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Do You Have the Right Stuff to Work Abroad?

By  Colin Rowlands January 12, 2011

Will you survive a work abroad stint? How to prove it to an international recruiter.  

One of the biggest worries for an employer, when hiring someone from abroad, is whether their newest star is going to burn out from a potent mix of culture shock, homesickness and language barriers. After all, getting someone visas and work permits, bringing them halfway around the world and training them for the job are not cheap or easy tasks. International job hunters need to persuade potential employers that they are right for the role, and also right for the location.

As a team leader in Chile, I spent almost two years hiring native English speakers to work as copy editors for a financial services provider in Valparaiso. Here are a few pointers for applicants who want to prove they can survive abroad. 

Get some international experience.

Showing your international experience is vital because of a simple principle at the forefront of any employer’s mind: those who have done it before can do it again. If you’ve spent any reasonable length of time living abroad, whether in a previous job or internship, on a university exchange programme, or even during a gap year, then this should be loud and clear in your cover letter.

If you don’t have substantial international experience, make the most of what you do have. If you’ve been abroad on holiday a few times, then listing “travel” as an interest on your résumé can do no harm. If you’ve never been abroad, this does not necessarily rule you out but you will have to work hard on the points below to demonstrate that you have an open-minded, international perspective and you’re determined to adapt to a new culture.

Show an interest in the destination.

Most employers want to know what attracts you to a particular role. Likewise, when applying for a job in a foreign country, be ready to explain why you want to live there. “To see more of the world,” is not a satisfactory answer.

The key here is to do some serious homework. Look at guidebooks and websites to find out more about the country and the region, not just in terms of tourist attractions but also culture, politics and economics. Read the national newspapers to get a feel for what’s going on at the moment. Many countries have at least one English language paper. Prepare thoroughly so that, when an interviewer asks, you can volunteer a detailed and enthusiastic response with lots of specifics. 

Let the employer know what you want to gain.

If you’re looking to learn or practice a different language, this is a big positive. Not only does it suggest a commitment to staying for some time, it also increases your chances of settling longer-term. However, saying and doing are two different things, and an employer may want evidence that you are serious. Taking a few classes beforehand sends a strong signal that you are willing to invest in learning a language.

On a similar note, don’t be afraid to speak about longer-term career plans if they involve that particular region of the world. Although this might involve admitting that you won’t be at the company forever, it reassures a potential employer that you have a genuine motivation to stick around for a while.

Show that you have nothing to lose.

Don’t be surprised if the employer asks about personal ties. The legality of inquiring about marital status varies in different countries, but most companies hiring from abroad want to know. If you’re married with children, the company may help the whole family to relocate.

If, on the other hand, you intend to maintain a long-distance relationship, or to help an elderly family member, this could be a turnoff for an employer and it might be best to keep the details under wraps. However, at least you should be honest with yourself: accepting a job abroad, and then returning home early, is a lose-lose for you and your employer.

Make sure this is the right work for you.

Finally, don’t forget about the actual job: in your eagerness to work abroad it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of time working. If the job isn’t a good fit, you might get fed up and start thinking about heading back home. If the work interests you, every day you’ll look forward to meeting people at work and around the community. There’s nothing like a dream job in a dream destination.


Related Articles:
Get a Career Edge - Take the "Gap" Out of "Gap Year"
Five Reasons Why You Need to Work Abroad
How to Write an International Resume
How Travel Can Help Your Career

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