How to Find a Work Abroad Mentor AND Craft a Personal Introduction They Won’t Ignore

The purpose of 12hourdifference is to give my most honest account (and the account of others) of what living and working abroad is really like with the hope that it helps others who are thinking about working abroad decide if it is right for them.

And while I know my life intimately, there are a thousand different career paths to take abroad, and I certainly don’t know everything about all of them.

That is why I strongly recommend to those wanting to live and work abroad to find a mentor who is already living the life abroad you envision for yourself.

Whether you just want to live in a hostel and work for room and board or work professionally for an international company, speaking directly to someone who has already taken a similar path can provide invaluable insights into how you can achieve the same.

If I were to start my journey again to try and find work abroad, this is how I would go about identifying potential mentors and how I would effectively pick their brain to gain the information I need for my own journey.

What Exactly Are Your Goals?

Before you can ask others for advice on how to achieve your goal of working abroad, you need clearly define your goal for yourself. What does “working abroad” mean to you? It is important to be clear with yourself about exactly what you want from the experience. Here are a few ways of clarifying your goal to get you started.

Professional Goals

It is important to have a clear picture of what you want out of working abroad in terms of the professional value you hope to get from the experience.  Consider and then answer the following question. When I imagine myself working abroad, I imagine myself:

  1. Working short term gigs or work-for-board gigs
  2. Working as a professional freelancer while traveling/backpacking around multiple countries
  3. Working as a casual English teacher in language schools
  4. Working as an English teacher in international schools/university in a more formal and permanent capacity
  5. I want to start my own business
  6. I want to work in a professional capacity in a start-up or mid-sized company
  7. I want to transfer internally to an international office at a larger corporation

All the above are fair interpretations of what it means to work abroad, and this list is obviously not exhaustive. The important thing is that you have a good idea for yourself of what you want your work experience to be before you begin seeking out a mentor or someone who might be able to answer your questions. The closer your mentor resembles your professional goals, the more relevant their experience and advice will be.

Lifestyle Goals

What type of lifestyle do you hope to live in your new country? Consider and then answer the following question. When I imagine my financial situation abroad, I expect I will:

  1. Enjoy myself, travel extensively, experience new cultures, make new friends, but probably not advance my career
  2. Work a job I enjoy and might open opportunities, but primarily just experience living in a different country.
  3. Enjoy myself, travel extensively, experience new cultures, make new friends, as well as work in a position that presents professional challenges and advances my career.
  4. Place a very high priority on my job and advancing my career with traveling and leisure time being a secondary priority

If you are hoping to work at a startup or want to be working abroad via an expat package, expect #3 and #4.  In this case, you may not have as much leisure time as #1, but your quality of life will be much higher and you will have the opportunity to save a good chunk of your paycheck each month.

All four options are valid lifestyles, it is just important to understand the difference between the lifestyles each will provide, and which you are, or are not, comfortable living.

Financial Goals

What is your financial plan for living abroad? Consider and then answer the following question. When I imagine my financial situation abroad, I expect I will:

  1. Need to live off my savings and live a more a more simple life without much, if any, income coming in
  2. Cover my monthly costs with a job living a fairly comfortable life and having the opportunity to enjoy myself
  3. Make a good salary with a higher quality of life than back home and be able to save a good portion of my paycheck
  4. Be living with a full expat package with many of my living expenses covered such as housing, transportation, insurance, food, travel, etc.

Answering these questions for it make 1.) What your financial plan is going to be and to plan for it accordingly and 2.)  That your Financial Goals and Professional goals align. If you are expecting to have your own apartment in a major city while teaching English sporadically, you will be sourly disappointed. Make sure that your financial goals and your professional and lifestyle goals are all compatible with one another.  

Find Someone with Relevant Experience

Once you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to get out of working abroad and the type of experience that you are after, it becomes much easier to narrow down the types of people you should be reaching out to as prospective mentors.

You want to find people who are currently living or have lived a life abroad similar to what you envision for yourself.  If you want to know how you can work at an international company abroad, speaking with a college student who studied abroad for a semester probably isn’t helpful. The closer your mentor’s life resembles the one you envision for yourself, the more relevant, valuable and actionable their advice will be.  

Where do these expats lurk?  Below are a few of the places where you will be able to find different types of expats online. You can also read this article about digital networking to learn about how to use social media to get in contact with potential mentors.

Globe-Trotting Freelancers

If you are a writer or graphic designer or any other skilled person who wants to try and live the digital lifestyle as a freelancer, you are in luck! By the nature of their business, these people are easy to contact since visibility is critical to landing clients.

Sites like Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour, Upwork, or other similar sites, are great aggregators of freelancing expats. Search for people with your skillset in the city you want to work in and you are bound to find a list of people doing exactly what you want to be doing complete with their contact information. From there, it is just a matter of getting in contact with them and asking if they would be willing to chat about their experience below (I talk about how to do that below).

Instagram and Twitter are also good ways of finding these types of people searching by relevant hashtags, but slightly less easy in terms of searchability and filtering.

Professional Teachers/Foreign Professors

I can only speak for Vietnam, but Facebook groups for expats and English teachers in the major cities are very heavily populated and used by local expats, most of which are teaching English. A quick scroll through the members of the group and seeing who is most active can yield lots of potential contacts for you to connect and chat with.

Also, universities and international schools, especially in Asia, will be very public about who their foreign instructors are. A quick search of universities and international prep schools websites will often have a list of staff where you can find the name of foreign staff already working there.

Professionals in Tech/Hospitality/Startups/Etc

In addition to the sources mentioned already, Linkedin is a great resource for finding contacts in the country and industry that you hope to work in especially in professionals roles like in technology, hospitality and startups.

