We have 20+ collective years of career services experience from the millennial and new-age perspective. Having held roles at companies and organizations like American Express, IBM, Dell, CDC, USAID, and international NGOs, we have always enjoyed mentoring others and giving our view on how to best plan for career success. We are in operations and informatics domain, have experience in leadership positions, and are also having founded a new age, informatics start-up: Cultivatics, Inc. We try our best to remain humble (yet logical and realistic) in our approach to providing career advice after having been through changes such as job transitions, denial of training opportunities, promotions and promotional denials, raises, pay-cuts, workplace discrimination, stereotyping & bullying, having mentors, being mentors, etc. We’ve also had some fantastic experiences growing our skills, showing leadership and strategic direction, and working in great teams at home in the U.S. Yet, abroad we’ve even learned even more from the international perspective.
Here, we wish to answer our most frequently asked questions about living abroad and finding careers overseas. While we are definitely not advocates for any Back to Africa movements nor recommend people doing what we did unless their ducks are in a row and the commitment is there (i.e., selling everything and moving with two babies – although it worked out very well for us), we are just advocates for people living towards their goals and dreams.
Since we’ve gotten (happily) overwhelmed with emails and messages with these questions, we are so delighted to be able to update this page as they continue to come in and we truly hope the advice and resources we provide are useful to you. Feel free to contact us with any questions and we’ll do our best to respond or post the answer here or reply to you directly.
Remember that rejection is evident. Disappointment is going to happen. But in the end, the stars align. Somewhere, somehow, the efforts will still be worth it one day when all of it manifests into existence. Stay encouraged. Living abroad removes us from our comfort zones and allows us to experience something outside of our ordinary routine. While the experience is different for everyone, we are so blessed to have this experience with our third-culture kids. It’s an opportunity we wished to nurture and was in the paths for us. Trust your spirit on what’s best for you and yours – have faith. You’ll be guided. As we always say, faith + planning + faith + execution + faith is a great formula for pressing forward. Best wishes.
May you share your TOP 10 Tips for job-hunting abroad?
Prior to moving to Africa, we knew exactly what we would be doing. Having employers move us here, we were set with our travel, visa, and housing options. But we also have experience of job-hunting while on the continent. A few things we learned are:
- Many jobs are posted, but they already have names attached to them internally
- Some jobs prefer national staff as opposed to an international hire
- It is tricky to find a role that will pay an international salary in international currency…be honest about your preference for an international salary
- Some development jobs are in the proposal phase/pending funding, but aren’t ready for hire (even if the job is posted)
- Old-fashioned networking and tools like LinkedIn and Devex are highly valuable
- A one page resume which highlights accomplishments and gets to the point are best (even with a doctorate & over a decade of experience, my resume is still one page…if asked for my CV, then I have one that’s 4 pages max…)
- One should have several resumes and always a customized cover letter depending on the topic area, know your niche, and continue to network
- Sometimes intimidation exists when screening international candidates (stereotypes re: assuming expats want more money or lucrative (sometimes unrealistic) benefits, the cliques that many expats often associate themselves with, folks thinking international staff have more skills than local staff, feelings of privilege, etc.)
- Sitting behind a computer is not valuable – search for no more than two hours per day and throw at least ten quality applications out per day…again, #7
- Some employers will waste your time to meet quotas (i.e., after four interviews and a promise of an offer, they may send you a general computer-generated rejection email – usually because of reasoning #1)
Keep your head up during your search. This is also a reason why it’s important to have at least six months of living expenses saved so that you can stay afloat financially, and/or multiple streams of income while you find what you are looking for. Best wishes.
Any quick tips regarding which country I should consider for a career-move?
Where to go depends on so many factors. What are your needs and interests? What’s of priority to you? Are you okay with unaccompanied posts that offer many extra financial benefits (to places like Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, etc.)? Have you traveled before? Are you okay with signing a one-to-three year contract? What are YOU looking for at this point in your career?
