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Thinking about taking up work abroad? Awesome.
Working abroad is one of the most meaningful ways to settle in, immerse yourself in another culture, build contacts and relationships, and live like locals do. And, interestingly enough, working abroad is a great way to discover entrepreneurial opportunities.
My friend Suchen is a Malaysian who has traveled to 43 countries. He’ll travel for long periods – 3 months or more – and always heads home with at least as much money as he left with. Whenever he arrives in a new country, he simply goes around and talks with people. He is always able to find a job in less than a week.
One time he was working as a bartender in London when a customer complained that cigarettes were several times more expensive in the UK than in other parts of Europe. Suchen saw an opportunity. Each time time he had a 4-day break from work, he’d travel to other European countries, buy 15 cases of cigarettes (the most he could bring back), and re-sell them in London for a hefty profit. The money was more than enough to finance his trips around Europe, and he was able to save up a little extra.
The Case for Working Abroad
If you’re a college graduate from a Western country, the opportunities are few and the competition has become intense – to the point where most people are radically over-qualified for the jobs they’re doing.
Each of us has heard the horror stories of college graduates with masters degrees and a hundred thousand dollars of debt working at coffee shops for $9 an hour. Many youths from Western countries can’t find work at all or are stuck working jobs that they’re well overqualified for.
This is not conjecture: according to the US Department of Labor, 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed! Yikes.
In the US, the wealth gap between the young and old is the greatest its been in recorded history. Aging boomers are hoarding the wealth and holding on to jobs indefinitely without retiring, so that jobs are not being passed on to younger generations. In both the US and Europe, there are simply not enough quality jobs to go around.
Meanwhile, there are huge opportunities in massive emerging markets that are desperate for western-educated college graduates. Brazil, for instance, is a massive emerging market with an explosive economy. And yet, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, only 14% of it’s youths are enrolled in university.
This same trend applies to emerging economies around the world. Businesses are desperate to hire managers with a Western education. Those 500 applicants fighting for an unimportant, low-wage job in the US could very well be appointed in a director role in Asia or Latin America.
Further, because emerging economies are booming, modernization has occurred rapidly. Major cities in most emerging countries have quickly caught up to their counterparts in developed countries and even surpassed them in some areas. Yet the cost of living is still low enough that you can get a quality of living that may not otherwise possible in the developed countries.
Your social life will improve because you’ll have more disposable income. Each of these factors combine to provide a great opportunity for both your life and career.
Wading into Murky Water
With that said, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. First of all, the work abroad arena is a marketplace. That means that there are many third-parties, especially online, “selling” the dream of working abroad and making money off of people like you and me.
On top of that, there’s also a number of other pitfalls to navigate if you wish to work. If you’re brand new to this and thinking of working abroad for the first time, it pays (literally) to study up first.
To start, there’s all of the official red tape. Look into the laws of the country where you plan to work to make sure you know what it takes to work legally. There may be some restrictions based on your age, nationality, marital/student status, etc. The best place to find this information is through the government site of the country you wish to work in.
You’ll also need to secure the necessary work visa before you arrive in your target country. Arranging to get a work visa after you’ve arrived can be a huge hassle. You could work under the table, but some countries have strict enforcement against illegal work and some don’t. It helps to research the country you’re planning to work illegally in so that you don’t run the risk of deportation, fines, or jail time.
Next, know how to recognize a good travel job. This is my favorite. Guess which group of people often get stuck with the worst jobs? Travelers. Who take the very first job that comes along, because they didn’t do their homework (or they’re desperate – or both).
Be patient, and research different opportunities. Is it worth it to work at a resort if you find yourself washing dishes six days a week for a pittance of a salary?
Work Abroad Resources for Outdoor and Off-Beat Jobs
Backdoorjobs.com is a site where you get access to all kinds of interesting jobs, much of it temporary or seasonal. Some jobs are paid and include housing and meals. Much of it is voluntary, but the possibilities to go wild are unless, so go explore and pick your own adventure.
