiding behind a computer, responding to online job offers, 10,000 miles away from the job market? Or take the risk to move in, be in place, meet professionals, and access 80% of the job market? Your choice!
Once you have developed your new network, make sure to maintain it. Your network is very precious and not available only when you are looking for a job. It’s a win-win relationship that you need to nurture on a regular basis. Invite your peers for coffee, chit-chat about your industry, give them news when you get promoted, when you change job or company, clearly share with them your career plan.
• Prepare for your interviews
Since you resume showed that you possess the right skills, the interview will focus on those intangibles – such as your personality and style – that will help the employer determine whether or not you will fit into the company culture.
In North America, employers speak about finding the “right fit.” Your behavioral competencies are as – and sometimes even more important than – your technical skills. This is not the case in Europe or the Middle-East, where employers still focus very much on what you can do rather than who you are and how your unique personality can contribute to the team and company growth.
Get ready to give many concrete examples to illustrate how you can save time and money for the company. You will get many behavioral questions to be able to do so. Your past performance and behavior are important and this is what matters to them. You will typically get questions such as: “Give me an example of a time when you had to make a quick decision.”
In North America, employers expect their candidates to show them how they performed in their past company, what they are “known” for. In Europe and in Asia, this is very badly perceived. Typically, the French culture finds inappropriate to highlight your success and Japanese people would find it rude, as not showing enough humility.
You now have all the tools to prepare for your new life abroad. Get ready to land soon. Make sure to check the best practices to living and working abroad. You need to fit from the very first day and make everyone feel they made the right choice to hire you. Landing a job is a first great milestone, but keeping the job is really what matters!
As a Career & Leadership Coach, Bénédicte works with clients across industries and continents to find the career they were meant for and ways to excel within it. She believes that who we are should define what we do, and that what we do defines who we are, which is why she specializes in coaching that focuses on your professional life including: finding and changing your career, improving your leadership, confidence and focus, overcoming professional challenges, opening a business, integrating into a new team or role, and creating work-life balance. Her coaching practice is integrative. She draws from her multidisciplinary background to provide a holistic approach to career development. Connect with her on Noomii or Facebook.