If you are flexible, recommendations would be to research areas of the world which have high demand for your field of specialty. To make a lucrative living abroad (if that’s of interest to you), it’s important to understand how competitive may be. Popular destinations may have less options, so consider the country next-door instead just to get your foot in the door and to get to the region. If a gap of yours is not having international experience, then consider short-term consultancies initially or (if you can) volunteer projects abroad just to enhance your resume.
We also recommend choosing a country where access to your interests and necessities are applicable. If you may need a quick exit strategy should an emergency happen back in your home country, then consider locations that are close to airport hubs. If you know that you’d like much leisure travel to specific countries at low-cost, then consider a country that has a hub nearby or within that region.
Our honest recommendation is that you should really already be confident and have some level of advancement in your current field. Abroad careers (other than teaching) usually do not hand-hold and if coming over as an international expat, there is an expectation that you are somewhat of an expert or go-to person. This isn’t always the case, but it has been for us (fields of informatics and operations).
Another thing to consider includes the city. Many times, we focus on one city in a country, but there may be others that are better fit for our needs, lifestyle, and interests. Don’t rule those out. So many people immigrate to the USA with hopes of landing in New York City or Los Angeles…but they may have never heard of Phoenix or Seattle or Atlanta or St. Louis, for example. And while it can get overwhelming applying to jobs abroad, it’s okay to hone down. Focus on applying to one region this week, another region or country the next week, etc. If you have the flexibility to do so, dedicate an hour a day to researching and it will make a world of difference in your perspective to international careers.
And if timelines are of importance to you (moving during the summer in order for your children to start school in the fall), then start applying nine months in advance. It can take time to move, especially if the organization requires many rounds of assessments and interviews, medical exams, needs time to process your work and residency permits, plan for your move from their end, etc.
Will an employer really pay for annual flights, housing, an international education for children 5-18, health insurance, and other benefits for me?
The short answer is, it depends.
It’s definitely the type of employer we recommend expats looking into. Why? Because of three words: peace of mind. We didn’t really realize until leaving the federal government that there are many organizations that do provide such benefits to international staff as a norm, others who do it depending on the role and expertise of the position (or other criteria), and some who do not provide such benefits at all. Personally, these benefits are important to us, so when choosing where to apply and/or negotiating an offer, these are the benefits we make sure we are able to obtain.
We do allow for flexibility, though. For example, moving to Liberia required a visa for each of us. The visa is $200 per person. Our organizations reimbursed that cost upon arrival. However, flights were booked and paid for by them. Another example is that our jobs do not provide the housing, but they provide a monthly housing allowance (or an advance of a housing allowance since most housing here requires six-months to be paid in advance). If monthly, the extra allowance is added to your paycheck and can be used to pay your rent. One last example is that our children attend a daycare here in Liberia. Since they are under 5, school is not paid for. Most organizations that offer education benefits offer it for children from K-12 in the form of an international school tuition allowance (think an expensive American private school or a private school on a British curriculum, for example). Our most recent employers did not offer that option. However, it wasn’t a deal breaker for us since our children are toddlers and wouldn’t qualify to use that benefit anyway.
Annual flights home mean that the organization will pay for you, spouse, and dependents (based on criteria) to travel to your home of record at an agreed upon time…or to another location that doesn’t cost any more than that flight. So some people opt to go home to visit, while others opt to vacation somewhere else instead. The number of annual flights is usually one per year by most standards, but there are some employers that provide a budget instead…and you can take as many flights as you’d like until that budget is exhausted. Locale may also determine how many flights you get. Some locations are considered hardship zones (i.e., people working in Afghanistan) and that often comes with additional financial or travel benefits for clarity and mental health recuperation.
Also, definitely be ready to negotiate and compromise. Some benefits may be set in stone, but consider any other requests (i.e., salary negotiation is always a necessity, work from home options, etc.). International health insurance is usually provided to expat staff and family. It’s great because it often includes the option to visit any doctor abroad (there are many good ones who are trained in Western countries or are from there) and can also be used at your regular providers back in your home country when you visit. Health insurance also usually includes medevac services (being transported to another country or area to receive necessary treatment), which is very important when working in areas that may not have the most advanced infrastructure or care options in an event of an emergency. We hope this information is helpful.