You can become a yoga instructor at a meditation retreat on Hawaii’s big island, train as a dive instructor on a Caribbean island, or work with disadvantaged children in Peru. It can definitely be an enriching way to add a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose to your overseas romps.
Coolworks.com is a job board site with a focus on outdoor jobs. You can find temp work at a resort on Mt. Rainier, or as a tour guide in the Alaskan wilderness. Some of these jobs require certifications such as Wilderness First Responder training.
From mountaineering to snowboarding to sea kayaking, you can use the website NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) to take courses and get the necessary certifications. NOLS also has a great customer service support that can answer any questions you may have, including a live chat through the contact page on their website.
Allianceabroad.com is an international recruitment agency with work exchange programs within Australia. You can apply to be a surf instructor at Bondi Beach, a massage therapist in Tasmania, work at a resort in a wine region, or get paid to housesit on Kangaroo Island. You simply provide a recruiter with your resume and they use their international connections to help you find work abroad. You’ll also need to arrange your own travel to and from your target destination.
Alliance Abroad charges a program fee for the service: $1,500 for six months and $2,500 for twelve (prices at the time of this writing). Costs of airfare, training, certifications and visa are not included in the program fee. However, citizens of the U.K. and the U.S. have the option to only pay a small upfront “deposit” and delay payment of the remaining balance after receiving a tax return.
Alliance Abroad also has some other features and programs that they provide to individuals looking to live, work, and travel abroad, many of which can be quite helpful. You need to be within 18 to 30 years of age to take advantage of these exchange programs, and have either a high school diploma or one semester of completed college accreditation.
BUNAC is a work abroad program with many opportunities to work, intern, or volunteer around the world in places like: Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or the UK. For citizens of the UK, there are even more options such as Canada, the US, China, Thailand, Nepal, and South Africa. The price of the program is cheaper than Alliance Abroad’s, but they don’t necessarily set you up with a position in your target country. BUNAC offers support and guidance to help you find one on your own.
The following is simply my opinion, but I never endorse “package tour” deals. I think they are dramatically overpriced and diminish the true experience and overall point of travel. How can you be excited about travel when it’s all so very predictable, and simply zip around in a day or two snapping pictures? You never get to fully embrace or explore the richness of any particular location.
However, when it comes to working abroad, recruiters and recruitment agencies can be a great help in finding work, and cutting through red tape. You can often find better-paying and more interesting jobs than ones that you would probably find if you were career hunting on your own.
Also, the simple fact that you can have a job waiting for you in your target country when you arrive may be something you feel is worth paying for. It can help you overcome the final “hurdle” needed to make the big jump.
How to Avoid Overseas Job Placement Scams
There are literally thousands of job placement firms advertising their services online. For brevity’s sake, I’ve only listed a few of the most reputable.
Most firms ask for an “advance deposit” to help you secure job placement. It’s up to you to assess whether you’ll be getting your money’s worth. Perform your own “due diligence” by researching the company and being clear on what you’re getting before going forward. Unfortunately some firms are motivated to receive your money but may have little or no contacts with actual employers and only provide token assistance.
Here’s four steps to ensure that you’re dealing with a good, reputable firm:
1. Request references. Ask for names and feedback from employees and employers that the company has worked for. If the company refuses, be firm stating your desire to check for authenticity and previous results before moving forward.
2. Look up the company on the Better Business Bureau website (bbb.org). You can check the company’s rating, how long they’ve been established, and see if there any complaints against the firm.
3. Ask for a contract in writing. The firm should provide you with a clear list of services that it shall render on your behalf. Find out if the agency will actually place you with an employer or simply forward your resume to publicly listed employers. Make sure that you receive the same promises in writing that were advertised in the agency’s sales pitch.
4. Be clear on the firm’s refund policy and aware of any hidden stipulations or requirements which may forfeit you from receiving a refund.
