10 top tips to starting a successful international career
International experience can work wonders for your career development. We explore some of the key things to think about if you’re planning a move abroad.
- Be clear about why you want to work overseas
A key question to ask yourself is: Is it about my career or about the lifestyle? If you like the idea of working by day and hitting the beach straight from the office, then a move from London to Sydney could be right for you. But such a move may be less dramatic in terms of your career development, as you’re likely to be making a sideways move.
- Keep an open mind about your choice of location
If you’re primarily interested in international experience as a way of accelerating your career trajectory, it pays to look beyond the obvious locations. If you go for somewhere that’s very well established, you’re likely to have lots of competitors, and it’s harder to see results.
In an emerging market, you may be part of a smaller, newer team – perhaps even helping get an operation off the ground – and you’ll have much higher profile, greater levels of responsibility and will develop experience and expertise much more quickly.
- Start with the constraints
Depending on where you reside currently, your options for moving overseas may be limited by your passport and visa options. Lots of people want to move here, there or everywhere, but without the right visa or passport, it can be very limiting. So, start by thinking, what passports do I hold and where could I actually go? How easy would it be for me to secure the paperwork I need for my dream move? Once you know your constraints, you can start to plan and research more realistically.
- Consult with your employer
If you’re considering applying for an internal move within a global company, make use of your HR or talent development team. Sit with them and ask for their advice about how suitable an international move might be for you, and what sort of progression you could expect within the company as a result.
- Do your research
So you might have been on holiday in London or Hong King or Sydney, but while this will give you a good feel for the place, there’s a lot more information you’ll need to make an informed decision about your move overseas. What’s the job market really like in your space? How frequently do opportunities come up – and how mobile is the market? How much will you need to make to cover rent and essentials like food and public transport? How many hours a week are you likely to be working? A good recruiter can advise you on all such points, and if they’re a global consultancy they can be working for you both before you leave and after you land.
- Make sure your loved ones are on board
Candidates often look for international experience when they’re younger and less settled in life, and there’s a good reason for that. Moving overseas is a big upheaval, and if you have a partner and children there are a lot more factors to consider. It’s also worth thinking about how best to keep in regular touch with the people you’ll miss most too.
- Think transferrable skills
If your plan is to go and work abroad for a few years but then come back to your home country, make sure that you’re not applying for roles with skills that are too niche, could become obsolete, or simply won’t be much sought-after back home.
With technical roles, digitisation, IT, digital marketing and ecommerce, the skills are usually very transferrable and constantly in demand, but within areas such as legal, risk and compliance you need to take care. Some local legislation, for example around data privacy, will have its counterpart in any territory; but some legislation and regulation is so specific to one jurisdiction that it doesn’t really translate to another.
- Don’t expect like for like – but keep your eye on the prize
It’s not just your destination that could change radically when you make an international move, but the nature of your work too. Being a manager that’s part of a well-oiled, 40-strong team in an established market like Frankfurt, for example – where modern systems are in place, and all sorts of tasks and responsibilities are delegated – is very different to helping set up your company’s new office in Bangkok, say, where you have a skeleton staff and you’re building things up from the ground.
In such a situation, you’ll need to be able to wear many hats, act on your own initiative, and get your hands dirty. It’s a tough challenge, and not one that everyone could pull off. But if you can report on delivering a positive outcome you will have gained exceptional experience and significantly boosted your attractiveness to hirers, both internally and externally.
- Find a friend to show you the ropes
What people often don’t factor in is how much they will miss their friends and family and how hard it can be to get yourself settled into a new culture and country where you don’t really know anyone. That sense of disconnect from what means home to you can be unexpectedly powerful, so if you can find a friend of a friend or a colleague on the ground who can show you the ropes, it makes a huge difference – just practical things like where to shop or how to get a good mobile deal.
- Be prepared to take one step back to move two forward
Don’t get too stuck on a specific job title when looking for an overseas career move. If you’re making a serious move and you’re looking at the bigger picture, don’t get stuck on trying to find exactly the equivalent role.
Sometimes, you may need to make a lateral or even a small backward move to prove yourself in a new market – especially if, say you’re moving from managing a team of 40 to a team of 14. But in the long run this can be a good thing, what with the new culture and environment to get your head around – especially if you intend to stay for the long term and really establish and develop yourself.
Working overseas also gives you an amazing opportunity to develop a true local experience. Look beyond your colleagues and expat community for ways to build your connections more broadly, learn the local language and be open to trying something new - you never know what you might discover or where these new experiences and connections might lead you later on in your career.
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