I want to start a business abroad. Any advice?
Starting a business anywhere depends on the rules and governance of that country or jurisdiction (this assumes your business is of legal standards both under the regulations in your home country and the country of which you will do business). While you may feel there is a need for your business and that a country is just waiting on you to come work there (there may be), also realize that sometimes no one cares more than you do…as there really may be no interests at all. This is why the following tips are helpful so that you do not waste time nor money on investments that may not be valid nor authorized. With your business, always make sure you are answering a true need (not based off speculation or what you think is needed, but after assessing what’s truly needed). Definitely consult an attorney, tax professional, and/or accountant who has experience in setting up international entities for expert advice, but. the recommendations listed here are for those who are serious about starting a business in the global realm from what we’ve learned:
- Do your research on registration and taxes (locally and in your home country)…what breaks exist? What brackets and structures are in place for protection of your enterprise and/or assets?
- Personally, we registered our business in our home country first (for peace-of-mind, and legalities re: taxes, etc.). Should you register as a LLC, Inc., etc.?
- Are you providing a product or service? Is confirmation of ownership re: branding required (We’ve seen many imitations of businesses naming-wise…)?
- Consider your customer base and your goals. If you hope to have local customers, note that your payment structure may not be the same as what you would charge in your home country. Also note that not all countries have the same magnitude of focus on customer service as you may have.
- Is your business to be done locally, online, or a hybrid of both? Either way, as you are aware, the first step is to have a business plan! At any point, should someone ask you about your business, you should be able to reference your business plan…it may be an ever-changing document…but it should be an existing document none-the-less.
- Are you looking for investors and/or funding streams or will your current capital help you get up and running?
- Have you done a crosswalk of the who, what, where, and when for the locale you are considering (in regards to what currently exists and whether there is a need for what you are offering)?
- Do you know who your competitors are in the country in which you are seeking your business venture?
- What is your strategy for marketing and exposure? This should start well before your arrival in the new country. Again, don’t just assume people are waiting on you to show up, or that they have the funds to pay you.
- Be abreast of the political climate and any cultural implications that may impact how your business is perceived or influenced. For example, here in Liberia, there is a new government and during the election, many new business opportunities ceased pending confirmation of the new administration. If you just showed up with your glorious business idea at that time, you may have been surprised to learn that not many dollars or processing of paperwork was underway until things settled with the government
- If you are moving to a country and providing a service where you hope to obtain U.S. federal government aid and contracts for your work, make sure to register at the System for Award Management (SAM) website.
- Follow the proper procedures and do not cut corners. Using a friend of a friend is okay for general information, but if it’s only to save a few bucks or to expedite a process, it may not be worth it. Just go through the front door instead…especially if you are not a citizen of that country. Don’t get caught up in unethical behaviors or shortcuts. Do things the right way so that it’s properly documented and assessed. While trust and relationships are definitely core factors of business engagement, so is documentation and peace-of-mind. Even if things may
Truth is, we’ve heard so many stories about people coming over to sell products, but not having researched the import procedures of the country (which can sometimes take many months)…or others coming over to start schools, but not having researched that while you mean well in your humanitarian spirits, many people are happy to just receive and the return on your investment may be minimal (or it may be grand). It all just depends. Do your research, create your village of those who have lessons-learned to share with you, and remain focused.
I want to be paid in the currency of my nationality…and not a local salary in the country I wish to go to. Is this possible?
