How to land a job overseas

In late 2014 I booked myself a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. I had just finished a three-year stint in the Middle East, and was looking for a change of scenery. I figured that with my previous expat experience, colourful CV, and general chutzpah, I'd be showered with money and job offers the moment I stepped off the plane.

It didn't quite work out like that. And as the rejection letters lit up my inbox, the bills mounted, and the recruiters shook their heads sadly, I came to realise that there's both a right way, and a wrong way, to land an overseas job. 

Five tips to get you on a plane

1. Figure out why you want an overseas role

Let's start with the basics. Why are you looking for an overseas job? Are in the market for death defying adventure, career opportunities, a sea change, or simply running from the law? Once you've figured that out you can start narrowing down the options, and looking for viable opportunities.

2. Do your research

There's not much point looking for work in the Gulf when oil prices are crashing harder than Ben Cousin after a big weekend. Likewise, any talk of civil unrest, trade embargoes, or militia death squads is bad news for employment prospects.

Beyond that, every country has its own unique policies regarding expats and recruitment. Work permits, hiring policies, sponsorship agreements, income and perks are all things you need to be across before you start sending out CVs.

3. Reach out to your network

When I was based in the Middle East all new hires were friends-of-friends. That's just the way things work in more exotic locales, where a personal recommendation carries far more weight than a LinkedIn profile. Sure, you can jump online and scour the expat job sites, but nine times out of ten they're just a bunch of fake jobs behind a paywall.


4. Be realistic about language skills

Let's be honest, you're either proficient in a foreign language, or you're not. Tell a recruiter that you've been "studying Mandarin" for a few months and they'll give you a polite nod, mark you down as 'zero language skills', and assume you're a bit simple. That said; a posh British accent and bit of imperial nostalgia can go a long way in the Middle East.

5. Get your CV and pitch together

There are over one billion people in China, India, etc. What makes you so much better than any of them, and justifies the hassle of shipping you out? Unless you have a compelling answer to that question you're going to be staying at home (or taking a considerable pay cut).

Five rookie errors to avoid

1. Don't run from your past

Trying to expand your horizons and tackle new challenges is great. Taking off overseas to escape your personal demons isn't. As my former boss in the Middle East once remarked, "expats are either running away from something, or running towards something." If it's the former, you're better off just shelling out for some therapy.

2. Don't trust random strangers

I once knew a guy who landed an IT gig in Nigeria. The money was good, the company had a nice London office, and on the surface it all looked legit. Within a few months he was flying into Abuja airport clutching suitcases piled with cash, and being met by a private security detail.

He eventually escaped, but you shouldn't assume that the laws and regulations we take for granted in Australia apply in a third world dictatorship or oil rich monarchy.

3. Don't just show up

There's something very gung-ho about just showing up in foreign country and demanding a well-paid expat job. For starters, it shows that you're fully committed and have a 'can do' attitude. It also means you can meet with recruiters, get your name out there, and are available to start.

All the above can offer you considerable advantages in a country with a favourable exchange rate and cheap accommodation. Try it in Hong Kong, Singapore, or London, and there's a good chance you'll be broke before you get the first interview.

4. Don't make assumptions

If you think rents are high in Sydney, try getting a villa in Saudi Arabia. While a few thousand bucks a month to help cover rent can seem like a generous perk, it doesn't mean much if prices in western neighbourhoods are grossly inflated. As a rule – you should always take the free company housing. Oh, and don't forget about the exchange rate. Unless it's pegged to the US dollar, your take home salary can fluctuate wildly

5. Don't quit your job just yet

It takes about four months to land a professional job in Australia. International recruitment can stretch that out to 12 months and counting. Even if you have a job offer, the subsequent background checks, degree accreditations, lost paperwork, and contract re-negotiations can add several months to the process, so don't quit your day job until the plane tickets arrive.

Have you worked overseas? Let us know in the Comment section.