Finding Employment Abroad

Job Search Strategies for Expats

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by Cyrus Kioko


The journey to snagging that perfect gig overseas can be a tad overwhelming. There’s a ton of paperwork to wrap your head around, not to mention the intense competition and new cultural norms you need to work around. But fear not because today’s post is all about helping you navigate the murky waters international job hunting can be. 

In a nutshell, job search strategies for expats include obtaining a work visa and permit, localizing your CV and cover letter, and leveraging expat networks, recruitment agencies, and online platforms to find job openings.

Let’s zoom in on these strategies to help you understand how each can help you land your dream job in a foreign country. 

Getting a Work Visa and Permit

This might not be part of the job search per se, but it’s a super important step because:

  • It affects your eligibility for job opportunities. Most countries won’t let you apply for a job without a work visa or permit. Some even demand specific work visas and permits for certain jobs.
  • It gives you a competitive edge. It’s not uncommon for foreign employers to prioritize candidates with the legal right to work in their country. Employers often have to jump through hoops to obtain work visas and permits for foreign employees. Having that paperwork already makes you an easier hire, putting you a cut above the competition. 
  • It helps with legal compliance. Working without authorization can lead to serious consequences, such as deportation, bans, and fines. It can also lead to penalties for your employer, as immigration laws typically prohibit individuals and organizations from hiring foreigners who don’t have the necessary paperwork.

So before you get on with your job search, figure out what paperwork you’d need to work in your destination country and make arrangements to get your hands on it. 

I’ve done a whole post on work visas and permits, the different types available for expats, and how to get them. If you’re interested in that guide, check it out here

Localize Your CV/Resume

We all know the important role a CV (or resume, whichever term you prefer) plays in landing any job. Your CV can make or break your first impression on potential employers. It acts as your professional snapshot and can significantly impact your chances of being considered for a job interview.

That’s why it’s in every job applicant’s best interest to ensure their resume presents them in their best light. For conventional job seekers (i.e., people seeking employment in their home country), that means optimizing their CVs such that they highlight their skills, experiences, and qualifications effectively. 

However, expats need to go the extra mile beyond making sure that their CV highlights their unique skills and experiences. They need to localize their CVs to ensure they conform to the professional and cultural norms in the host country. This nifty tweak can significantly boost the chances of getting noticed by local employers.

Let’s look at some of the things you can do to localize your CV.

Research the Preferred CV Format in Your Destination Country

Employers in different countries may have varying expectations for CV structure, content, and length. For instance, UK-based employers are accustomed to one-to-two-page CVs centered around personal details, education, work experience, and skills. On the other hand, their US-based counterparts are used to longer, more detailed resumes organized around specific job experiences.

As an expat, it’s in your best interest to match your CV content, length, and structure to what local employers are familiar with. This way, your CV won’t stand out for the wrong reasons, potentially causing you to miss out on lucrative opportunities.

The easiest way to find out the most popular CV format in your host country is to perform a quick Google search. Look for websites or forums that discuss job-seeking and CV writing in that specific country. If that seems like too much work, use expert-approved online CV makers or hire a professional CV writing service that specializes in that country’s job market.

Translate Your CV to the Host Country’s Official Language

Expats often work in countries with a different official language from what’s used back home. If you’re in such a predicament, you’ll need to translate your CV into the local language. 

Avoid using automated translation tools. They may be convenient, but they don’t always capture the subtleties and context of certain words or phrases. This can lead to inaccuracies and awkward phrasing, resulting in a CV that’s difficult to understand or conveys incorrect information about you.

The best way to translate your CV is to use a native speaker, preferably a CV writing expert who knows the local job market well. They’ll accurately translate your CV without compromising its context and phrasing, ensuring proper localization. 

Only Include the Necessary Personal Information on Your CV

In some countries, personal information like age, photograph, and marital status may be considered unnecessary or inappropriate in a CV. The US is a perfect example of such countries.

Including such information in your CV when applying for employment in the US is generally frowned upon because it may lead to discrimination and potential bias in the hiring process. The only personal information required is your contact info, full name, mailing address, and a link to your LinkedIn profile. 

On the other hand, including that information is recommended when applying for jobs in European, African, middle eastern, and Asian countries.

So before you draft your CV, find out what kind of personal info is required and include it as required. 

