Introduction to International Career Planning
This section of the International Jobs website has been designed to give you concrete information quickly. The units described below focus on key aspects of the search, and the last section, Designing Your International Plan, will help you pull all your knowledge together and develop the plan you will use to move forward. For comprehensive country-specific information, explore Going Global (free for UT Austin students).
1. Common Myths About The International Market: Start your search by learning important misunderstandings about the international market so you won't waste your time.
2. Succeeding In The International Job Search: Discover the traits and knowledge you need to have, as well as the actions you need to take to outsmart your competition in the international job market.
3. Defining International In Your Job Search: How international do you want to be? Check out the different options for international jobs.
4. Before You Go - Passports, Housing, Etc.: Before you just pack your bag and go, here are some things to consider.
5. Making The Most of Your Study Abroad Experience: Ideas for using the skills you developed while abroad and steps you can take while you're there to facilitate your return after you graduate.
6. Designing Your International Plan: Now that you are more knowledgeable about the international market, it's time to develop your plan. Start here.
1. It's enough to know what I want an international job. Saying "I want an international job" or "I want to use my foreign language skills" doesn't constitute a career decision. The word "international" is an adjective. Think first about what you want to do and then apply international to it, for example, "international lawyer" or "international marketer."
2. The best place to find an international job is with a large American company. Most American companies employ only a few Americans abroad, and primarily in management positions. One global American corporation, for example, has about 275,000 employees, but only 300 work abroad. By far the largest numbers of recent graduates who are working abroad are those who volunteer for the Peace Corps and related programs, teach English as a second language, or work under a short-term permit through CIEE.
3. International jobs are all located outside the USA. About 80% of "international" jobs are located in the United States. Only a small portion of American citizens work abroad.
4. I can't get an international job because I only speak English. Foreign language skills are not needed for all international jobs. While some positions require strong language skills (translator, interpreter, consultant, etc.) others demand only minimal foreign language skills. The better your knowledge of a country's language, though, the better position you will likely be offered. And aside from employment, knowing the language can be vital in helping you feel comfortable and "at home" in another land.
5. I should just grab my suitcase and go. The best way to find an international job is to do your homework here in the USA before you grab a suitcase and go. Plan to spend several months researching the country and career field in which you want to work and acquiring the necessary documents. Remember, if you enter the country under a tourist visa, you are prevented from working, and you can't enter a country under a work visa without the necessary paperwork.
6. My foreign language skills will get me a job. Unfortunately, many American employers don't generally value foreign language skills except in a few specific areas. School systems or translation firms will, of course, be interested in your foreign language skills. But, in general, language skills are not enough. You need to bring strong work-related skills which enable you to do the job. Employers don't always know how to use your foreign language skills, so you must be prepared to tell them.
7. International jobs involve glamorous travel. Not all international jobs involve travel. In fact, many international jobs never require that you leave your hometown. Travel is a mixed blessing for many workers-- exciting and fun at first, but it can be tiring.
8. I want to change the world so I'll join the Peace Corps. Volunteer and development programs like the Peace Corps offer many personal rewards and satisfaction, but you will likely not "change the world." These employers are looking for people who have a realistic sense of what they can accomplish. Overseas development workers face a lot of bureaucracy as they try to accomplish their tasks, making the work harder and less fulfilling. Bottom line: You may not change the world, but you will have an impact on individual people and communities.
9. Living and working abroad is dangerous. It depends. Many countries have lower crime rates than major American cities. Certain parts of the world are more dangerous than others, though, and the State Department provides updated safety information for travelers and workers.
10. An agency I found on the internet will find me a job for a fee. Do not pay someone to find you an international job. Don't be fooled by ads in newspapers or on the internet promoting international jobs for a fee. Do not deal with any employment agency that requires a fee unless there is a money-back guarantee, and even then think twice. Always contact the Better Business Bureau or your state Attorney General's office to find out if the business is a scam.
