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Working Abroad

My takeaways after leaving Barcelona and working for 4 years in London and New York

It was early 2009 when my girlfriend and I decided to leave Barcelona. Life was good, but it was time to try something new for a change. While we were in college many of our friends had spent some time in different parts of Europe. We didn’t have that chance, so now at 27 years old and working for 5 years, it was our time to experience life outside Barcelona. At the begining we considered cities such as Amsterdam or Stockholm, but pretty soon we realized those cities were too similar to our beloved Barcelona. We wanted something new and challenging!, so we decided to go big and look for a job in London or New York. Not knowing where to start, we decided to choose the one that meant the biggest change for us: New York.

Both Erola (Graphic designer) and I (Web developer) started reaching out to a few New York studios we would love to work at. We had a clear strategy: first week, we start emailing our top studios, a week later if no replies, time for the second ones, and so on.

Luckily, after a few days, some studios started reaching us. Some asked if we were already in the States, but others were interested in our portfolios and looking to start a conversation.

One of them, B-Reel, ended up hiring me. After a few emails, and three phone interviews —the last one with the CEO— the agreement was reached and the company was happy to pay for my visa.

Getting a working visa to live in the USA it’s pretty hard stuff. Lawyers are normally involved, a lot of paperwork is filled out and you need to go through an interview at the US Embassy located in your country. So the process went on and on for a few months. But while it was getting done, my new company offered me the chance to start working from their London office.

So we flew to London, rented an apartment for six months, and —as a European citizen— I was working from day one! No paperwork, no lawyers, no waiting time. Just a couple of visits to the bank for opening an account and half morning spent at a Jobcentre Plus office getting a National Insurance Card. Easy peasy. Three hours flight from Barcelona, good job opportunities, great experience!

Six months later, after tons of paperwork, recommendation letters from all my previous employers, a visit to the US Embassy in Madrid and even a wedding (so Erola could come with me), our H1-B visa was stamped on our passports, and we were ready to move to the other side of the Atlantic.

Drawing from Erola on our departure

We arrive to New York, time goes by, and 4 years later and after 2 different apartments, 2 great job experiences, 5 trips back home, 2 hurricanes, a vacation on the West Coast, a startup, an acqui-hire and tons of friends comming to visit — there are some ideas that I would like to share with my fellow Europeans who may be interested in doing something similar in the future.

1. Start by showing some value to the correct person

For finding a job you should figure out what you are truly good at, achieve something that can prove your skills, find a company that will value it, and send a personal email directly to the person who will benefit from hiring you.

That means, you will need to have projects that you are passionate about — not just ideas. These should be real things you have created. They shoud be viewable by companies you are interested in.

You will need to find a way to reach — email is usually easiest — the person who will hypothetically be your future boss, and tell him or her why you are considering their company and the value that you can provide.

Attached on your email you should send a PDF with your CV or portfolio, showing that you are actually as talented as you said in your email.

It is very important to remember that nobody is going to spend too much time looking at your CV or portfolio. People at companies are normally busy working on projects, not having the time, nor interest, to go through extended CVs. So be very brief and concise.

2. It’s just a step by step process

As with other projects in life, don’t expect to achieve this overnight. Instead, think about it as being a process with milestones where — once it has started, one thing is going to follow the other.

Once you start conversations with a company, the first challenge you will face is probably a phone interview. The main goal for the company is to figure out if you are a normal guy, if everyone on the team will be happy working with you, and if your skills are the real deal. So please be yourself, obviously show them the most friendly and compelling part of yourself. Above all don’t try to fake it. It’s always better to be honest than to be the cocky guy who tries to impress the group.

If everything goes to plan, after a few really anxious weeks where nothing seems to happen (again: many times hiring is not the main priority of the companies as they are busy doing actual work), you will get a reply where they will let you know that things are moving forward.

Once you accept the offer, you may think the hard part is only beginning, but you really shouldn’t think of it that way. It is true that you are leaving your comfort zone and moving to an entirely new and foreign land, but one thing after another, you will be able to finish the entire process: getting your visa, buying your plane ticket, and finding an apartment to live in for the next few years (probably after subleting a few weeks while you look for apartments).

3. English, English, English, there is no other way

We all know about this, but in some countries — for example mine — some people don’t fully realize how important this point is. Sorry, to insist, but there is no other way around it. Our western world speaks this language, and being reluctant to speak it is an easy way to never leave your home country. The same way a car will never move without gasoline, you won’t get very far without speaking English.

Print by Ashkahn Shahparnia

It doesn’t really matter how good or bad you are, it’s all about your willingness to learn and use it. Obviously at the beginning it will be hard. Sometimes you will even not understand anything — nada — but be aware that something will stick with you. From there, with patience and persistence, many times feeling completely lost, you will be able to improve. In a few hard months, you will discover yourself feeling pretty comfortable in an English conversation.

4. International internships and freelancing

One thing I never thought about is what a great opportunity an international internship or freelancing is. These are probably the two easiest ways to start a relationship with a foreign company, and show them that you can provide value to their company. Once you are able to accomplish that, no company with a little bit of sense would let you leave.

So if you are in college, going for an international internship could be a great decision. Also consider that almost all companies are happy to have interns, even more if the interns show themselves to be a self-starter that can take care of the more tedious things, such as their intern visa or finding an apartment.

If you are already working, what about spending a couple of months on a tourist visa abroad and working on a project side-by-side with a team you would love to work with. If you are able to do that succesfully, there is a big chance that you will land the job or get recommend to other companies.

You should realise that finding good employees is never an easy task for companies. Once they have one –someone who is passionate about what she does, and who is nice to work with– they will not want to lose her.

5. Where to go? Europe or abroad?

I feel Europe should be always the first option, and just in case you don’t find what you are looking for, or you are really eager for big adventures, then you should consider other countries.

6. Working abroad from home

One final option, in case you are not able to leave home, you should strongly consider trying to reach international clients. My advice in that situation is (again) to start doing something that proves your value. A good project will be your best cover letter. Once you show your talent and that you are commited to your work, no one will really care if you are in a small town in Europe or in Midtown Manhattan. But you will need to be there, answering emails on time and jumping on phone calls as many times as needed. Also things will become much easier for you if you prove yourself being above expectations. Then a relationship based on trust will form and everyting will be better in the medium term.

If this resonates with you, feel free to drop me a message on:@guillelopez_