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How to stand out as an applicant for a job overseas

Applying for jobs is kind of the worst. It’s a process of uncertainty for anyone, and depending on your situation, it can feel high-pressure and time-sensitive. Going through that with a company in another country can add a whole new level of tricky and huh? First there’s finding a company that is doing something remotely interesting, then there’s finding one that has an open position you could possibly fill, and then there’s finding out whether they’ll hire foreigners at all.

Getting a job as an international applicant requires a different set of skills and preparation on top of the ones you normally need to get a job in the city you’re already in.

Flowers and a passport

Communication, communication, communication

It goes without saying that communication is super important in just about any job. When’s the last time you read a job ad that didn’t ask for something like “Good oral and written communication skills”, amirite?

Well, in an international workplace, communication skills are even more important.

Most likely, the majority of your coworkers in your new job didn’t grow up speaking English natively. In fact, it may be a third or fourth language, which they’re still learning on the job. If you aren’t a clear communicator, non-native speakers will struggle even more to understand you. And besides just talking, you have to be a good listener to extract information from colleagues who are struggling with how exactly to phrase their ideas. Even if the words aren’t quite right, it’s up to you to piece together what they mean and ask for clarification at the right moments.

Employers with an international workforce know that all the skills in the world are useless unless you can communicate effectively.

Here’s how to show them that you are an expert communicator.

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Use Business English

Presuming you’re working in an international company where English is the working language, adapt your tone to Business English. What is Business English, you may ask? Business English is a variant of English especially related to international trade. Since much of the English communication around the world takes place between two non-native speakers, the goal is efficiency and clarity more than sounding highly educated or well-read.

In short: Avoid slang, turns of phrase, local terms, euphemisms, anything that might just not translate. The last thing you want to do is confuse the non-native speaker who may be reading your applicantion, so they think you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Nail the cover letter

Make sure your cover letter is thought-out, coherent, and free of gramatical errors – and it will distinguish you from many applications right out the gate. The cover letter should be customized based on the position and the company, and sound like a human being wrote it – not a marketing salesman regurgitating pitch after pitch. Since you can’t make yourself feel relatable in person, the cover letter is the best place to introduce a bit of yourself into the interview process and build a bond with the hiring manager.

Prepare a well-organized CV

An organized CV shows an organized thinker. Someone who can take a whole lot of information and condense it down to the bare facts in a digestible way. The CV should show that you are not only a qualified candidate, but have something that sets you apart from the local market. Whether that’s professional background, educational history, or interesting side projects, be sure to include something a little extra to pique the interest of the person reading your CV – and distinguish it from the dozens they get of people who already live there.

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Make sure your virtual interview goes without a hitch

Let’s say your CV and cover letter went through, and you’re invited for a Skype call – congrats! Just being considered is already a huge achievement, and a great sign that you’re on the right track.

Next comes the call.

Even if you’re totally qualified and driven and perfect on paper, there are a lot of ways to royally screw up a phone interview.

Tips for doing an online interview

  1. Make sure you won’t be interrupted. Cat, dog, parrot, “roommate”, make sure they know that mama is BUSY. Having to pause the interview for a reason like this is just wasting someone else’s time.
  2. Make sure your mic is working properly. Absolutely nothing is more painful than technical troubleshooting during an interview call. It also leaves the interviewer with a negative impression, even if it couldn’t be helped.
  3. If it’s a video interview – wear pants. No, actually, just wear pants. You never know when you’re going to have to stand up during a call to silence a FaceTime request from your mom.
  4. Don’t take notes on the computer you’re calling from. The clickity-clack of the keyboard is audible. Just use a pen and paper!
  5. Stay focused. It’s easier to zone out when you’re not maintaining eye contact or sitting right in front of someone. Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ cell phone, so nothing can trip you up.
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Show that you’re in it for the long run

Maybe you really are just trying to score a plane ticket to somewhere – in which case, make sure it doesn’t show! Remember that employees that have to be imported across state lines are expensive: both in terms of time and money. There’s relocation, there’s visa fees, there’s extra time spent by HR to work with the job bureau, plus it just takes a while to get a future employee to drop their life in one country and pick it back up in the next. And all that time spent moving your bum across the planet, the company has to suspend its search for someone else. Presuming that you’ve already got the great qualifications and communication skills, showing that you are a serious candidate who’s looking for some commitment in life will go a long way in helping the company feel comfortable about extending an offer – knowing that they’ve got to wait patiently for you.

Here are some practical ways to do this:

Express interest in the local culture and language. As hard as it can be to believe for someone who aspires to move to a foreign country, not everyone is cut out for life abroad. There are a lot of challenges, and the day-to-day can get exhausting. Sometimes we all just want to give up and live somewhere easy and boring.

For an employer, it’s always a risk when hiring someone who has to undergo such a big change that they might just…not like it. Shoe that you’re in it for the long run by expressing interest in the local language and culture – mention that you’re already studying the language, that you’re interested in the country, and that you have a plan.

Actually have a plan. Do you know the terms of your lease? Do you have somewhere to store all your college furniture? Are your parents (or children) ready to take custody of the elderly cat that can’t make the flight? These are all things that you should get out the way, so you can tell the employer exactly how long it would take you to start working.

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    About the author

    Hi there! I'm Monica, an American expat living in Germany for over six 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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