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How to get a job abroad without experience

Getting a job overseas is the most financially sustainable way to travel. Especially for recent university graduates, it comes with some seriously awesome benefits: your employer pays for everything (perfect, because college grads are broke and debt-laden!), your employer helps you through the visa process (perfect, because those mandatory language classes didn’t teach you to read legal documents!), and you suddenly have money to travel (PERFECT, THAT’S WHY WE ARE ALL HERE).

Not so fast.

If you thought it was tough getting a job at home with your shiny new bachelor’s degree, it’s even harder overseas.

I mean, how many companies really want to pay you to learn something from scratch on their dime AND pay a whole bunch of money to fly you over to do it? They can get interns from the local university for a fraction of the cost. In some countries *cough* America *cough* they don’t even have to be paid, because granting an internship is seen as an act of charity. You are literally competing with “free”. Ouch.

So, why should they care about you?

Why should someone pay a whole bunch of money to fly you over (plus pay you a proper salary, because labor laws, which apply only to foreign hires) to do something that a cheap free intern from the local university could do just as well?

In this post I’m going to talk about:

  • How to demonstrate your skills without formal experience
  • How to make yourself easy to hire in a foreign country
  • How to stand out from other (local) applicants

Let’s get started.

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How to get a job overseas without experience

Demonstrate the skills you obtained without professional experience

First things first: Do you have the desired skills? Meaning, can you actually do the job that is being advertised? Read these job descriptions carefully and think to yourself about whether you posess the necessary skills to excel in the position being offered. The honest answer for most recent graduates (or people shifting into a new career) is probably No. No amount of university studies prepares you for the real world 100%, and employers know that.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t go further. Don’t stop at what you learned on campus. Here are a few ideas for how you can show employers abroad that you know how to apply what you learned.

Show off your side projects

Side projects are like work experience you give yourself. Side projects are usually online, but they don’t have to be. Side projects can be websites, newsletters, consulting gigs, or even just gigs you wish you had. Do the job and publish your work online.

Here are a couple ideas of what side projects you could do, based on your intended career path:

  • Visual communications major You have an extensive portfolio of logos you reimagined for local companies, or brands you admire. Each one includes a short writeup of why you designed it the way you did, your color choice, and ideally also some elements of your work process.
  • Business major: You created a monthly subscription service of science experiments and projects for kids at your little brother’s school, whose parents want to encourage them to exlopre math and science. You write up how you decided which packages to offer and how to price them.
  • Computer science major: You taught yourself how to make your dream mobile app and published the code online. Your code is well-documented, has automated tests, and shows considerations for architecture.

Even if no one is paying you to do these things, you can still take on the initiative to create something that shows you can apply your learnings to the real world.

Check out this cool list of side project ideas .

Blog about what you’ve learned

So, you made a side project, but what did it teach you? How will you apply what you learned to your next one?

A thoughtful blog with concrete examples of what you’ve learned, especially one that teaches others to do the same, not only establishes that you’re capable of teaching yourself but also puts you on the road to establishing yourself as an expert.

Employers want experts, don’t they?

Blogging online about your thoughts and learnings on a subject demonstrates your ability to teach yourself something, synthesize the information, and communicate effectively. These are major skills that employers long for!

Stand out from other candidates

I’ve written a lot more on how to stand out as an applicant for a job overseas, but that advice is a bit more geared towards people who have the credentials for a job, but need to convince an employer that they’re worth the risk.

If you’re reading this post, you don’t have credentials and you still need to convince employers that you’re worth the risk.

My number one tip for standing out from other international applicants is to nail the cover letter. If you can’t get yourself in the country to apply in person, write an epic and engaging cover letter that concretely demonstrates your knowledge and enthusiasm.

Getting the hiring manager to talk to you is half the battle if you have the right skill set for the position. Test variants of the cover letter, send follow-up emails, use responses to find out what they’re looking for. You would be shocked how many people copy-paste incoherent cover letters between numerous applicants, silently sealing their fates to never get an interview.

