How to Launch Your Career Overseas in an Emerging Market
Dear Mr. Park,
Thank you for your interest in our firm. We receive many applications from highly qualified candidates such as yourself. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept you for the analyst position at this time. We will keep your file on hand and contact you if a suitable position becomes available.
Wait, you said I’m a highly qualified candidate. Doesn’t that mean I should have that position? Tell me what I did wrong! I can change, I promise.
Oh, human resources. For so many years I’ve wanted to know why you would turn down such a highly qualified candidate such as myself. To add insult to injury, you never contact me about those suitable positions, even though I know they’ve become available.
I’ve conducted extensive internship and job searches on three continents and I must humbly admit that I’ve received this rejection email in four different languages. I did everything right. I did everything I was told to do. I went on the job forums and posted my CV. I applied to all the right companies with the tailor-made cover letter. I found out the HR representative’s name and addressed it to her. What else does a guy have to do to get a job around here?
It was time to change my strategy and do something different. I didn’t care if it wasn’t what I was “supposed” to do, because none of the “rules” were giving me the result I wanted – a plethora of interview offers from consultancies in an emerging market. After testing out many unorthodox strategies, I finally came up with a method that could be replicated by other people in search of a launch pad for their own emerging market career.
I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of recruitment, human resources, internships, and full time job offers on many different occasions in many different countries. The following blueprint is the product of years of trial and error, repeated failure, and ultimately consistent success.
First, you must choose your target city abroad. Ideally this is a place where you speak the local language and have an existing social and professional network. If you do not that is fine, although you will have to work a bit harder in the process.
2. Visas and Logistics
Next, you must look through different local language schools in the city that you choose. Select the school that offers the most flexible schedule. For example, some language schools in China will offer an option in which you only have to come to class twice per week on the weekend or at night. This will provide you a long term student or business visa so that you don’t have to worry about going in and out of the country.
Goals of this Stage:
- Secure long term visa
- Improve language skills
3. Internship Phase
Compile a list of 10 companies in an industry or industries you like. Find the office phone number and a contact person, preferably someone with a title like “Vice President”, “Managing Director”, “Head of Business Development.” Your goal is to completely bypass the human resources department and other gatekeepers. Get straight to the source by calling the decision-makers. Once you get them on the phone, deliver a confident and articulate 20 second pitch about who you are, the internship you want to carry out, why you are interested in their company specifically, and the value that you can provide given your professional background and life experience.
You will be amazed at how effective this is. Your goal is to get an in person interview with this person specifically and NOT A HUMAN RESOURCES REPRESENTATIVE.
The fact that you are an English speaking foreigner with a degree will often be enough to get you a solid internship, although probably not a full time job (yet). The ideal length of your internship is 2-6 months, with 6 months being the absolute longest time you should spend in that phase.
This is important: in addition to the day-to-day intern work you do, design and propose an independent project that you will conduct in addition to the internship tasks. The problem with most internships is that you do grunt work and don’t get to update your resume in a way that will provide you with relevant job experience to market to your next employer. Thus, if the next position you want to get into is marketing and sales, propose that you will design and carry out a marketing and sales project independently. This way, you have control over the specific “bullet points” with which you will update your resume.
In my last work placement, I independently carried out two feasibility analyses for a consultancy and did a range of tasks: business development, financial analysis, economic analysis, market research, policy research, due diligence, presentations, and much more. By the end of my six month experience I had a wide range of practical job experiences that have enabled me to get six interview offers in Asia – while conducting my job search from New York.
When you update your resume, you will be able to engineer the exact work experiences that you carried out during your internship and independent project.
Goals of this Stage:
- Build work experience and a portfolio in your target country
- Engineer a resume that will attract employers in your target country
- Continue improving your language skills
- Expand your professional network
This stage occurs DURING the internship phase of your emerging market career plan.
You should not assume that the company you are interning for will give you a full time job offer. If they do, that’s great – but don’t rely on it. Compile a list of important events happening in your city, using resources such as internations.org, meetup.com, the US embassy website, the US chamber of commerce website, and other business association events. Your alumni network is a good resource too.
Develop your “elevator pitch”, which you will be implementing over and over again. This is a 20-30 second summary of who you are, what you are doing in that city, and what you hope to do in the near future.
Ask your internship company to provide you with a stack of business cards on their company’s template with your contact information listed.
The company business card is important for several reasons.
- It gives you social proof and a well-known organization with which you can associate yourself.
- People will subconsciously take you more seriously when you are associated with a company and have a card – sad but true.
- People with hiring power that you meet generally prefer to “steal” someone from a different company rather than hire a faceless jobseeker.
Network at all these functions and follow up on your contacts. Make plans to meet at later dates, whether for other functions or to even go out and have cocktails or coffee. Always make sure you are adding value to interactions. Don’t set up a rendezvous with someone “just to chat” or they will find the meeting pointless. As often as you can, bond with new contacts over activities such as sports or festivals. This will both be fun and help you build a social and professional network in your target city.
As you expand your network, begin to make it known that you are looking for full time employment. Your new contacts will help make this happen as long as you have been adding value to their lives. A good example is a client I am currently consulting in Beijing, who is beginning to get job offers because he does language exchange with senior managers in well-known local marketing firms. Always give before you take.
Goals of this Stage:
- Rapidly and strategically expand your professional and social network
- Secure job interviews
- Make friends and have fun!
5. Interview Phase
From all the contacts you’ve made, you should be able to set up 3 interviews minimum. If you have been expanding your network and adding value, people will not hesitate to give you an internal referral. Update your resume and cover letter with your new internship experience. Ideally you’ve finished your independent project, which has given you strategically crafted work experiences. You can use this to engineer a perfect resume for the job positions you now seek. Finally, at the end of your internship request a linkedin reference from various senior people in the company. This will help you market yourself as you look for your full time job, because the first thing that prospective employers are going to do is scour the internet for your social network history.
During your interview make sure you know everything about your target company – and I really mean everything. Tell them how working there will fit into your larger career plans and describe the independent project you did for your previous employer. The person interviewing you should think “this person has the exact soft and hard skills we are looking for.”
Once you get an offer, your company will take care of your work visa and salary.
I’ve done this in most of my internships – propose to carry out an independent project while doing regular internship tasks. This way, I have a greater degree of control over the specific experiences with which I can market myself later on.
Emerging market internships and careers are amazing in that the types of opportunities and career advancement possible far exceeds what you would experience in developed countries. Not only do you possess a unique skill-set as an expat, but you also operate in a market so dynamic that you will constantly encounter opportunities to seize and claim.
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized”
About the author: Michael has studied and worked in the United States, Europe, China, and Korea. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, with a focus on East Asian Politics and Economics. He then completed his Masters of Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on International Environmental Management.
Michael’s international work experience includes commercial real estate brokerage in Shanghai, green building consulting for the US Environmental Protection Agency, business development for a European startup company, and environmental consulting in Seoul.
Michael is a native English speaker and speaks intermediate Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and French. He is passionate about helping university students and young expats launch their careers in emerging markets. He can be contacted at email@example.com for advice,