Itchy feet? How to land your first gig overseas

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Written By Kim Ladone

The travel bug has bitten hard, holidays are no longer enough to satiate your wanderlust and you’re dreaming about living like a local in one of your favourite countries. How do you take the leap?

My most recent ‘live like a local’ dream was of France, a country I’d visited many times on holiday but longed to know as more than just a tourist. Luckily, my UK passport allowed me to work there legally. Not so luckily, France’s unemployment rate stubbornly sat at a historic high, with each job vacancy receiving literally hundreds of applicants. As a candidate who spoke only conversational French, had no local professional experience or network to call upon, and lived on the other side of the world in Sydney, the odds of finding gainful employment to support my foray into la vie française were clearly stacked against me.

But I’d walked this path before. Fresh out of university, I’d arrived in London with two suitcases, $1000, a six-month working holiday visa, and no clue about finding a job or housing. Six years later saw me still in London, by then a naturalised British citizen and global PR manager for an international organisation. I knew I could survive – and even thrive – starting from zero.

And so can you. Here’s your plan of attack:

Before leaving home, network like crazy

Tell everyone about your ambition to move. You’ll be surprised how many people will offer their connections. Seek out expatriates from your desired new country who live in your city. In Sydney, I joined a French Meetup group, where I met French people who sympathised about the challenges of moving overseas and were happy to share their home contacts and tips.

Use LinkedIn to find your overseas peers – people in similar roles to the ones you want. I searched for Anglophone communications directors working in English-speaking teams in Paris. I contacted them introducing myself and my quest, and asked for 15 minutes of their time over coffee. To my surprise, most agreed. Their insights on the local job market and how to present myself to French employers proved invaluable. The kindness of strangers truly astonished me.

Other potential networking sources include professional associations, expatriate groups like Internations and Meetup, and alumni of your university or business school. Thanks to an introduction by an alumna of my university, I secured a meeting with the BBC and got offered a three-month contract…which lasted more than two years. You never know!

Do your research

Research and register with recruiters and organise ‘meet and greet’ interviews for soon after your arrival so you can hit the ground running.

Websites such as Anglo Info and Escape Artist will give you an idea of daily expatriate living and administrative hurdles. Ensure you organise the necessary paperwork to set yourself up in your new home (I wish I’d known I’d need my original birth certificate, translated into French, to get a health insurance card).

If possible, take your current role on the road

Does your current company have overseas offices or affiliates? Make a good case for a transfer or secondment. Lobby hard and don’t give up – this is by far the easiest way to get hired overseas, especially if you require a work visa.

Don’t overlook past employers. Their overseas office will almost certainly be open to hearing from you. My first role in Paris was a maternity cover contract with a company I’d previously worked for in Sydney and London. I had proactively contacted the European team months before to express my interest in relocating. They had no opportunities at the time, but were good enough to remember me when a role eventually came up. They were happy to find a former employee who already knew the company. And finally I had a job in Paris!

Become an overseas digital nomad

You may be able to convince your boss to let you work remotely, at least for the short term. Becoming a freelancer is another option, with these websites to help you get started.

Be very, very patient, and flexible

Job-hunting in an unfamiliar business culture is not for the faint-hearted. Companies may have longer hiring processes than you expect; for example, in much of Europe, it’s not uncommon to have 5 – 10 interviews over several months. Your status as a foreigner and lack of language skills and local market knowledge often prove disadvantageous.

Be prepared to initially take a job at a lower level than you had at home. Do it well and view it as a networking opportunity. A two-week stint as an admin assistant for an international organisation got me in the door to meet and impress the head of communications, who then hired me for a position more in line with my career experience.

Have a backup plan. Rather than resign from your current role, leave the door open by requesting an unpaid leave of absence. Accept that you may not find the kind of professional role you hoped for, and be comfortable with the idea of taking a career break or working in a casual job for a while instead. Enrolling in a course while job hunting in parallel can help you find your feet, learn a language, build new skills and make friends. Overseas study also looks credible on your CV, so even if you don’t find a job, you won’t return home with a large gap.

Good luck with your adventure! Take the leap, and enjoy the journey!