Dispatches from Abroad: How to Find International Work

12hourdifference.co is still in its infancy and yet I have already had a chance to hear reader’s questions about working abroad via email, Whatsapp and Skype. I wanted to share a question I received last week regarding how to find positions abroad that I think probably applies to many people who are interested in working internationally. It reads:

Hey Aaron,

My main question and curiosity is about how best to find overseas opportunities.  I’ve applied to countless positions with multinationals in my industry as well as companies that I’d love to work for but have not had any luck at all.  Unfortunately my company is essentially 100% US so the opportunities are slim to none. I’m not tied down and willing to move so any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.

So the question is how to land a job abroad. Obviously, I can’t account for all situations, nor make any guarantees, but I will share some methods that have worked for me as well as some emerging avenues I think are interesting.

Professional Networking Through Social Media 

Establishing a Professional Persona  

When you enter the workforce, you should enter it with the mindset of an entrepreneur, even if you are applying to salaried 9-5 positions. What is your startup? Your “startup” is your life.

This is an important perspective to hold; just like an entrepreneur pitches to the sharks on Shark Tank, you are pitching your services to companies.

And to help you to do this well, you need to try to establish a little brand for yourself around your professional persona that people can use to identify you. The amount of  information anyone can glean about you from a resume is limited, so the more information that they know about you before they even see your resume, or the more information they have access to beyond your resume, the better.

The amount of information about you anyone can glean from a resume is limited

A great way to begin to create a professional persona in your field and provide employers with a fuller picture of who you are as a professional is through social media.

Linkedin posts are a great place to start. Think about areas of your prospective industry that you find interesting, and start sharing your thoughts on it to your LinkedIn network. What problems is your industry of interest facing? What innovations are exciting to you? If your industry is an area of interest for you, it should be easy to come up with interesting perspectives and ideas to write about.

And since your goal is to work in your industry internationally, always keep that international angle present. How is globalization going to affect your industry? What problems or opportunities does globalization present? What do you think your industry should be doing in anticipation of a shrinking world?

Writing about topics related to your field and sharing your ideas about different problems or changes within it is a great way to develop yourself as someone who is really engaged in your industry. It also demonstrates to potential employers your ability to think critically, that you have ‘big-picture’ ideas related to your work, and shows that you are a generally thoughtful and proactive individual.

But once you have established your professional persona on social media, how do you identify people that you might want to reach out to?

Do Your Homework

As you begin sharing your thoughts on your industry and building your professional persona, also begin researching the countries you would potentially like to work in, the companies you would like to work for in those countries, and begin to identify potential contacts at those companies that you think may be worth getting in touch with.

LinkedIn is great for this. Search the company you are interested in on LinkedIn to find the names of staff who already work work there and who you think might be good people to try and get in touch with. Gather any relevant professional information on them that you can. What is their job? What industry niches are they interested in? What are they involved in at their company?

If Linkedin is an official job fair, Twitter is like a cocktail party; it is a little less formal and people seem to let their guard down a little more than on LinkedIn.

Knowing this information will be important when the time comes to reach out, because it will give you some context and points of reference that you can use to make a connection. What we are trying to avoid doing is reaching out with generic, spammy messages. We want each person we contact to know we chose to reach out to them for a specific, genuine reason. 

Now that you have a few people you are interested in “targeting,” you are ready to reach out to them. To do this, we need to be a little strategic….

Reaching Out

Once you have established a few of your targets, and you have done your research on them, you are ready to to start contacting them. To do this, I suggest using Twitter rather than Linkedin. Personally, I have always had good luck networking on Twitter. If Linkedin is an official job fair, Twitter is like a cocktail party; it is a little less formal and people seem to let their guard down a little more than on LinkedIn.

What do you say when you want to make contact? You are can use the information you learned in your research to execute serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s method of “Jab, Jab, Jab Right Hook.” Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook essentially describes the approach of reaching out subtly and naturally to your target multiple times (jabs), building up a rapport with them, and then once you establish a rapport, making a larger ask of them, in this case an inquiry about open positions in their company (the right hook).

You can be creative with your “Jabs,” but they could include:

  • Liking/commenting on their tweets/posts
  • Asking them industry related questions for one of your college courses or because you are writing a blog/Linkedin post on the topic and would like their thoughts
  • Career advice related to their position (“I am interested in a position like yours and I would be interested to hear more about what you do,” or “How did you get your position abroad”)
  • Asking about what life is like in the country they are working

Essentially, your “jabs” are just small efforts to reach out using the information that you learned when you were researching them and their company. Like trying to get a squirrel to eat a peanut out of your hand, you don’t want to make any sudden moves that might scare them away.

Once you have the chance to share a few interactions online or even exchange a few emails, you will be in a much stronger position to inquire about potential positions or more direct questions relating to job opportunities either with their company or in their area.

When you reach out with a jab or your right hook, it is critical that you are genuine. You should actually be interested in their job, you should actually be writing a paper for school or a blog/Linkedin/Medium post, or actually interested in their company. People are good at detecting bullshit, so being genuine is a really key factor in this approach working.