READ MORE: How to stand out as an applicant for a job overseas

Apply for work in in-demand fields

If you’re looking for work in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math), you might be in luck! Because people are so desperate for workers in these fields, countries often make it easier for people with these skills to come into the country for a job. Germany, for example, has a specific Job Seeker Visa which is valid for six months and can be extended to a work permit if the job seeking is successful. In STEM fields, you’re also not required to earn as much in your contract to qualify for the permit as you would be if you were applying for a job in another field.

Be niche

This is how I landed my first job overseas. Well, I had quite some work experience (3.5 years), but that wasn’t what convinced my future boss to bring me over. It was the fact that I was niche.

I had an extremely rare combination of skills. I was a programmer, and I could read Latin and Ancient Greek. Talk about a bizarre combination. With so few people in the whole wide world who can effectively do both things, my pool of competition was relatively miniscule and I was hired almost as soon as I’d agreed to be interviewed.

In a sufficiently niche role, the fact that you have the foundations may be enough to land you the job.

Having a unique combination of skills can set you apart from other candidates enough that it doesn’t really matter whether you you’ve used them much or not.

What weird hobbies or interests can you combine to get a niche job overseas? With that in mind…

Consider a job in academia

What better place for a recent graduate to work than a place full of teachers and students? You may be surprised at how possible it is to get a research job at a university, even if you are not degree-seeking.

Check out this website for finding academic positions in Europe .

Make yourself easy to hire

As much as you can, don’t make the company do 99% of the work. You can and should make it easier for the company to hire you! Here are a few tips for accomplishing this:

  1. Know the country’s laws for hiring foreigners. Many hiring managers have no idea what the legal requirements are for hiring people from the outside. It’s your job to know this. For example: How much money do you need to make to be granted a visa in this country? Will you have to wait long for a visa? Can you work on a freelance basis until your visa is approved? Help the hiring manager feel confident that you are a viable solution to their business problem.
  2. Interview for jobs in person. Take yourself on a long vacation when it comes time to apply for jobs. No employer is going to pay to fly you across the world when you don’t have experience. Some countries don’t even require that you leave the country to apply for residency 😉 That means you can go on vacation, get a contract, and stay long term. Just be sure to pack a big enough suitcase!
  3. Have your ducks (and documents) in a row. Show your employer that you take the opportunity seriously by being able to demonstrate exactly how quickly you could make the move and get to work. Bring all the documents you’ll need to apply for the right visa. Sometimes, being able to meet a time-critical need will be the differentiating factor.

Consider working holiday programs

Working holiday programs allow young people with some money in the bank (usually about $5,000) to roam a country for 6 months or so, picking up odd jobs or just enjoying themselves. They aren’t required to make a mandatory minimum income like other foreigners because they’re only in the country for a “working holiday” with a limited timeframe.

You can use this time frame to search for an internship or junior position, even if you won’t be paid sufficiently to qualify for a real job once your working holiday is up.

This a fantastic way to gain experience, network within the country, and ideally convince your future employer to take you on in a way that is super low-risk to them. It’s a win for everyone.

If all else fails…just get a domestic job and keep trying!

If all else fails, there’s no reason you can’t “bloom where you are planted” (as my mom all our moms would say) and build up experience while you’re looking for work abroad.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, and whatever you do:

DON’T GIVE UP!

Living abroad is something that everyone should experience. Keep trying. Experiment with your CV and cover letters. Work and save as much as you can. You will succeed!

Are you currently in the process of applying for jobs abroad? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing? Share your experiences or questions in the comments, I would love to hear your journey or share what specific advice I can! Everyone owes it to themselves to try life in another country!!

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About the author

Hi there! I'm Monica, an American expat living in Germany for nearly four years and using every opportunity to explore the world from my homebase in Berlin. My goal is to capture my memories in photos and posts that show how easy it is to start from scratch and travel the world by working abroad.

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