Optimize Your CV With Local Keywords

This simply means incorporating industry-specific words and phrases commonly used in your host country’s job market. It might seem trivial, but this simple hack can drastically boost the chances of your CV getting noticed by recruiters and applicant tracking systems. 

Finding the most relevant keywords to incorporate in your CV is relatively easy. Scour your host country’s job market, noting the phrases commonly used in job postings and descriptions.  These should form the pool from which you draw your keywords.

But you’re not done just yet.

You still need to filter out keywords that aren’t relevant to your industry. To do that, repeat the same process, but this time limit your search to the industry you’re looking to work in. You should have a handful of keywords at this stage. All you need to do is use your judgment to pick what best aligns with your specialty, education level, and experience.

Finding relevant keywords to use in your CV is only one part of the equation. You still need to figure out where to place them. Here are some recommendations:

  • The professional summary or objective section.
  • The work experience section.
  • The skills section.
  • Parts that mention job titles, education, or company names.

Localize Your Cover Letter

Your localization efforts don’t end with your CV. You also need to work on your cover letter to ensure it aligns with the local formatting standards and business etiquette.

The first thing you need to work on is the tone. Word choice matters in a cover letter. The tone you use to address hiring managers reflects your professionalism, personality, and how well you fit into the company’s culture.

So make sure the language you use in your cover letter is consistent, formal, and in line with the host country’s cultural conventions. If you need to translate your cover letter, use a native speaker.

Once you have the tone on lock, turn your attention to the formatting. Adapt your cover letter to the standard format used in your destination country, paying attention to small details such as paragraph intent, font type and size, who it should be addressed to, and so on.

The easiest way to get an idea of the tone and format preferred in your host country is to look up samples of cover letters online. These should be easy to find, as most CV-and-cover-letter-writing service providers have free samples and templates on their websites. The key is to choose a service provider who specializes in writing CVs and cover letters targeting employers in your host country.

Read at least three letters from such service providers to get an idea of what’s expected. Note any differences between your current cover letter and what’s expected and adapt accordingly.

Remember the standard cover letter optimizations, too. You probably know these already, but here are some pointers:

Customize Your Cover Letter to Each Position

A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works for cover letters because employers in various companies and industries look for different things in a potential hire.

I know it can be a bit of a hassle to customize your cover letter for each application when you’re sending out multiple job applications, but it’s a necessary evil in the job-hunting process. It’s one of the best ways to show potential employers that you not only posses the skills they’re looking for, but also align with the company’s values, mission, and work culture. 

Mention Any Experience You’ve Accrued in the Host Country

Of course, this only applies if you’ve worked or lived in the country you’re looking to work in. If you’ve never worked in the host country, you don’t need to mention that in the cover letter unless the job advert specifically requests that information. Instead, highlight any knowledge you have about:

  • Your industry.
  • The local market (i.e., the market your employer operates in).
  • Local customs.
  • The local language.

You can find this information online with a bit of research. It might mean extra work on your part, but every competitive advantage is always worth pursuing when you’re up against job applicants from all over the world.

Highlight Your Adaptability

This goes for all job seekers, but it’s more important for expats. When you move to a foreign country to work, you’ll often have to work around new languages, customs, work practices, and social norms. Being adaptable makes you better placed to cope well with these changes, reducing the risk of culture shock and easing the transition into the new environment.

Foreign employers understand the importance of this capability. They also know that adaptable candidates tend to be resourceful and quick thinkers. For these and many more reasons, they tend to favor candidates who can quickly assimilate into the local workspace. That’s why highlighting your ability to quickly adapt to new working environments is so important when applying for jobs in a foreign country.

Having never worked in a foreign country shouldn’t stop you from highlighting your adaptability. You can always demonstrate how you adjusted to changes in your previous employer’s policies, technologies, or procedures, whether as a result of changing employers or internal organizational changes.

Make Good Use of Expat Networks 

As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Personal connections can be just as, if not more, important than qualifications when job hunting in a foreign country.

Don’t believe me?

How’s this for a stat? As reported by CNBC, recent research estimates that 70% of job openings don’t even make it to job boards and other similar advertising channels, and a staggering 80% of jobs are secured through professional network connections. 

Elsewhere, a less-formal survey conducted by Lou Adler in 2016 found that a whopping 85% of hires were made through professional networks. I could list many other stats, but I’d rather leave something for your imagination.

The bottom line is that networking is one of the best ways to find jobs in foreign countries, and you need to tap into its immense power to find lucrative offers. With the right professional network, you can find jobs before they’re advertised.

