More people than ever are searching for jobs internationally in the hope of gaining knowledge and experience from around the globe. In response to the economic upheavals of the last year, more Westerners are looking for employment in emerging markets, such as the Middle East, India, Eastern Europe and China. The benefits of international work experience can be huge, but you need to follow the right steps to find and land the right job. Here are five.
1. Research thoroughly. As in any job hunt, a serious research stage is very important. Take the time to explore the economic, political and cultural structure and stability of each place you want to consider moving to, as well as the effect your job abroad will have on your work-life balance and your career.
We remind our students that researching a foreign market is crucial. You absolutely must understand the region’s cultural nuances, employment laws and language requirements. For example, you shouldn’t move to China if working an 80- to 90-hour week isn’t something you’re willing to attempt. In the Middle East, you’ll work from Sunday through Thursday; your weekends will fall on Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday. Your personal life will be different as well. If you move from New York to Rome, you should be prepared to find many stores closed on Sundays and Monday mornings.
Carefully researching the visas and work permits for each foreign country is also essential, and you should do it early, before you apply for any position. If you don’t already have a visa, your application may not even be considered. Many companies can offer you employment only if they can prove that there is no one suitable who already has a visa.
2. Use your networks. How do you find out everything you need to know? You can gather much of it from English-language newspapers for expatriates, such as the Bangkok Post in Thailand, and from the Internet and libraries, but getting advice from friends or family with first-hand experience in a region is invaluable. To get the most accurate picture of your potential fit, speak to other expatriates currently at jobs similar to the one you want. Use social networks to find introductions to professionals working in the area. Don’t underestimate the power of sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
Also don’t forget to check with your college or business school’s alumni network, which should be able to provide worldwide connections. Every student at London Business School is connected to more than 28,000 globally dispersed alumni and should find it easy to discover more about any area, job or organization. The 2011 MBA class alone represents 59 different nationalities.
3. Make sure your job application stands out. Once you decide what employers to pursue in your chosen country, prepare an application that will set itself apart. Look at the demand for the skills you possess in the particular market and the best way to make yourself look preferable to a potential recruiter. There is a remarkable consistency in the basic set of skills recruiters seek. Our work with hiring managers around the globe shows that they all want strong communicators who have analytical ability, can manage people well and show leadership potential. Be honest about your oral and written business language skills. Speaking to your grandmother in your local Italian dialect at an occasional Sunday dinner is not the same as working for years in Milan.
Be prepared for differences in the application process across the globe, especially regarding personal information. In France, your résumé will be called a C.V. and will include your picture, date of birth, marital status and how many children you have. Your application will be infinitely more attractive if it bears a local address or a fixed date of arrival, if, say, you’re applying from Chicago for a job in Warsaw. Even if all you do to start is connect up with someone local to use their mobile phone number or home address, you’ll be more in line with local job candidates.
4. Prepare fully for your interview. After successfully securing an interview, do still more research to prevent surprises. In Japan your first interview may be a dinner with potential colleagues, so they can discover more about you and your family before getting down to business. In Great Britain you may be asked to participate in an assessment exercise involving role-playing, dealing with case studies and psychometric testing. Be sure to investigate what is acceptable in the culture. As an American, you may be used to flaunting your independent accomplishments; in Brazil, where teamwork and hierarchy are especially valued, that could make you appear self-centered or even disrespectful.
In any country, the initial interview may be conducted over the phone. Even if you’re not meeting the interviewer in person, dress for the interview anyway, stand up when you speak, so your voice is strong, and smile. Your confidence will need to come through without any visual cues. Be sure to demonstrate flexibility and the capacity to adapt to new environments.
5. Consider the practicalities. Finally, ensure that you are personally and psychologically ready for the move. Even if you’re going to a country where they speak the same language, you’ll encounter differences in everyday life that require flexibility, patience and a sense of humor. Don’t rush to judgment or make invidious comparisons about the new culture. Wherever you end up, relax and enjoy the different way of life.
Diane Morgan is the director of career services at London Business School. She leads a team of professionals at the school who impart to students and alumni both critical skills and career development expertise.