The best trait you can develop to succeed in the international job search is "focused flexibility": the ability to keep your target goal in mind, but being open to other opportunities. You will also need to be determined, able to deal with rejection, and have a high frustration tolerance, that is, the ability to calmly deal with situations that don't always go your way.
So what's the best way to proceed with the international search?
10 Strategies to Consider
1. Approach The Process Professionally. Even though you might think you're only seeking an internship or a summer job, present yourself as professionally as you would for a full-time career opportunity. Fill out all applications carefully. Write a great resume and cover letter or email.
2. Do Your Research. Know the organizations which offer the type of experience you're seeking. Research the country and be sure you know the laws regarding working in that country, particularly any visa or passport issues.
3. Know And Outsmart Your Competition. The demand for international opportunities is greater than the supply, so you should expect competition for virtually anything you pursue. Know your strengths and why you would be the best candidate for the position. What unique or valuable skills do you bring? Be sure to back up your statements with examples.
4. Be Ready To React At A Moment's Notice. Sometimes an opportunity appears at the last minute-- and the opportunity goes to the person who has their resume and cover letter (or email) ready to send immediately. Typical items to also have available are your transcript, writing samples, and a list of references or letters of recommendation.
5. Keep Moving Forward Even If You Don't Know What You're Seeking. Part of the process is discovering what's out there. You don't have to know your final destination to start the journey.
6. Pay Attention To Deadlines. Many international internship and other opportunities have clear deadlines which you must follow. Submit all materials by the deadline, and earlier if possible. Your application might received more attention if it comes in early and isn't in the last-minute rush of applications.
7. Know Your Budget Before Proceeding. Talk to your parents or anyone else who might assist with financing. Be sure you consider the cost of traveling and living abroad. If you discover you can't afford to go abroad, look for international opportunities at home such as nonprofit agencies which serve foreign populations, churches which offer short-term missions, or consider teaching English as a second language.
8. Conduct A Thorough Internet Search Of Opportunities. You will find lots of links to countries and opportunities on this site.
9. Stay Open-Minded And Look For Opportunities To Learn.
While it's ideal to find a career-building opportunity, sometimes you can learn as much from a less-ideal experience. No experience is wasted as long as you're learning, and you develop a great story to tell a future employer.
10. Buyer Beware! Always investigate any organization which offers you an internship or charges you a fee to set one up. Check the Better Business Bureau website or "Google" the organization's name with the word "problem", "scam", or "fraud" and see what shows up.
What does international mean to you? Not every international opportunity is located outside the USA. The way you work internationally will depend on your interests and personal situation. One way to determine your international interests is to consider where you want to live and how much you want to travel. Here are some options to consider:
Live In A Foreign Country
Work for a foreign-owned business or school
Work for an American business
Work for the American government (U.S. Dept of State, U.S. military bases)
Live In The United States
Work for an international company
Work for an American organization with occasional travel outside the USA
Work with people of another culture
Pursue a career in the transportation or travel industry
It's tempting to just pack a suitcase and go, but before you head to the airport, below are some key elements of the international job search you'll want to cover.
Passports & Visas: If this is the first time you've ever applied for a passport you will need to apply in person at a local acceptance facility, which is usually your local post office. You can apply for a passport through the post office. You'll need proof of citizenship and two identical photos. The process takes about one month. For complete information about passports, click on this link to the US Department of State. If you have a passport, check the date of issuance to make sure it won't expire before you return.
UT-Austin students, staff and faculty can get assistance with passports and other international travel issues at the International Office.
Learn about the country you intend to visit, including visa requirements, at the U.S. Passport & International Travel site. For additional information, including visa requirements for non-U.S. citizens, you can also check out Going Global for country-specific visa/papers info.
Working Papers: Acquiring working papers is time-consuming and challenging and presents the biggest hurdle to working abroad. Most countries require a work permit for full-time and permanent jobs. It is very difficult to obtain a work permit in another country and the requirements vary from country to country. An employer has to prove that the foreign worker is uniquely qualified and a national candidate is not available.
Work permits need to be renewed on a regular basis. You will need to have an employment contract from a foreign company before you can enter that country on a working visa. To obtain a work permit, you might have to leave the country and return.