The question is, how do you build such a network as an expat?

In all honesty, it takes time and effort, especially when you don’t have friends, family, or professional affiliations in your host country.

Here’s what you can do for a start:

Join Online Expat Communities

This is probably the easiest way to network as an expat. Websites like InterNations and and social platforms such as Reddit and Facebook make it super easy to access expat communities.

If you choose Internations, read the fine print regarding their auto-renewal policy for paid memberships. I’ve heard of people finding it hard to opt out of some of those subscriptions, but it’s nothing a quick Google search can’t solve. Other than that, it’s a solid platform for connecting with expats from various parts of the world.

Attend Industry Events

Attending industry events is one of the most effective ways to network. It’s arguably better than online platforms because face-to-face interactions allow personalities to shine through, often resulting in deeper, more genuine professional relationships.

And since industry events are typically tailored to attract individuals with shared interests and professional goals, you have a good chance of striking a rapport with like-minded individuals. If you’re lucky, you might even meet industry leaders, potential employers, or influential professionals and hopefully leave a lasting impression that opens all kinds of doors in the future.

How do you find these events?

Well, Google is a great place to start your search. Plug in keywords related to your host country and your specific industry, and look for websites listing conferences, workshops, or anything along those lines.

If that doesn’t yield results, check industry-specific pages, groups, and profiles on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Event organizers often use these platforms to promote upcoming events.

And if there are professional associations in your host country related to your industry, check their websites or contact them directly to inquire about upcoming events. These associations often organize conferences, workshops, and networking events.

Consider Using Recruitment Agencies

Recruitment agencies can be an invaluable tool in your job search, but only if you choose wisely. By “choosing wisely,” I mean working with an agency that knows your destination country’s local job market well and prices their services reasonably.

Working with the right recruitment agency can open up opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

What do I mean by this?

Well, it’s not uncommon for high-profile companies to entirely outsource talent acquisition to reputable staffing agencies. Google, Microsoft, Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G), JPMorgan Chase, and Apple are just a few examples of big companies that have partnered with various recruitment agencies in the past and continue to do so.

Companies with such agreements usually don’t advertise job openings publicly. Instead, the company notifies the staffing agency when they need to fill a position, and the agency acts discreetly to find suitable candidates. So if you’re not registered with the agency, you won’t even know that that company is hiring.

Recruitment agencies typically begin their talent search by scouring their existing candidate database for the best fit for the open position. They only start looking elsewhere when they can’t find a suitable candidate in their database. That means registered candidates not only get to know when top-tier companies are hiring, but also get prioritized for the opening.

Better still, recruitment agencies usually understand the local job market more than the average expat. Things like employer preferences, in-demand skills, and industry trends can be tricky to figure out when you’re a foreigner, and working with a reputable agency takes that off your plate.

Lastly, some recruitment agencies help with work visa and permit processing, CV and cover letter writing, interview preparation, and networking.

So as much as you don’t like having to pay to get access to work, I highly recommend tapping into the immense value recruitment agencies provide international job seekers. Be sure to work with one with a proven track record of placing expats and ensure their fee structure has no hidden costs. 

Leverage Online Platforms

The internet is becoming an increasingly popular tool for job seekers worldwide, and it’s easy to see why: it allows people to access job listings from all around the world in just a few clicks. The trick is to know where to look, and you’ve got several options in this regard:

  • Job boards and professional networking platforms like Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Monster, and SimplyHired.
  • Websites that cater to expats, such as ExpatCareers, ExpatJobs, and
  • Pretty much every social media platform.
  • Company websites.

Keep in mind that not every job offer you encounter on the internet is legitimate. Internet scams are more common than ever, and job advertising platforms have arguably been hit the hardest.

Also, ensure that your online presence, including social media profiles, is professional and reflects your qualifications positively. Employers often check applicants’ online presence before making hiring decisions.

Cyrus Kioko
Cyrus is a seasoned blog post writer with over five years of experience in crafting and editing articles spanning technology, lifestyle, and finance niches. Fueled by an authentic passion to contribute valuable insights, he has invested thousands of Netflix-less hours in research for this site. Each piece he writes is aimed at empowering readers to make well-informed, real-life decisions. Holding a degree in commerce and armed with ample copywriting courses, he brings both expertise and a touch of nerdy flair to the table.
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