Landing a good paid position overseas can be competitive, and using a placement program can help give you a leg-up over other job-seekers. With that said, reputable programs tend to be quite expensive, and if you’re willing to be adventurous, make the leap and put in some effort, you can definitely skip the expensive fees to find a great job in your ideal location.
Which leads us to…
Job-seeker? How to Hold all of the Cards
All the information in this chapter may be well and good, but you might be stuck wondering just how are you supposed to land a good job by yourself? Especially if you land in a foreign city where you don’t know a soul?
I’ve coached over a hundred students who have themselves gone on to land good full-time positions. I’ve also played the employer role, and read at least a thousand resumes and cover letters from job seekers. There’s no “fool-proof” method for getting hired in any field, but there are ways we can stack the deck in our favor. What we don’t want to do is do what everyone else is doing. Because 95% of jobseekers are doing it wrong.
The advice in this section applies to both freelancers seeking clients, and those seeking full-time employment (at home or abroad). The focus here is towards knowledge labor (digital) rather than physical labor (carpentry, construction, etc.), though I will touch on offline work a bit later!
Who Are You? And Why Should I Care?
First of all, realize that you are a brand. You are the sum of everything you’ve done up to this point in your life: all of your experiences, and the skills you’ve acquired. You need to strategically differentiate yourself in a unique way. You have to create an identity that will become irresistible to potential clients and recruiters.
Here’s the reality of the situation…
If your resume explains how you’re a “good communicator” who is “proficient in Microsoft Office,” you deserve to fail until you quit being so lazy. You won’t impress anyone by highlighting your ability to edit Word documents or organize Excel spreadsheets. That’s $2 an hour work. Blame college, blame the recession, kick and scream if you need to.
Best case scenario, you’ll do boring, uninspiring, soul-sucking work at a company you could care less about. More likely you’ll remain unemployed and living off Ramen noodles and frozen TV dinners for a long time. You can complain and do nothing, or increase your market worth by teaching yourself some skills that are both high in-demand and pay well.
So what skills are in-demand? According to Elance’s Online Employment report, IT and Programming related-skills make up 54% of all online employment opportunities.
Programming basics like HTML and CSS are a good place to start and really aren’t too hard to learn. Download the free browser add-on “Firebug” and you can start playing around with HTML and CSS right now. Firebug allows you to right-click on any website, and “inspect” its “element.” It displays the mark-up behind the website, including the exact file and line of code location of each element. You can also edit in your browser any way you like, and when you refresh the page it will revert to its original state.
A great resource for learning several programming basics is W3Schools (www.w3schools.com). It’s a free self-teaching site with tutorials and exercises, and you can go at your pace. Within a week or two, you can learn the basics of HTML and CSS, and then move on to others.
WordPress as a web platform now powers one-fifth of all websites. WordPress takes PHP, CSS, JS, and HTML and bundles it all up into an attractive, intuitive interface. It’s also open-source, which means you can install thousands of features called “plugins” created by a worldwide community of developers.
The simple ability to create WordPress websites and blogs has proven to be a solid in-demand skill over the years. It’s also easy to learn, although the market is getting more saturated precisely due to its accessibility.
By the way, if you’d like to get on the fast track to learning WordPress, HTML, and CSS, I’ve created a high-quality online video training course called the WordPress Design Institute. Yeah it’s self-promotion, but I think it’s a great “shortcut” to learning these skills. You can master a variety of techniques that I’ve acquired over years of learning and practice in just a few short weeks.
Cocoa is a development framework for building iOS applications and a hot skill to have right now. It also introduces you to Objective C, the programing language used to build Mac applications. Mobile and software app developers are killing it and will continue to do so well into the future. Some other useful development frameworks to learn include Bootstrap, Foundation, and Ruby on Rails.
Once you’ve acquired a real skill or two, you’re ready to update your resume. Except now you may want to consider burning your resume… because resumes suck.