Find out the working visa requirements for your country of choice - check out Going Global for country-specific info. If you work for the government, an international organization, or a large U.S. corporation, your employer will handle the details. You may need to pay local taxes and resident visa fees.
To obtain resident status in a country, usually:
- You already have a job waiting for you;
- You have means to live in a country without working;
- You fulfill government criteria to establish your own business;
- You are descended from or married to a national; or
- You have lived in the country already for a number of years for a reason acceptable to the government, such as being a political refugee.
Health Concerns: Two health issues are important: immunizations and insurance. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention runs an excellent website on Traveler's Health. You can find out about any health concerns related to the area you will be traveling to, as well as the required immunizations. Make sure your medical & accident insurance are valid in the country in which you travel.
Budgetary Concerns: International work is at best usually a break-even proposition. You should not expect to earn a salary that would allow you to do more than cover the costs of living in your country of choice. In some cases, you will be paying an organization for an internship or volunteer experience where you won't be paid. For that reason, it's important to consider the financial ramifications of your decision.
- Do a budget analysis.
- Make sure you have enough money to survive at least two weeks before finding paid employment.
- If you have student loans, talk to your parents about their expectations regarding repayment.
- Make sure you can afford the flight home.
Housing: Hotels are too expensive for an extended stay, so consider a youth hostel which offers a basic living environment at a good price. You can always use a hostel as a temporary place to stay while you find more permanent housing.
Studying abroad is a highly valuable experience for your academic and personal enrichment, but it can also be a significant experience in your professional development. Whether you intend to work abroad or work domestically, the experiences and skills you gain from study abroad will help position you as a global citizen for the global job market.
Employers recruit candidates who are not only qualified for their positions, but who also understand diverse markets, can succeed in unfamiliar and ambiguous situations, are confident, speak other languages and are cross-culturally competent. You may not realize it, but when you’re studying abroad, you are likely becoming the well-rounded candidate sought by employers. Meet with a career coach to learn more about what you can do to advance your professional development before study abroad, or to unpack your experience when you return.
While You’re Abroad
If you are in a study abroad program that provides personal time or an independent schedule, you should definitely have fun and explore the region; however, you may also want to consider using some of that time for professional development and networking.
- Explore the country or region’s industries and job market. Use Going Global to research the country’s sectors, companies/organizations, employment trends, visa information and job search tools.
- Get involved with student life at your campus or center. Join clubs, projects and meet students and faculty.
- Consider volunteer and/or internship opportunities to help build your resume and your network. International organizations – such as the United Nations, Red Cross, World Bank – may offer the types of opportunities you’re looking for. You might even be able to line up an opportunity before you leave the U.S.
- Look into the American Chamber of Commerce in your city or region to learn about business operations that may provide job or internship opportunities for Americans.
- Conduct informational interviews with professionals in organizations of interest to you, or with American expats working in the country. However, be sensitive to any cultural differences – actively networking and requesting info interviews may not be typical or acceptable in the particular region (get advice from a local or from Going Global country guides).
- Keep an eye on the American consulate’s website for information about events where you may be able to network with the professional community.
- Connect with professionals via LinkedIn. This assumes that you created a professional LinkedIn account before leaving the U.S.
- Be a sponge. Keep up with national and local news, current events and trends. Learn about the lives and experiences of your new friends, classmates, host family and faculty.
When You Return
Reflecting on your study abroad experience and relating your experience to your home environment is often referred to as unpacking your study abroad experience. Unpacking your experience is important for many academic and personal reasons, but it is also important for your professional development.
Unpacking your experience for professional development helps craft your study abroad story with a career angle. This is the story you will share with recruiters and people in your professional network when describing your growth and development as it relates to your professional interests.
Here are a few things to consider when unpacking your experience:
- Reflect on how you changed.
