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Finding a job abroad: Four essential tips to help you land the perfect expat job

Written by Monica Lowry on 24 October 2015

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Finding a job abroad is a very appealing concept for a lot of Americans and internationals around the world.

For some, finding a job abroad is an attractive option for financial reasons; for others, the idea is simply to take advantage of an increasingly global economy by taking part in an industry that operates across borders; and for others, it's simply about gaining worldwide experience should the opportunity arise.

Some expat workers would even argue that for any or all of these reasons, working abroad should be a top priority for anyone with career ambitions.

But finding a job abroad isn't always easy - particularly if you're starting from scratch, rather than transferring abroad within a company or industry you already work for.

So here are some tips on presenting yourself well when applying to jobs as an expat.

1. Choose a strategic destination to find a job abroad

This tip comes with the caveat that in certain scenarios, you might already have a destination picked out.

If you're transferring to a new job within your current industry you may have limited options, and if you have other reasons for wanting to find work as an expat, you may know where you're going to live because of those other reasons.

However, if you're open to different possibilities, it's important to know that there are different countries around the world that cater more effectively to expats, due to economic and cultural variables and various other factors.

Business writer Harrison Jacobs has written up a helpful starting guide to some of the countries with the best reputations for expats (from a living perspective), which could just help you to narrow down your list.

2. Clearly articulate your experience and value

Applying for a job domestically means following certain rules: you'll have a well-designed resume, you'll know the best tips for an interview process, and you may even have a connection or contact to help you along the way. But applying abroad, you'll be more dependent on yourself, and yourself only.

That means that it's even more important to be able to constructively articulate your experience, value, and direction.

This is something most American professionals are taught even at a young age when applying to schools, before jobs, and for that reason one handy trick is to think back to questions and essays you may have had to answer trying to get into school.

Alice van Harten, a successful businesswoman who coaches MBA applicants, touches on the benefits of these questions and essays in her work with hopeful students.

Reading through her testimonials, it's clear that some of the biggest impact made on her students is that they learn to focus on their own skills and aspirations when addressing questions about the future.

Applying for a job abroad is of course different from seeking an MBA, but you may want to get back to the basics when considering how to present yourself; think about what you're good at, what you have to offer, and where you hope to go, rather than a bullet list of qualifications and connections.

3. Identify and communicate your transferable skills

This is an outstanding tip for expats finding a job abroad, raised by The Undercover Recruiter as part of a list called 10 Secrets To Managing Your Expat Career.

And it goes hand in hand with the idea of taking the time to remember how to present yourself, and your value, rather than a bullet point list of accomplishments. Essentially, the idea is that years of domestic experience—even in an industry relevant to that in which you're applying abroad - can often be summed up as, "zero experience in the local market."

This may sound harsh, but it addresses the basic concept that a lot of foreign companies simply won't care as much as you'd like them to about your accomplishments at home.

They want to know how you can contribute in your new environment, and what you have to offer as an expat, which is why it's crucial to take the time to identify transferable skills. Instead of highlighting a promotion you received or a position you held, figure out a way to discuss what skills and abilities enabled you to have such a promotion or position.

4. Establish independent professionalism

As you may have noticed, most of the tips in this piece are based on the idea that environment, personal presentation, and skill set are more important than job experience when applying for a job abroad.

This isn't to say that your work experience will count for nothing, but when you're working on finding and applying for a job abroad, it's still important to present yourself as an individual. And part of this process that can make you a much more appealing candidate can also be to establish yourself as credible and valuable in your industry outside of your work place.

This can mean building a portfolio of freelance work, maintaining a website or blog displaying your abilities, etc. Things like these can help you to showcase your professional value in a way that might be more relatable to a foreign company, helping you find that job abroad.

Always keep in mind that ordinary application practices are still important for expats. You'll still want a strong resume, relevant experience, professional interview etiquette, etc...

When finding a job abroad, these tips combined with the ability to display your value as an independent asset take on greater value than they might when finding a job domestically.

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