Job hunting in a foreign country

Recruitment experts offer ideas to help you land that dream post overseas.
Job hunting in a foreign country

Working in a foreign country is a dream for some and a necessity for others. Whether it is your ambition to forge a career overseas, or you have a spouse or partner who lands a job abroad and you need to find one too, it can pay to make sure you’re finding the best opportunities and showing that you’re a standout candidate.

Why? Because organisations are bringing in fewer employees from overseas, said Nick Stolp, Hong Kong-based director at Pemax Executive, which provides services in executive search, recruitment, and human resources consulting services focused on the Asia-Pacific region.

The rewards of overseas jobs, Stolp said, can be both personal and professional. There’s the opportunity to explore other cultures, including other business cultures. You may also build a technical proficiency — for example, in local accounting and reporting requirements in that particular country, he said.

However, as Stolp mentioned, and Jim Lyons, president of LHI Executive Search in New York, agreed, it can be challenging to compete for a job against local residents.

“Right now if you want to relocate, I think you have to remember that, unless you [have a] very special skillset, you’re at a competitive disadvantage going out of your country,” Lyons said. “Companies are not as inclined as they were in past years to do big relocation packages.”

Add to that challenge the complexities of widely varying visa and legal residency requirements, and an overseas job hunt can seem overwhelming. Addressing the global bureaucracy of residency is beyond the scope of this article, but there are steps financial professionals can take to make the job hunt more efficient.

With that in mind, Stolp, Lyons, and Nick Deligiannis, managing director for Australia and New Zealand at recruiting experts Hays, offer some advice to take your job search beyond the search engines:

Look within your own organisation. If you already work for an employer that has locations abroad, look there first for internal transfer options, Stolp said. Network within your organisation and get to know those employed in the country you wish to transfer to, he said.

Network. Establish a local network where you hope to work, Deligiannis said. It is smart to join relevant LinkedIn groups in that country, and then be active in those groups so that you start to build your network. In addition, it may make sense to join an industry association for insights on local market trends and professional development opportunities.

Stolp said networking will be an essential part of landing a job in another country. You will be coming into a country where there may well be local talent to compete with, and networking allows potential employers to get to know you on a more personal level and see the reasons to hire you, he said.

Visit. If you have the time and the means, take a trip to the country you would like to work in. “It’s useful to show a prospective employer that you’ve had enough gumption to get on a plane at your own expense,” said Stolp. He advises considering travelling to the country on holiday, but also lining up a few informational interviews while you’re there. “Straightaway, you’ve differentiated yourself,” he said. “But it’s not a guarantee.”

Have a conversation. It could be a recruiter or someone within your own company, but speak to someone in person or by phone to gather more information about the organisation or business area in which you hope to land a job, Stolp said.

When you talk to someone, tell them you want to be looked at as an exceptional hire, Lyons said. Ask them what they would expect you to do, once hired, in 90 days, six months, and a year on the job.

Highlight your performance. After you have had the conversation above, or even if you do not get that opportunity, it is important to highlight both performance and accomplishments in your CV, said Lyons, rather than just your work history. Performance benchmarks in your CV show an employer what you will be able to do in your new role. “It’s so great when I see a résumé or CV that really shows the candidate’s performance,” Lyons said. “What have you achieved? What differentiates you from the rest of the pack?”

Be specific in your search. Do your research and identify a precise area where your skills can transfer to the local labour market, and focus your job search there. “This is not the time to look for stretch opportunities, or to transfer industries,” said Deligiannis.

If your job search is too broad, it leaves you competing against an even larger group of local applicants and it becomes less likely that an employer will take a chance on someone from overseas, Lyons said.

Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at