Landing a Job in a Foreign Land: A How-to in Getting a Job as an Expat

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

By Megan Lillick

Not everyone is as lucky to receive a job offer from abroad. Many of us so-called trailing spouses, follow our partners, husband, or wives on their work assignments overseas without anything lined up ourselves, not even a job lead. At least one of us will have a paycheck at the end of the month, and hopefully it’s enough to support the entire family until the other lands a job. Then there are the brave, who move abroad alone and on a whim with the confidence they’ll find a job upon arrival.

Personally, I’ve been in both situations. I recently followed my boyfriend here to Berlin when he got a job offer while we were living in Seattle. And several years ago, I moved to Spain on my own in hopes to find work while perfecting my Spanish.

In both cases, I struggled to find a job at all, let alone my dream job, as an expat.* But, I’m here to tell you not to worry, that it’s totally doable. You can and will find a job, and your even dream job at best! Just follow our advice below.

*[Because for some of us, like in my particular situation, there’s the inevitable 90 day deadline. I called it the 90 Day Risk. Because without a special visa, Americans can only stay in the Schengen area for a period of 90 days within an 180 day period. And when there’s a ticking time bomb on your legality, there’s no time to waste in landing a job. Luckily, for those of you who are married, you’ll likely have a legal safety via a spousal visa.]

Don’t waste time on your resume, nor that lengthy cover letter...

...because only about 2% of job applicants get an interview. And of those 2%, a majority did not get invited in because of their pretty Canva-made, infographic inspired CV with perfect kerning and headshot, nor for peppering in just the right amount of buzzwords from the job description. They got the interview because they allocated their time with the 10-40-50 rule.

Use the 10-40-50 rule.

It’s a rule based on how recruiters approach hiring. And if you manage your time based on this, you’ll have a better chance at landing that job. It basically recommends that:

10% of your time should be spent on updating your resume, professional profiles, and portfolio website. Also be sure to squeeze in a bit of time to crank out that cover letter.

40% should be spent preparing for the interview (because if you do the following bullet, there’s a good chance get the invite!)

50% should be spent on networking.

So get out there and network!

It’s all about who you know for getting a foot in these days. In fact, more than 90% of positions are filled by someone who knew someone who knew someone.

So the more ‘someones’ you know, it would make sense to say the better chances of landing that job, right? Correct! And the only way to know theses someones is to get out there and meet people in real life. One of the best ways to meet several people in bulk is at networking events.

Don’t limit yourself to only your industry related meetups. Widen your networking net, and attend events outside of your immediate interest and career industry. You might just meet someone who knows someone looking for your exact expertise and profile at his or her company.

If networking seems daunting, especially for you introverts, then rock up to an event with a friend, colleague, or better yet, your cluster.

Job search at coworking cafes.

There are so many here in Berlin, that serve better coffee than your french press. Also being around other job seeking coffee drinkers, will help keep you motivated on the search. And all those are their laptops aren’t jobless. There’s a good chance they’re freelancers and/or entrepreneurs working on their new startup’s business model. Now we’re not saying play footsie to get your table partner’s attention to talk biz. But why not chummie up to that person in line with you when you go up to order your second cup of jo? Ask them what they’re working on. Who knows, Joe or Joanne just might need someone just like you to help them on a project or know someone that knows someone who does.

Learn the language!

It’s a good idea to learn the language of your new country no matter what, even if you’re looking for work in international startups and tech jobs where English is the main language. Proof that you’re taking classes or keen to learn the country’s language shows enthusiasm and determination. Employers like that. In most countries, and in Germany for instance, having a B2/C1 can get you quite far in the application process and even further in the company.

When I arrived in Berlin without a job lined up, I had the time to dedicate to taking intensive language courses at Volksschule and Expath. In the mornings I’d go to class, in the afternoons I’d job search (at cafes) and in the evenings, I’d network.

Language classes are also a great way to meet people. I met a few of my best friends in Germany, who became support when the job search was tough, and I networked with other classmates in my same boat, also looking for work in marketing.

Always keep your head up!

There are tons of articles that can act as a resource in finding a job in Berlin or wherever advise it may be you’re looking for as an expat. But most importantly, you need to keep your head up, especially when the rejection emails come in or no correspondence at all, because it will happen. It’s part of the struggle, but what will make you resilient and appreciate that dream job you land even mean even more when you land it.

It may be helpful to know, having done all of the above, I had a couple job interviews lined up within my first month here, and even got offered my dream job by my second month. So I know you can make it happen, too. Good luck!