Keep in mind that expat communities tend be very tight-knit. Even if the “gatekeeper” you reach out to doesn’t have positions available, there is always the potential they know of other opportunities elsewhere in the area and can help put you in touch with others. But this can only happen if you have built a strong rapport with them from the beginning.

Note: Don’t Be Nervous Asking for Help

Many people are very uncomfortable asking others, especially strangers, for help. This is understandable and is actually an interesting area of study. It turns out that humans are not very good at estimating the likelihood of others helping them. We tend to underestimate others willingness to help us, causing us to be hesitant to ask in the first place.

But listen to Steve jobs talk about asking for help in the clip below:

Jobs says, “I have never found anybody who didn’t want to help me if I didn’t ask them for help.”  I too have always been shocked at the generosity of people and how much they are willing to help if you just get up the courage to reach out to them with a question or even a request for support.

Summary: Using Social Media Professionally
  1. Use Linkedin Posts to begin sharing your industry related thoughts with your Linkedin Network
  2. Identify the companies that you are interested in working in and some of the potential “gatekeepers” of those companies and do some research into who they are and what types of work they are specifically involved in
  3. Use Twitter or Email or other more casual platforms to reach out to ask genuine industry related questions (jab)
  4. Once you have built a report, you can make a bigger ask (right-hook

International Recruitment Agencies

I have no experience with international recruiting agencies. However, these seem to be a relatively new avenue for finding positions abroad, so they are absolutely worth discussing.

Companies have just as much trouble finding talent as talent (you) have finding them. That is where recruiting/talent companies come into play; they are the matchmakers of the professional world. These include companies such as BrainGain.co, Reach International or ISA Group. Depending on the industry you are interested in, you may find industry specific recruitment agencies as well, which are worth taking a look at.

The benefit of using one of these agencies should be obvious: they can make finding a position in this big world of ours a lot easier. They may provide just the support you need to find a position abroad. 

Don’t Be a Fish Trying to Climb a Tree

Don’t make your life harder by wanting to work in a country that isn’t very open to foreigners.  All countries fall along a spectrum for how open they are to foreigners workers or how many opportunities their current economic state provides.

For example, somewhere like Japan which, as we learned from Max Korpenin, is actively trying to bring foreigners into their country, is relatively easy. However, somewhere like Spain (which is struggling economically) or Cuba are going to be more difficult (but not impossible, actually).

Also, consider the types of businesses that you are interested in working for and where you are more likely to find them. If you are interested in working in finance, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul, Korea could all be good options. Not only are those locales major financial hubs, they also feature a high density of western and international businesses. But if you want to live in Hanoi, Vietnam and work in finance, you are going to find it more challenging.

The best part of working internationally is even if you don’t like your current job, you still get to wake up everyday in a cool city.

My final note for how you chose a location is, think outside the box. Yes, Singapore is amazing, but have you ever researched Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? Kuala, Lumpur is an amazing city with 1.5 million people made up of an incredibly diverse population and enjoys the amazing food that comes with it. It is also English speaking and very modern. It may not be the first city you think about when you think about Southeast Asia, but that means other people aren’t thinking of it either. The point is, be willing to look outside the box a bit; it is a big world out there with an endless number of awesome but under-reported cities. 

Have an Open Mind

In all aspects of living and working abroad, being flexible and having an open mind is critical. When I was looking to get abroad, my first priority was just to get abroad because I knew once I was here, I could find other opportunities if I wasn’t happy with my first option. My first two jobs in Asia were far from my dream positions, but that is the beauty of working abroad: are there better places to work a job you don’t like than Hong Kong or Hanoi, Vietnam?

Make your first goal getting abroad, even if it means not working your dream job for a while. You can get settled into your new country knowing you have a job, and in the worst case scenario you get to live in a cool place while  you explore other opportunities, and the best case is that you end up liking your new situation! The great thing about working abroad is there is a sense of liberation; just as Matt Benfield talked about in our conversation, once you are abroad, you will gain a new confidence and motivation to seek out interesting opportunities that you might not have when you were home.

The Wrap-Up

In end, if you are truly interested in finding work internationally, you are going to have be proactive and flexible in your search. As Angie Hubert said, most jobs aren’t post or are filled by the time they are posted, so it is crucial to find ways around the traditional system. People are willing to help you though, if your requests for help or insights comes from a genuine, human place and you are demonstrate the ability to provide provide substantive and professional thoughts and ideas related to your industry. It may take a little more effort than your local job search and just posting endless resumes on Monster.com, but the upside of success can be life changing.  

Got a question about working abroad? Shoot me an email at aaron@12hourdifference.co, or on twitter @12hrdifference. Remember you can also get my Skype and Whatsapp Number at my contact page.


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Aaron Horwath Written by:

Since graduating from the University of Portland in 2014, I have worked abroad. Currently, I live and work in Da Nang, Vietnam as the Head of Global Training at an international technology company. Through my blog, I share my experiences of working abroad to give others a glimpse into international life and help them decide if working internationally is right for them.