Last year I wrote an article called What’s so good about an overseas posting?
The next obvious question to ask is ‘how do you land one?’ Unfortunately, in my experience and observation, there is no silver bullet, but here are six ideas to consider.
1) Internal versus external
There are only two ways to find work overseas: transfer with your own firm or find a job with another one. For an internal transfer, the key is to understand what roles are available, your chance of securing one, and who is ahead of you. I was fortunate in my first overseas posting to “challenging” Tokyo that many of my potential competitors were only interested in “premium” seats in London and New York. For an external move where positions are published and well defined, the difficulty is more how to demonstrate that you are the best candidate.
2) Do the research
No one shows up to a university exam or a triathlon without preparing and hopes to succeed (although I have, and that was a mistake); it’s important to do the preliminary research. For internal transfers: talk to your boss, other heads of division, and human resources and try to get definition about potential roles.
For external transfers: contact recruiters, read websites and journals, and speak to colleagues based overseas. Any information that confirms your conviction will make you a more convincing candidate when a role appears. Visiting your desired destination, whether a business trip or holiday, is also a great way to network and demonstrate your interest.
3) Look for overseas opportunity
Focus on areas of growth because growth creates new roles and opportunity. Try to match your skill set with what is required and what is not available in the domestic market. Many large firms have plenty of local-language salespeople and traders, however the international connectivity of operations or IT makes these roles harder to fill locally. Your proprietary knowledge and overall experience can be a great starting point for creating an employment advantage, particularly if a firm is setting up or expanding in new markets.
4) Make it known
Someone in your network may well hear of a role overseas that is perfect for you. But if they don’t know you’re interested in moving, you may never hear about it. Many people say this is a high risk strategy because ‘what if my current boss finds out?’ But if you have already made a valued contribution to the firm and want to move internally, there is little downside. Your boss is likely to have contacts, provide references and want to keep you in the firm, rather than lose you to a competitor.
5) Be flexible
While some people have specific needs in terms of an overseas destination, being flexible about your location opens up more opportunities because it makes moving you easier for your employer. Taking short-term contracts in different destinations also helps demonstrate your commitment and reduces the risk an employer takes with an offshore posting.
6) The first move is the hardest
Although I benefited significantly from working overseas, to misquote Cat Stevens “the first move is the hardest.” When you are initially deciding whether to go or not, the comforts of your current role and life will seem attractive, while the risks of going abroad will seem daunting. This sometimes results in nervous candidates demanding an inflated package for moving and employers losing interest. But you should look at this start-up risk in a different light: you can always return to your career and life in Australia, but you might not always have the chance to travel and experience life overseas.
Stuart Fox, formerly managing director, head of Asia Pacific commodities at UBS, started as a graduate recruit in Sydney. During his 15-year career, he spent 12 years overseas, with assignments in Tokyo, London, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as extensive business travel throughout Asia, Europe and North America.