By Jean-Marc Hachey

Let’s debunk some myths on the international job search

Students often ask a standard set of questions about international job hunting:

  • How do I find a job in a specific country?
  • How do I get a visa to work in that country?
  • How do I write a country-specific resume?
  • Where can I find a list of employers in a specific country who hire international staff?
  • What should I study to better my chances of finding an international job?

All of these questions point to major myths about the international job hunt, which this article aims to lay bare. For instance, is a country-specific job search the most effective strategy to go about finding professional work abroad? Do domestic employers in foreign countries really hire young professionals just graduating from university or college? Is there a limited number of fields in which a young professional can find international work? Read on and put your clients on the path toward a more effective international job search.

Low-skilled, country-specific work for the world traveller

A country-specific job search is most appropriate for backpacking world travellers looking for low-skilled temporary work in their country of choice. Short-term or short-notice jobs in specific locations tend to be low-skilled, in retail or service sectors, and are often seasonal and/or tourist-oriented (working in a pub, hotel or picking grapes). Teaching English abroad also falls into this category. These experiences are great for building global perspective and cross-cultural skills, but are most often not career track experiences.

A jobseeker’s main goal in scoring this type of work is to understand the domestic job market and how to write a resume geared to the norms of that country. Outsiders have many challenges to overcome, and the traditional approaches to job hunting, such as communicating with employers via email, are generally not effective. The best way to go is to impress employers directly with charm, personality and an in-person sales pitch. There are many organizations (like SWAP in Canada) that can help secure working holiday type visas for many of the most popular countries.

International work for the young professional

While a country-specific job search can be practical for students on a working holiday looking for low-skilled work, this strategy is rarely successful when looking for a professional position. When a young professional attempts to get a job with a domestic firm in a foreign country, they must find a local employer and convince them to sponsor their visa application; the local employer then has to prove to their government that no other native citizen is qualified to do the work. This is a very high hurdle to jump over and therefore makes the country-specific job search difficult, if not entirely impossible.

So how do young professionals find international work? We can debunk the myths surrounding international job hunting when we identify who the key international employers are. It may come as a surprise, but young professionals almost never work abroad directly with domestic foreign firms.

Most international employers are based right here in North America. Eighty percent of people who go abroad do so with a US or Canadian-based employer, whether firms, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), governments, or, to a lesser extent, international organizations. It is very rare for a North American professional to work abroad with a local firm unless they are well-established in their careers.

Thus, these young professionals, unlike their backpacking counterparts, will not be doing a country-specific job search, researching visa requirements or writing country-specific resumes. When working abroad with a home organization, it is the employer who arranges the visa and, in most cases, designates the country in which you will be working.

So how do you find an international job when the employer is based in your home country? By carrying out a sector-specific rather than a country-specific job search. With a sector-based job search, you target your search and find out who the international players are within your field.

It’s important to note that there is no particular field of study that is linked to finding success abroad. Every field has an international component, and you can help your client to research companies and organizations operating at that level. The key is to identify employers who regularly send employees abroad. Contrary to conventional thinking, large multinationals like Pepsi or General Motors rarely send people abroad, and, if they do, they tend to send only senior or long-term employees. You need to identify organizations whose mandate is international, such as international engineering, health, finance, disaster relief, teaching, research and consulting firms. Don’t ignore small- and medium-size firms, since they often send junior workers abroad.

Where to start

The first step is to determine what type of organization your client wishes to work for: private firm, NGO, government or international organization.

Once the target field and the type of organization has been determined, your goal is to uncover the “international hierarchy of organizations” within your client’s area of professional interest. Begin by identifying the world umbrella organizations and international organizations relevant to this field. These organizations will have regional bodies, national associations and, most importantly, institutional members (private sector firms, NGOs, government departments and universities) that are located in Canada. At each level in this hierarchy, there is a rich layer of potential employers.

This research will uncover a wealth of information. You will find lists of member organizations that are active internationally along with lists and descriptions of their current international projects. Industry websites and trade journals will also point directly to internationally active organizations in their field. These leads also point to opportunities for internships, scholarships, research opportunities, professional courses, international conferences and, just as important, names of international experts in their field who can provide career advice and networking opportunities. You will be surprised to find that some of the international experts live within a 300 km radius of your hometown. Get your clients to volunteer their services or to set up informational interviews with them. These are the resources required for scoring big in the international job search process.

With the abundant research material available, an extra dose of entrepreneurial zeal can make all the difference. Entry-level jobseekers are most successful when they do a series of small extraordinary things during the job search process, finding jobs using alternative or back-door strategies.


Jean-Marc Hachey is the publisher & founder of MyWorldAbroad (formerly The BIG Guide to Living and Working Overseas) and is North America’s leading expert on international careers having presented seminars at over 100 universities in Canada, the US, France and the UK since 1992.