If you’d like to be paid an international salary (highly recommended), then apply to roles that are owned or founded by someone from your country. We are paid in U.S. Dollars to our U.S. bank account. This is so beneficial and stress-free. We haven’t had to open a local bank account which could bring its own new worries of security concerns, long lines, minimal (or not) electronic banking options, etc. We have no ATM fees with our bank and there are no conversion fees since where we live takes USD, so that’s an added benefit. Another thing to think of when considering careers abroad is that payment may be once a month. In the U.S., those in academia and a few other fields get paid monthly. But the majority of folks are paid every two weeks. And if getting paid in the currency of your nationality (advised), that will usually be processed from your home country (thank God). There are definitely horror stories of local staff (paid in local funds in-country) not getting paid on-time and there being many local bank processing and transmission errors. To us, it blows our mind to think that something so routine and simple as monthly salary payments are consistently delayed or erroneous. To avoid such, international staff’s salaries are usually processed from any headquarters, etc. So in our examples, our checks are/were processed from the U.S. and direct-deposited into our U.S. bank account…on time every month. We highly recommended that mode of payment and currency paid be something you research before starting your new role abroad.
What is a great resource for finding global roles? Who is hiring? Are positions really “available” or not?
Our recommended go-to site is Devex. While it’s free to search and apply, there is a premium subscription option of which you should consider taking advantage of (think it’s $10 a month or so). That allows you too see premium jobs and sometimes even hiring manager contact details. It’s a great site for seeing what’s listed. Please, however, keep in mind that we live in a who you know world.
What we learned along the way that we wish we knew before…Many jobs may be posted that are 1) already planning to be filled internally or is slated for a friend of a friend, 2) may have already been filled and HR has not yet removed the job posting, 3) may not be a funded position but pending a new financial award (note whether it says that the role is for an “anticipated award” or for a “funding proposal”), 4) may be posted just to meet a quota of resumes received or interviews conducted…all while knowing that the position is not really available, etc.
We highly recommend securing employment before moving. There are so many expats who move over (with savings) and do well…and others that move over (with savings) and end up not being able to sustain. This is reality. We’ve only moved with positions already secured and even then, there were still hurdles to cross. LinkedIn is another great resource to research organizations, see profiles of people who work in certain roles, etc. Such can assist you in knowing what that organization looks for in a candidate. It also allows you the opportunity to find a recruiter, director, or HR representative and ask questions. Our most common question is I saw that the ___ role is listed. Is it actively recruiting? You will not believe how many times we received a response stating that it was already filled or that the position was cancelled. Well, why is it still posted? At least you would not have wasted time in applying. Be strategic about sending out applications. A one-page resume of your accomplishments and the value you’ve added to your roles (not your duties), a customized cover letter, references, a copy of your credentials, passport-sized photo, etc. are things that are regularly asked for when applying internationally. Happy hunting!
How can I find a teaching position abroad?
We’ve heard of Footprints and The International Educator (TIE). Definitely check out those sites! Footprints shows how many positions are still available and are known to communicate very effectively with candidates. TIE also provides the option to subscribe (annual fee) but it gets your resume directly to the institution. They will reach out if interested. Hope this helps!
Should I move & then job-hunt once in-country?
Honestly, we wouldn’t do this unless you are so very confident that your skills are in demand and there are truly open opportunities (that have been verified). But our situation may be different from yours as we need consistently regular income at all times. We haven’t moved without having something lined up. But even though such may work for you, these are our top five things to consider:
- Are you networking with possible employers prior-to your move?
- Have you really done your research on the cost-of-living for your lifestyle, needs, family structure, etc.? Are you abreast of the laws-of-the-land (simple things like many countries requiring 6-12 months upfront rent payment prior to move-in may impact your budget, for example).
- Will you purchase a private health insurance option that covers expats like the popular ones: Aetna International or Cigna International expat plans or would you be expecting this benefit from your employer? Please note that the Affordable Care Act’s “Obamacare” options do not cover international health services.
- Know that nothing is promised. You may be coming over to a country only to find that an organization is shutting it’s doors due to funding ending or that a role slated for an international hire was just revised to be filled by a local hire instead.
- Once in-country, there may be implications of consistent immigration renewals, which could get costly. If tied to an employer prior to arrival, visas and permits are often processed and financially covered for you. Do your research. There’ve been many stories of people having to leave countries and complete re-entry every 90 days or so as a way to not proceed in residency…there are often immigration requirements for residency and work permits depending on your reasoning for being in-country and your nationality. Again, do your research.