The first resume was written in 1482 during the High Renaissance – ten years before Columbus discovered America. The resume is a relic from a bygone era: a time before electricity, running water, steam engines, steel, trains, automobiles, and planes. We no longer use horses as a main source of transportation any more; we’ve invented a better way. And we no longer want to depend on resumes because we have something better, more modern, and more powerful, and it’s called Google.
Become a Hot Commodity
Focus on building your online presence, because you will be Googled. What comes up when you Google your name? If your accomplishments include winning the university beer pong championship and accompanying photos pop up, you’ve got some work to do. If nothing comes up, you’ve also got work to do.
You need to BE somebody. Nobody wants to hire a nobody – they want to hire a rockstar, someone who seems like they’ll add a ton of value. Ideally, you want to be able to fill up the entire first page of search results for your name with items that will prove irresistible to potential clients and employers.
To start, register your own name as a domain. Set up a blog and start posting positive, knowledgable related to your area of focus. WordPress blogs do very well in search engines.
Start building up your social networks and sharing your content on them. When you post a link on Google+, it gets indexed by Google’s search engine instantly. Twitter is another great resource to share content. Use the “Search Twitter Bios” feature on FollowerWonk.com and find people in your industry to follow. Keep sharing your content on Twitter, and they’ll start following you, too.
Build up relationships with other prominent bloggers in your field by commenting on their blogs and offer to contribute a post to their blog. These “guest posts” will also show up in searches for your name. The bonus is that very soon you may become a known authority, or trusted source, within the industry. By that point, you needn’t go looking for employers – they will find you.
Another tactic is to contribute to real newspaper and magazine articles. Journalists usually leave their e-mail or contact information at the end of the article. If not, you can Google their name or check out the publication’s website and find it.
E-mail them: tell them you loved an article they did, and were interested in contributing to a similar article (on which you have, hopefully, become an authority on). Smaller publications and especially local publications (within your area) are more likely to reply favorably, so start small and build up from there.
Often you can join industry groups and contribute to these as well. One such group did a “Member Spotlight” on me and it continues to rank well for searches on my name. The point is, do everything you can to build up an impressive presence online.
The Power of Association
Who’s in your corner? You must meet the right people, or at least somehow associate yourself with the BIG dogs. That means aiming high, and being selective about who you meet. Avoid power networking. One of the best ways to this is to form a mentor-mentee relationship with a successful entrepreneur or power broker within your industry.
Take some time to search and find the most successful person that you can. Research them, understand them, and then get in contact. Make it clear that you share similar interests, that you’re hungry and eager to learn and help in any way that you can. Think of ways you can add value to your potential mentor. Use positive “anchors” in your e-mail that will make the person smile and feel good (such as positive, upbeat subject lines and statements).
Also – remember that while successful people are usually willing to help, they’re also quite busy. So when you close with your call to action (to schedule a call, meet, etc.), “give them a way out.” This is akin to Robert Cialdini’s “rejection-then-retreat” style of closing. If option A isn’t available, then offer option B as a concession.
If you’ve taken the time to become someone worth meeting, your potential mentor will respond positively to you. One way I try to build a relationship with mentors is by inviting them to be a guest in my mastermind group. By mentioning the fact that I run my own mastermind group, I’m implying that I’m a self starter with plans to go somewhere.
Even if you’re just starting out, as I was, you don’t want to give your target the impression of a scrub that doesn’t know where they’re going. You have to somehow establish credibility, but do so without boasting. If you have a big project, big ideas, or an important mission that you can communicate clearly and concisely, your chances to successfully engage mentors goes up.
Sometimes, you’ll get the opportunity to be able to work directly for your mentor, sometimes not. You should be willing to work for free. Not indefinitely – but offer to do a small project or two. Over-deliver on the work and give it everything you’ve got.
If you prove yourself invaluable, your mentor has more to lose by NOT hiring you. Even if they don’t, a great mentor will be happy to connect you to important people within their network – people that would otherwise be difficult to reach.
Working with the best is another important way to stand out from the pack. Employers want to know who you’ve worked with before. If you’ve worked with noteworthy, respectable people in the past, their desire to hire you goes up exponentially.
