The whole reason I started this blog was as a way to publicly answer the question I have been asked for many years, “Judson, how do you get to travel so much?” The answer to that is varied and complex if you want it to be. On one side, it is as simple as saying that I just packed my bag and went for it, but of course, there is a large degree of planning that goes into making the plans which lead to a successful experience abroad.
I don’t regret any of my moves abroad, but not all of them have worked out as hoped. For many years, Europe seemed to be a black box as an American trying to work there. I tried many things and even made a failed attempt to move to England in 2009.
Moving abroad as a student is relatively easy. Perhaps even getting an internship or very entry-level job under the right conditions could be managed without too much difficulty. But what about those of us who have long-sense graduated and are not willing to take a massive pay cut as an intern? It is said that beggars can’t be choosers, and I will confess that some sacrifice might be necessary, but with a good strategy and a lot of motivation, I believe that anyone can find a way to make a successful move abroad and land a satisfying and rewarding job in the process.
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I am thrilled to now say that I have lived and worked for more than two years in Germany and have been having a great time while I am at it. A lot of people have started to now ask “Judson, what tips do you have for now to find work in Germany as an immigrant?” So I thought it was about time that I write down my observations and thoughts about how you too can make a successful move to Europe. Moreover, I think that this advice is relevant regardless of where you are from and to what country you would like to move to.
While reading this, keep in mind that there are many avenues which can lead to a successful move abroad. Maybe you have a heritage claim, are very skilled in your discipline, you’re married to a person from that country, so on and so forth. The following insights are limited to my recent observations but I think you will see the logic behind my claims. If you spot a flaw in my thinking or would like to offer additional ideas, please leave a comment below.
Disclaimer: The opportunity that brought me to Germany was in-part thanks to a friend giving me an inside recommendation at trivago. That friend was a classmate back in my 2000-01 Rotary Youth Exchange year in Oldenburg, Germany, and so yes, my successful move to Germany is yet another “who you know” situation. That said, what I offer below is more generic tips and insights which I believe will be useful to anyone looking for a job abroad.
Another disclaimer: As I mention my employer several times in this post, I would like to point out that my statements do not necessarily reflect the views of trivago, nor are they necessarily endorsed by trivago.
There are smart and talented people with relevant job experience all over the world. So why would a company hire you and take on the headache of immigration visa sponsorship when they could just hire someone down the street? After all, the root of many immigration laws is designed to protect citizens’ ability to work and to have preference over anyone else. A company with a job opening has to prove first that no available applicant in the country can do the job to which you are applying, and therefore they are considering a foreign applicant.
Keeping that in mind, there are three reasons why a company might be allowed to hire an immigrant:
You work in a field which is in high demand and there is a shortage of qualified local applicants (many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs are in this category);
You are truly an expert in your field and bring a level of thought leadership in the industry to the company which can not be found in the country (maybe you wrote a book or gave a TED Talk with millions of views on the topic of the role to which you are applying);
You have native-level fluency in your native language and, as a native of your country, you understand the culture, business, and people to a degree which a non-native person simply can not.
You may very well qualify under point 1 or 2 of this list, but that will apply to a smaller number of people. If 1 and 2 apply to you, then you probably also don’t need to be reading this article (not that it hurts!) because you already have a fast and direct path into your dream job abroad. Point 3 was how I made my current move to Germany, thusly, I argue that your greatest asset is native language and market knowledge.
This is the key part. Actually, this insight, which I only recently became conscious of, is probably the single most important part of finding a job abroad, and it is very simple. You should be looking for companies which meet these two criteria:
Are based in the country where you want to move; and
Do business in the country where you are native.
It’s that simple! But let me explain the logic here. Let’s say you are American and you want to work in Germany (trying to be consistent with my examples here…). American companies with offices in Germany (think: Facebook, Google, Amazon, IBM, Nike, Ford) built those offices because they needed local market knowledge in Germany. They already have plenty of American-based resources. So working for one of these companies in Germany might be quite difficult.
Now consider the large German-based companies which do business in America (think: trivago, Bayer, BMW, Adidas, Puma) they are headquartered in Germany and they seek experts in the markets where they operate. Sure, many of those companies will have offices around the world to service this need, but HQ also needs some people to be present and to offer insight about the various markets around the world in which they operate. This is where you come in. Look for these companies, check out their open roles, and see what might be a good fit.
Pro Tip: do a job search on LinkedIn for the keyword “English” and then add filters for “location = Germany” and “job type = full-time.” The results will be available jobs that require English in Germany! Note that some of them will say, “requires excellent English and German,” but a lot will just mention English. This is your target list of companies.
You may or may not find that the career path you are currently on or would like to be on, falls inside of the permitters of what you are likely to get a visa for. Just the same, there are ways to leverage your experience, whatever it is, to land you a first job abroad. Since we are talking about companies with international reach, they are going to have a number of departments which require the market knowledge and language skills which only a native can deliver on. Here are a few examples:
If none of that sounds like a longterm passion for you, ask yourself, “would an international experience in one of these fields serve me well later in my career for what I really want to do?” If so, then why not give it a try? Not only might you find your way into that coveted visa, but you also will gain valuable experience while getting your foot in the door. This is just the beginning.
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Me either! But the fact is, getting a visa is really hard. Once you have a visa, are in the country, are at the company, then life gets a lot easier. In a lot of circumstances, you can change roles internally at the company (which is what I did at trivago). My first job was as a North American spokesperson for trivago’s B2B products. I had native English and despite having no industry knowledge, I had market expertise because I know how to speak with and present to Americans.
After one year, I shifted into the role I really wanted, software product management, a role which I would have never gotten a visa for, but NOW (and only now) there was an additional argument to say to the visa authorities which was, “Judson understands the American user, hotelier, and has an intimate knowledge of how our business operates, thus making him an ideal product manager which we could not find in another applicant.” See how that worked? It is the ole’ bait and switch! But seriously, it was a good strategy for my long-term goals and yes, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun in that one year as a spokesperson.
Who you know can still play a big role here. Reach out to your network and figure out who works for a company based abroad, knows someone who does, or who might get you an introduction.
Set up informational interviews just to ask the question, “if I were to apply to a role in your country or at your company, what skills, experience, and knowledge, would you find most attractive?
Google phrases similar to “English speaking jobs in __” and “English speaking companies in __” to find articles which cover this topic.
Join networks such as InterNations, CouchSurfing, LinkedIn Premium, XING (German LinkedIn), Rotary, and anything else with a focus on international networking.
Facebook Groups exist for every topic you can imagine. Look around for ones with titles like “Expats in Germany,” or “Expats in Duesseldorf,” and even “English speakers of _.”
Go give this a try, look around LinkedIn, and let me know what you discover and how it went by leaving a comment below. Do you have other advice to offer? Please share that here as well, and good luck, you can do it!