A quick search of your city and industry will provide thousands of results, and from there it is a matter of simply finding expats in the results (comparing where they went to college is a good way of determining if they are local or not, in addition to more obvious indicators).

You can also go in the other direction, and begin looking into companies you may be looking for, and contacting expats already on their staff and beginning a conversation with the. This is a great way to get ultra-relevant information, as well as make important business contacts at a company you are interested in working for.

How to Ask for Advice

At this point, you have clarified your own vision for your life abroad and you have a list of a few contacts you would like to get in contact with. After a little “jab, jab, jab” you are ready to reach out and introduce yourself.

Your introductory message needs to be well-crafted, specific and clear. Remember, to the person you are reaching out to, you are are just a random person on the internet. Because of this, it is critical your introductory email or message is well thought out. It needs to demonstrate you are not just a random person online. I will show you how to do that, but first, let’s look at a bad, but common, example of an introductory email.

Bad Email: No Effort, No Response

For 12HourDifference, I get emails from people interested in working abroad and who are looking for advice on how to make their dream a reality. It is common that the first email I receive reads like this:

Hi Aaron,

I want to work abroad. I would love to hear your advice on how to make that dream come true.

Talk soon,

Reader

If you were emailing an industry professional or a potential employer or someone whose opinion you value, this is not likely to get a response.

For one, it doesn’t demonstrate you have put any thought into your inquiry. For all I know, you have spent little know time on the site, you mass emailed this to 100 people, and thus you aren’t likely to value or even respond if I take the time to.

Secondly, without providing any information about yourself, it is really difficult to provide good advice. What is your degree in? What are your professional goals? What personal goals do you have for working abroad? What financial flexibility do you have? I have to know at least some this information if there is any hope of providing valuable advice.

I always respond to these emails because I know it is likely out of naivety that people send this type of email, but many (more important) people who you would really like to hear from won’t.

To get the response you are hoping for, you need to take the time to craft a killer email. Here are a few tips for writing a killer introductory email.

The Good Email

Below are a few tips on writing a “good” first email to a potential mentor that you can feel confident has a good chance of illiciting a response from your potential mentor.

Be specific in Your Request

It is important to be specific in what you want from the person you are contacting. Do you want them to respond to a few questions over email? Do you want to Skype with them? Do you want to simply add them to your network and let them know that you are looking for a position in the area? Whatever you want them to do, you need to be explicit in what you want from them. No one wants to hunt to find the purpose of your email.

You would be surprised how willing people are to help you if you are clear about how they can help you. When you start to write your first email or message to them seeking advice, be as explicit and clear as possible about how they can help.

Ask About Them

Everyone loves to have their ego stroked, and you can use this common character trait to increase your likelihood of having a valuable exchange with whoever you are seeking advice from. To do this, make sure when you are asking them advice that ties into their life. This could include questions such as:

  • How did you find yourself working abroad?
  • What qualifications did you need to get your position?
  • How do you feel the experience of working abroad has benefited you personally?
  • What types of professional global opportunities did you find in [insert industry here] when you were looking for an international position?
  • What are some of the professional benefits you have found by working abroad in [insert your industry]?

These questions place the focus on them, but provide valuable answers for your own attempt at working abroad (assuming you chose a good mentor to reach out to). Also, by asking clear questions, it makes easy for them quickly sit down and provide some clear advice about specific aspects of their experience.

Ask Open Ended and Specific Questions

Speaking with a stranger is always a bit awkward, especially over mediums like email or Skype.

To make the conversation feel more organic, make sure to asking open-ended and specific questions. This will help keep the conversation natural and make your mentor more willing to provide longer answers and, thus, more wisdom. Below are some bad questions on the left and some better questions on the right:

Bad Open-Ended
Do you like working abroad? What attracted you to the idea of working abroad?
Is finding a job abroad hard? What is the best avenue or avenue you found in our industry for finding international opportunities?
Do I need work experience to work abroad? What qualifications or experience did you have that helped you find a job abroad?

Good Email Template (Madlib!)

Let’s put all of this together. We need an email that connects with the reader (your prospective mentor), introduces who you are, is specific in its request, is short and to the point, and facilitates a somewhat organic discussion on the topic you want to learn more about.

Here is an example of an email I would send to a prospective mentor. You can fill in the brackets with your personal information:

Hi there [first name of the person],

I have been following you on [Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook} and really enjoyed your [post, article, video] about [industry topic]. I actually [some relevant/related experience]….

I noticed you are currently working in [country/city] which is why I wanted to reach out to you. Working in [country/city] is a dream of mine, and as a [recent graduate/experience in the field] I would love to know more about your experience working in [shared industry] in [country/city]. Specifically, I am curious about:

  • How you found yourself in [the country]?
  • What the current state of [industry] in [the country]?
  • Some of the challenges you face working in [country]?
  • What types of skills or qualification you had that made you a great candidate for the position?

I am very interested in working abroad and it would be a great to talk in more detail about your own experience working internationally. If you prefer to exchange email that works great for me, or we could Skype sometime in the next week or two for 30 minutes or so. Whichever you prefer.

Look forward to hearing from you,

[your name]

This is just a template, but notice a few things: 1.) It is concise, 2.) It tells a little about who I am 3.) The questions are easy to find and clearly stated and 4.) My request is clear.

Will this email always get a response? Nope, definitely not. But it is far more likely to get a response thanks to it being clear, well organized and to the point.

 

Finding a mentor who has already blazed a trail abroad similar to the one you want for yourself is a great way to gain wisdom without having to make the mistakes that often go along with the learning process. If you know exactly what you want for yourself, are specific in your request, and are genuine in your desire to learn more about working abroad, you will find plenty of professional expats happy to spare some time to chat with you.  

                 

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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.