The world economy and politics are sailing thru muddy waters, but this is especially true for those of us from so-called third world countries. Between the civil wars, violence, corruption, crazy governors, it can be hard to keep track of the latest and greatest threats to your livelihood. So, naturally, moving abroad can prove to be alluring escape for those who aspire to leave the uncertainty and volatility of their home countries behind. In the youth of my career I had dreams of what working abroad might be like: Diverse companies. Parks as far as the eye could see. Clean energy practices. Forward-thinking colleagues. Once I made the leap, however, I quickly realized that every city has its ills. There’s no utopia. Instead you have to find a city that fits with your mindset and lifestyle acknowledging that there will always be downsides too.
For me, San Francisco is that city. And after I moved here, I started getting daily emails and Linkedin messages from people trying to make a similar leap. Sometimes they would ask for advice, referrals, or even moving tips. More than anything, though, they posed one recurring question. “Is there a secret to find a job abroad?” And my answer was always the same:
There is no secret.
People don’t get here because of a magic trick or a spell. I never put a dollar bill bellow my pillow and prayed to Obama expecting that the Living in the USA fairy would come and whisk me away. As many of the people I know that live here, it took years of work, milestones, and networking to get to this point. People have been through tough moments in their lives and careers, and asking if there is a shortcut undermines that hard work. Because the brutal fact is that in order to be living here, we needed to prove several times that we were overqualified for our jobs — otherwise, it would have been way easier, cheaper, and faster for a company to hire a local talent.
I am not saying that those who just started working or who are not working at an internationally known company have no chances of making the leap. I’ve seen it happen. And believe me — with tools like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Behance, Cargo Collective and others — it’s easier than ever to get discovered. Companies know that the most diverse their staff is, the better the work gets. Because of this foreigners will always be welcome at companies that want to survive in the world of 2018.
And as a foreigner I always want to try and help people who come from similar backgrounds as mine. So instead of coming up with a solve for what’s the secret to working abroad, I’ve created two lists based on my personal experience and the experiences of other people i know: “Different ways to work in the USA” and “Tips to increase your chances of working abroad”. I hope you enjoy it.
Different ways to work in the USA:
This is the way I got here. I worked for my employer for 4 years before I moved to the USA. To get it approved by the Immigration Department this visa requires that the applicant has a managerial role, with people reporting to them, and that the company has operations in both countries. This condition requires an L1 visa and in most cases, it is sponsored by the company. This means that the companies need to kick off the visa process. Bonus for the married ones out there: this Visa allows spouses to live AND work in the USA.
If someone has proven that they are extraordinary in a specific field, they can be granted something called a O1 visa. So how do you qualify for this honor? By collecting as many publications and awards as you can. By proving you’re recognized as a top-tier talent in your field, you can begin to craft you case. Companies usually sponsor O1 visas, and will help with the process, but I have also heard of people doing it on their own. I also have seen many different successful scenarios: from recently graduated people to executives.
There is a type of Visa issued by the American government that is based on a raffle to determine who enters or not–the H1B Visa. It’s a luck play and the government issues a fixed amount of them, twice a year. Once people apply for it and it gets approved, they can start working/living after a couple of months. This one doesn’t require a company sponsoring it, and they can do it on their own. It’s not guaranteed, but it is definitely an alternative to be considered.
I would strongly encourage people to come as early as they can. Unfortunately, studying abroad isn’t cheap, nor is it easy — the applicant has gotta be approved by an American university beforehand. After they graduate, they are generally granted a work permit allowing for a few years employment in the USA. Use this time wisely and you should be able to convince a company to change your work permit into a full-blown visa.
Get a Green Card
Unless you have $500,000.00 to invest in the USA by founding a company, it’s almost impossible get a Green Card right away. Every type of visa above has it’s unique way to be turned into a Green Card. Some require more time living here, others require more legal assistance.
Tips to increase your chances of working abroad:
You don’t speak the language like they do
And you probably never will. That’s fine. Having an accent isn’t an issue — it shows you have a different background and have a lot to add to the team. Be prepared to spend a couple of years struggling with your language skills, even if you consider yourself a fluent speaker. If your role requires fluent speaking skills consider going under a lower level position, so you can get used to it without compromising your career. And believe me: you will think you will never make it at some point. Be patient. One day you will make your voice heard.
You don’t present like they do
Americans are natural born speakers. They’ve been taught presentation skills since primary school so it’s only natural they do it well. Get used to the idea that you will have to present to the mirror thousands of times before you can begin to clearly convey your meaning and start inspiring people. Consider taking speech or even acting classes before moving to the US.
Finding a job abroad is a full-time job
The interview process in foreign companies can take months. Even if they are hiring locally, they want to be 100% sure it’s the right fit for both sides. And if you’re relocating from another country things can get even longer. Also, be prepared to join several calls with different time zones and organize your calendar throughout the whole hiring period.
You are about to enter a whole new culture, surrounded by people from many places. The worst thing you can do is be come across arrogant or ignorant of their social norms. From Linkedin, to messages, to the interview process, you’ve have to make sure people understand your point in a very nice, positive and humble way.
Avoid being seen as a generalist
In my country, we tend to go above and beyond the scope of our roles: an interface designer may constantly be asked to do campaign art direction work, and we end up developing a broader range of skills. It’s great for developing your understanding of the industry and we all grow stronger because of it, but foreigners are a bit more pragmatic. You have to be crystal clear and super honest about what you’re expecting to do on your next job. Use your “above and beyond” skills to help you as you move forward on your career.
Always expand your network
Create your network of people abroad. Recruiters, managers, directors. Connect to them, talk about your next move. Just be aware that people are always busy, and try to keep it concise and easy to understand. There is a soft line between making your point and overwhelming people with requests and multiple conversations.
Seek for Publications and Awards
Make sure yourself and your work are being featured on specialized media portals and magazines. Show your work on a portfolio, make sure your Linkedin and curriculum info are up-to-date. If there is an award in your industry, make your arrangements to get it. If you are not organically coming up with work that can be awarded, consider shifting the way you work or the company you work for.
Talk to recruiters
The recruiter is a crucial role in the whole process. They know about all the openings you might be interested in. Be transparent with them about your goals for the next gig and don’t try to circumvent the process by later going around the recruiters back and reaching out to other employees. Again — hiring takes time, patience and needs honesty.
Working for big companies X working for small companies and startups
Of course working for Apple, Google, Facebook or Coca-Cola sounds exciting. Especially since they tend to have an easier time sponsoring visas and they’re constantly looking for good talent. Just know that the competition is fierce and if you go this route, you had better put your best foot forward.
On the other hand, small companies are looking for hungry talent to come in and work on more challenging opportunities. It’s also hard for them to compete with the big ones for talent, so they might be searching for someone exactly like you and be willing to pay the price of the Visa.
Never oversell yourself
When you say you know about something, it’s implied that you’ve done that several times before. Good recruiters and managers tend to know when it’s true. Don’t try to fool people. They will notice.
It’s a bold decision to move to another place, and anyone can make it. It’s never going to be easy: we leave friends, family, and places we love behind. It takes months for us to understand small new things — from buying a toothpaste to sorting out your bank account. First, you feel like you don’t belong there. There are moments when all you want to do is to take the next flight back home. Fortunately, all of this seems so small when you look back and remember all the learnings, tastes, smells, people, talks, experiences, places, and cultures you’ve been exposed to. I hope everyone can experience that one day.