Too many other job-seekers aim low and try to go after any job they can get. This can be horrendously damaging to their career, and sets them up for a string of subsequent mediocre jobs in the future.
If you’re lucky, a great mentor can be all you need. In 2008 my friend Cody McKibben built a relationship with serial entrepreneur and multiple-author Rajesh Setty. That one connection and the ensuing referrals led him to build a successful freelance web design career, and Cody worked remotely from a base in Southeast Asia for the next five years.
How to Cut in Line for a Job
Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to e-mail an address like “[email protected].” If you’ve ever been applied for a job in your life, chances are good you that you have. Have you ever heard back from anyone?
Landing a job this way is like trying to find a needle in a seven-hundred pound haystack. Human resources people aren’t in the role of giving people jobs – they spend all of their time denying people jobs. To them, you’re another faceless piece of paper among thousands, which is not good. Most organizations also use CV-filtering software that screens your CV for keywords, further decreasing the odds that your resume will be read by a human.
On top of that, most companies hire internally or through internal references. 80% of job openings are NOT advertised.
You’re joining 95% of all job-seekers for only 20% of the jobs! These prospects are not good. So, to in order to land a great gig, we’ll need to sidestep HR people and this whole process. We want to accomplish the best results in the quickest time possible.
Our goal, if we want to land a career abroad, is to arrange several final round interviews before ever setting foot on a plane. So, we’ll have to turn to the internet. But let’s skip Monster and CareerBuilder and use a under-used tool that allows us to reach decision-makers directly: LinkedIn Premium.
Hopefully you paid attention and have built up your personal brand, and can create a great LinkedIn profile. Add a professional picture, list your qualifications, and start adding connections. Ask your friends to write recommendations about your great communicative abilities, your dependability, and the fact that you always step up to the plate when needed. Under the “Profile” tab click “Recommendations” and then “Request Recommendations.” You can fill out a form and request a reference from your connections.
LinkedIn Premium’s “Sales Plus” membership costs $39.95 a month and allows you to send 10 In-Mails per month. In-Mails give you a leg up on all the other job seekers out there because they have a MUCH higher open rate than regular e-mail. If you don’t receive a response from the target within 7 days, your In-Mail credit becomes “refreshed,” and you can re-use it again.
According to the Social Media Examiner, In-Mails also average a 7% lead conversion rate: so with 10 In-Mails you have a 70% chance of landing an interview. You can keep the Sales Plus account for as many months as long as you like, or cancel once you line up a gig. In-Mail credits also accumulate month to month, with a 90 day limit.
Still with me? Good, because now things are going to get even more fun.
We’re going to use “cheat codes” – literally – and target the people we want to contact with our In-Mails with precision accuracy. There is a red-hot new tool created by recruiters that can let us find any hiring manager, CEO, etc. that we want using a few simple criteria. It’s called “RecruitEm” (recruitin.net), and it’s free. It uses advanced Google search strings to scrape all profiles on LinkedIn, Google+, Stack Overflow, and GitHub.
You simply enter in some criteria into the fields, such as country, job titles, and keywords to include or exclude. Some good keywords might be “CEO,” “Chief Executive,” “Hiring Manager,” etc. Yes you can even try “HR…” but you already know my thoughts about HR people. Anyway, this tool is awesome and it will give you a huge advantage to literally get in contact with anyone with an online presence, at any company, any where in the world.
While LinkedIn Premium does have its own “Advanced Search,” the RecruitEm tool combined with Google is much more powerful.
What are we looking for? We want to find expatriate managers in our target city or country. Expat managers are more likely to respond favorably to unsolicited contact from other foreigners than local managers. Makes sense, right? If you can find expat managers from your university or your country, they’re much more likely to be an ally in your job hunt.
Also, you can look for local managers who worked or studied abroad – they’ll also be more likely to respond to your In-Mail. Look for any clues that can establish commonality. If you’re American, focus on managers with American-sounding names: John Cook, Bill Anderson, etc. Same if you’re Norwegian, French, etc.