- Increased appreciation for diversity
- More independence, confidence, responsibility, flexibility and initiative
- Greater openness to new ideas and ways of doing things
- Comfort with ambiguity, change and disorder
- Developed patience
- Take inventory of your skills
- New or increased language skills
- Cross-cultural competence
- Effective communication despite language barriers
- International / Multicultural perspective
- Ability to analyze situations and information and ability to creatively problem solve in foreign environment
- Listening and observing
- Time management
- Capacity to learn and adapt quickly
- Stress management
- Consider what you learned
- Understanding of foreign culture and economic and political matters
- Different perspectives on U.S. or global events
- Craft your story. How will you combine all of this to tell a meaningful, professional and succinct story to a recruiter? Consider how you grew though this experience, what you took from it and how the experience adds to your ability to be successful in the targeted job.
- Meet with a career coach. Your career coach will help you extract the professional aspects of your study abroad experience and help you craft your story for your next interview opportunity. Learn how to make an appointment here.
The easiest way to think about the international search is to ask yourself three simple questions:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to go?
- How do I get there?
Let's look at these questions in greater detail while you design your plan:
1. Where am I now?
- Am I seeking an experience while still in school or after I graduate?
- Why do I want to go abroad? To travel? To meet people? To learn a skill?
- Do I want to start a long-term career or am I looking for a short-term experience?
- What is more important: the job or the location?
- What are the opportunities in my field of interest or in the country I'd like to visit?
- What are my language skills?
- How hard is it to obtain a work permit in my country of interest? What's the best way to get the work permit there?
- Do I have the education I need to pursue my interest?
2. Where do I want to go?
Now that you've the questions above, you can start to formulate your ideas for where you might want to go. One way to do this is to identify your top choices for countries to work or live in. See if you can identify up to 5 countries, in order of your preference. Once you have an idea of the country you might be in, try setting an intention for the top two or three types of opportunities you'd like to have.
Here are some examples:
- I am seeking a volunteer opportunity in Peru where I can develop my language skills and help others.
- I am seeking a career in the foreign service to ultimately work in Africa.
- I am seeking an opportunity that will allow me to live in the British Isles.
- I am seeking an opportunity to develop a business in Australia.
- I am seeking an internship in advertising in France.
- I want to teach English in Japan.
If you can't narrow down your search as in the above examples, try setting an intention that will propel you to keep learning:
- I am going to gather more information so I can focus my international search.
- I am going to gather more information on the opportunities in France.
- I plan to study abroad in Chile next year and look for opportunities while I'm there.
3. How do I get there?
Your system for getting to your chosen country and opportunity will vary. Below you will find a six-step system to help you develop your plan. If you're in need of more information or aren't sure how to do this, meet with a career coach at Liberal Arts Career Services and we'll help you identify the steps and find resources for your specific goal.
Six Steps to Develop Your International Plans
1. Start by asking yourself:
- How can I quickly become an "expert" on the opportunities in my country of interest?
- What resources (books, people, websites) are available to help me?
- What first step could I take to move closer to my goal?
2. Identify the target date for your departure and work back to the present. Determine the amount of time you have left to do your research, get your plans in order, and prepare for your adventure.
- Break your goals down into sub-goals and specific tasks you need to accomplish.
- Try asking yourself, "Can I accomplish my goal tomorrow?" If the answer is "no," then write down the steps you must take before you can accomplish it and insert them into your time-line.
3. Set a financial goal and start saving as much as you can. Money gives you flexibility when you travel and provides support for any troubles you might encounter.
4. Find others who can support you in the process. The international job search can be frustrating and lonely at times. You're doing something others don't even think about and may not understand, so finding support can be key to keeping you at your task.
- Look for opportunities to meet other individuals interested in international topics.
- Talk with professors and other students.
- Seek out alumni from your school who have worked internationally.
- Join clubs which focus on international issues.
5. Keep assessing your progress and change your goals as you progress. If what you're doing isn't working, try a new approach. If you're stuck, it probably means you are missing an important piece of information. What do you need to know to move forward?
6. Remember - stay flexible and focused. Keep your eye on your goal, but don't be afraid to pursue that interesting opportunity that suddenly shows up.