Trying to Find a Job Abroad? Expats Who Found Work Tell Everything

Trying to find work abroad can be a stressful challenge, requiring a strategic approach and a good dose of self-confidence. The landscape changes much more when the search is conducted in another country, or when you’re getting ready to move. In these situations, the need for creativity increases.

“When I graduated from college with a degree in marketing I started working in a digital marketing company,” says Tom King, a digital marketing professional from Dublin. “But then my girlfriend was offered a position with Emirates, and I was challenged with the role of finding work in Dubai.”

He turned to the Internet for information. “I signed up for every website going,” he says. To increase the odds, he started to target CEOs of large companies in Dubai and connected with them on LinkedIn. He delved further into social media, a great platform for people looking for a job and hiring managers in the global realm of recruiting and job searches.

“I did have a couple of meetings scheduled for when I arrived,” says Mr. King. “However, I decided to use Twitter to see how that would go.”

Mr. King found the Irish Biz Party, a live ‘tweet up’ session for small and medium companies boasting more than 35,000 followers. “I tweeted them asking if someone had connections in Dubai,” he says. The organizers didn’t reply but the social media director for Digital Nexa did respond and asked him to send his CV.“I was in Dubai four days and met with the Nexa team where I was offered a job right away,” says Mr. King, who is currently Digital Nexa’s business development manager. “Fifteen months on and I am still here and all because of the power of social media.”

Even though social media has proven to be an effective job search tool, a lot of expats still use traditional methods.

Expat Julee Allen, a global development worker, has lived in Japan,  Hong Kong, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Haiti. She recently moved to Nepal.

“I got my first job in Japan in the early 1990s, so that job search was pre-Internet,” says Ms. Allen. “My sister saw a job advertisement in The New York Times for the Japanese government’s English teaching program and I applied. My second job, a grad school internship, I found using the Internet.”

Ms. Allen recognizes it is easy to use online resources but cautions seekers to vet anything found on the Internet very carefully. “The organization wasn’t quite the way it represented itself and I was happy that my time there was limited,” she says. She recommends using job sites ReliefWeb,,  and word of mouth.

In 2002, she ended up working for a large global non-governmental organization in Bangladesh and has stayed in touch. “At the moment I’m volunteering at that NGO, which will probably lead to a local consulting contract to do program development with their team,” says Ms. Allen.

Her advice to other expats is to be professional and creative; try to learn as much as you can of the local language, and don’t despair in case things don’t quite work out as planned.

“I network and keep my eyes open for opportunities all the time,” says Ms. Allen. “I’m flexible as well. In Hong Kong, there just wasn’t work in my field, so I looked for management jobs at local NGOs where English was the working language.”

Ed Dyer, a project manager an IT consultant who works in Kosovo at the moment, agrees with Ms. Allen. He advises expat job seekers “tap all your connections using word of mouth, as well as online tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn “. He suggests being patient as well. “Stepping out of your comfort zone in so many ways makes that getting started can be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and relax.” Mr. Dyer has also lived and worked in Zimbabwe and Nepal.

Being patient and keeping an open mind worked out for Paul McCabe, a retired Foreign Service worker whose expat career involved several decades. “Things aren’t always what they seem, so it’s important to keep all doors open,” says Mr. McCabe.  “In the expat world, you never know whom you’re dealing with.”Mr. McCabe remembers when he graduated from grad school in global economics from Georgetown University, his dream was to work in another country.

One day, while attending a conference in Italy for the U.N.’s Food & Agriculture Organization, a “bigwig” expressed an interest in his background and invited him to dinner. It turned out he had been a German Luftwaffe pilot. Mr. McCabe’s interest in history and especially WWII led them to talk about that the entire dinner.

Ten months later, Mr. McCabe got a job offer from FAO because the head honcho had recommended him. Mr. McCabe ended up in Cameroon to do food aid and his career in the Foreign Service took off from there.

“The challenge is, in the case you’ve never worked abroad, no one wants to give you a job abroad,” says Mr. McCabe. “This means you have to treat every encounter with a person in an organization you’d like to work for as a pre-interview.”

This advice is all very useful, as long as you are able to get a work permit in the country of your choice. Sharon Gilor’ Expat Moving & Relocation Guide says the best thing to do is “check the official governments’ websites of your chosen country and look for information about work visas.” It is another tool you can use.

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