Hopefully this may be helpful. Do what’s best for you. And be smart about it…
Do you have any resume tips for applying to global jobs?
Most definitely. Unless you are a Noble Peace prize winner, please consider a one-page resume. Even with a doctorate degree, I keep my resume at one page. The average recruiter or hiring manager spends seconds on resumes.
- Make sure your resume focuses on your accomplishments and your value to the organization, not your duties. From the job title, your duties are assumed and likely obvious. But in that role, how did you make an impact? How many customers did you serve? How many dollars did you save the organization? Etc.
- Tell the truth. It is important, though, to make sure that any of the keywords from the job description are in your resume…but only if you have done that task or have that experience.
- Make a brief cover letter that sets you apart. And when applying for jobs, make sure to address the cover letter appropriately each time. It’s a hassle, but it makes a world of difference should it get into a real person’s hand…(referring to the fact that, unfortunately, many applicant tracking systems first screen by keyword before it’s ever seen by a human).
- Your keywords should reflect any synonyms as well. I was once told that my application didn’t get referred because I don’t have information systems experience…even though that’s the domain of my entire career. When further inquiring, the recruiter mentioned that I only had experience in computer science and informatics. Uhhhhhh…..that is information systems! So make sure to write any other related terms on your resume too.
- While age discrimination is such a hot topic (unfortunately), it’s recommended that you remove dates from your education section.
- Note that people reviewing your resume are not always competent in your field. If you feel more comfortable getting your resume into the hands of someone else other than HR, get creative and use resources like LinkedIn to network and send it over with a message…that way, at least someone else has a copy. That’s also why it’s so important to follow-up after submitting.
- Spell-check and grammar-check your resume manually as well. I can’t believe I recently had “university” spelled incorrectly and my computer didn’t catch it. I sent that resume out to quite a few places. Be accountable for clarity and readability.
Side Note(s): There’s been some debate about photos on resumes and the new age style of colors and different fonts. Research what works for your field and go from there. It is sometimes a breath of fresh air to see a resume that’s easy on the eyes…but it just depends. Also, note that many local staff include personal items on their resume such as date of birth, marital status, religion, etc. As an international expat, please do not do that. Name, email, phone number, and maybe a website link are all that’s needed for your contact section. Even a full address is not necessary and can cause judgement.
Please tell me the truth about global NGO job postings…
From our experience, the non-governmental organization (NGO) options are most popular because they receive guaranteed funding from big donors (like the U.S. government, European aid, big foundations like the Gates or Clinton Foundation, or big private donors like Bloomberg, etc.). NGOs are often registered business entities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe, etc. which means that many operate just like a company, but with humanitarian focus area(s).
Whether you should consider an NGO or not may just depend…we’ve found that after having Corporate America and U.S. federal government experience, NGOs may or may not have the same level of process-oriented execution nor professional acumen as what we are used to. There’s a lot of red tape, often-times limited procedures for documentation or processes, and even ethical issues since there are political and cultural barriers that impact how funding is managed…
Many NGO jobs already know who they want for a role. We must just be real about that. You’ll apply online, the application often goes to someone who is not skilled in your area of expertise, you may get an interview, you may meet all the qualifications, and you may receive a rejection…only to find out later that someone who knew someone was hired. All-in-all, nepotism runs rapid and is very common. We recommend reaching out to the organization first to confirm whether the job is truly an open position. We also recommend you speak with someone from your nationality, if at all possible (use LinkedIn to network). For example, many HR representatives are from the culture in which you are applying…and can sometimes be a gate-keeper (think: international staff often make much more money than local staff…), and we’ve had many to become jealous upon learning that the applicant is a Black American…so we prefer to reach out to an American to at least inquire. That’s our preference just for the basis of (maybe) an opportunity for (maybe) a fair chance, but then again, that’s backfired on us too because when the American has found out that the applicant is Black, all of a sudden after multiple interviews, we’ve received correspondence that our skills do not align with the job role (even if it does 100%) – we have many proven examples of this.
Honestly, you really want to work where you are wanted anyway. So keep your head up if you experience discrimination during the application process.