Compile a list of 20-30 target companies, along with the name of the target manager. Create a template that you can use for your In-Mails, then customize each and send them out one by one. Start out with a greeting, a courteous introduction, some specific examples of work that you can do for them, a few specific reasons why you’d be a great fit for the company, and ask for a Skype or phone interview. Mention that you’re currently in your home city but will be visiting the target city within a month or two. If you show energy, passion, and enthusiasm in your message, people can definitely pick up on that.
Expect some rejection. Perhaps half won’t respond to you. Some may respond to say nothing is available. In this instance, employ the “rejection then retreat” principle: suggest becoming connected on LinkedIn, keeping in touch, and ask if they have any advice or connections that may be helpful. Your objective is to have someone within an organization give you an internal reference.
Within the next week or two, you can set up 5-10 interviews with managers in your target city before ever leaving home. Getting the interview is half the battle. Once you’ve gotten it, don’t waste it! Do your homework on the company, on the individual, on projects that the company has done. Also read their profile (or blog, if they have one), and try to understand what’s on the person’s mind. Try to find common interests, mutual connections, etc.
If you’ve taken the time to build up a remarkable brand, researched your targets, and build strong rapport with a decision-maker in the company, you’ll land the internal reference that will get you hired. Your information will be passed along within the company before you ever leave home.
From these Skype and phone interviews, you’ll want to set up at least 5 final round interviews for when you arrive. Of these, you’re certain to get at least one or two offers. If you can schedule 10 interviews, then you’ll enjoy more options and more negotiating leverage.
Networking Through Facebook
Under normal circumstances, it can be very difficult to make a meaningful new connection through Facebook if you haven’t already met the person in real life. However, there is a powerful shortcut to networking using Facebook that most people don’t know about.
Simply type the following into Facebook’s search bar (replace [location] with your target destination):
Friends of my friends who live in [location]
Ex: Friends of my friends who live in Melbourne
Facebook will return a long list of second degree connections that you have in that city, and show you whom your mutual friends are. You can browse the list of potential connections that you can make, then ask any mutual friends you have with those people to set up introductions for you.
Simply reach out to your first degree contact and ask him if he’d be willing to introduce you to the person:
“Hi [Name] – Just noticed you’re friends with [Contact] in Shanghai. I plan to travel to Shanghai in two months and I’m also looking to find work there. Would you be willing to introduce me to [Contact] so that I can connect with him when I arrive?”
Assuming your friend follows through with the intro, you can easily build your network this way. Also, if you share more than half a dozen mutual connections with the person you’d like to connect with, you could try to send a friend request and reach out directly.
There are also a number of other searches you can enter into Facebook, for instance you can search by interest as well (for more information on the different search strings you can perform, check out: www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch)
Ex. People who like travel in Bangkok
This is an awesome way to network in just a few minutes using only your laptop! With this strategy, you can quickly and easily build a network of a dozen or more people in a city, well before you arrive.
It works anywhere in the world. Try it out!
Networking on the Ground
There’s also another impressive way that you can use to bypass HR folk and reach anyone directly. This is a “secret weapon” in my arsenal that few people know about. It involves sending a FedEx or Amazon package. No one, going back to the time of cavemen, has ever NOT opened a package that was addressed to them.
If you’ve ever tried to call a company and get through to the CEO, the receptionist will always tell you he’s busy. But, if you deliver a package, it will be placed on his desk. This method is so powerful that I’ve never NOT gotten a response this way.
Simply find a company where you’d like to be hired, and do research on the CEO. Does he have a blog? Try to find out what his interests are, then write a courteous, personalized, hand-written letter to him and include a small gift; tape up the package and send.
Even if you don’t get offered a position, there’s no doubt that the person you’ve tried to reach will be impressed by your moxie. They’re most certainly be willing to help you out in some way, in the form of advice or connections.
What did you think of this guide? Have any questions or comments? Let me know!