How to have a thriving career abroad

  • jeune femme au travail
Published on 2023-02-03 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
How should you plan your career abroad? Whether you have a promise of employment or are leaving to search for your dream job, setting goals is essential to envision your project better. So what should you focus on, professionally and personally? And what should be done? Let's take a look at the issues and get some practical advice.

Assess your situation

It isn't easy to set goals without taking stock of your personal situation. In any case, a move abroad requires proper planning, be it for a few months, a few years, or long-term immigration. Taking a step back will help you better understand your background and better define your objectives as a prospective expatriate.

Before you start looking for a job abroad, make sure you have the answers to the following questions:

  • What kind of jobs have you had so far (position, tasks, details of missions, etc.)?
  • Were these jobs in line with your academic background (studies, field experience, etc.)?
  • What did you study (school, university, internship, etc.)? 
  • Were your previous jobs up to your expectations?
  • Professionally: what are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How did you overcome your weaknesses?
  • Are you currently unemployed and looking for a job abroad?
  • Were you, or are you, satisfied with your career?
  • What language(s) do you speak?
  • Have you ever traveled abroad? For how long?
  • Are you single? In a relationship? Separated? With or without children?
  • Are you a tenant or a homeowner?

Determine your expectations

Why do you want to go abroad? Why do you want to move and work overseas? What are you looking to discover or experience? Do you want to work in a large or small local or international group? Clarifying your expectations will allow you to better refine your project. 

Do you plan to do the same job or change careers abroad? As previously mentioned, any move abroad needs to be thoroughly prepared, regardless of its duration. The planning will, of course, differ depending on the duration of your stay abroad. Going abroad for a few weeks or for a long term requires a specific organization. 

Avoid settling for the casual "I want a career abroad". It may sound obvious, but it's never really clear! On another note, what does the term "career" mean to you, and how does "building a career" sound to you? For some, it may mean reaching a specific level and income and/or a higher position in the company. For others, it may be a matter of optimally combining professional and personal life. Other people associate a thriving career with the fulfillment of their passion and their dreams. However, not all of these objectives necessarily lead to a move abroad. Therefore, taking stock of your expectations will help you justify your motivation to travel. Why achieve your goals abroad rather than in your own country?

Set your short- and long-term goals

What would you like to achieve in your new position abroad? What kind of assignments would you like to perform? What skills would you like to acquire? Defining your career goals will help you make the right choices and decisions. Just like the expression "I want to build a career abroad," the ambition to earn more is a long-term goal. Starting with such a goal can make it easier to achieve short-term ones. Starting with the latter is, in essence, a smart way to achieve the main objective. 

To clearly identify your goals, be positive, ambitious, and realistic. Avoid setting targets that are impossible to reach, as this will only lead to discouragement and disappointment. Be rigorous and precise: it is better to give yourself a number of months to achieve the goal than to simply tell yourself "when I get the chance" or "as soon as possible".

Some examples of short-term goals:

  • Completing training in a specific field, obtaining a particular certification.
  • Obtaining a driver's license
  • Passing a language proficiency test
  • Finding a job
  • Learning to use a technical device (computer, tablet, company equipment)
  • Learning to use a software program
  • Learning to speak in public, to start a discussion
  • Learning to make a presentation in front of an audience
  • Learning to improve your way of speaking and writing
  • Gaining efficiency and speed.

Examples of long-term goals:

  • Starting a business (becoming an entrepreneur can also be a short-term goal).
  • Taking over a company (this can also be a short-term goal).
  • Climbing the corporate ladder, obtaining a higher position and more responsibilities
  • Being promoted.
  • Starting a professional reconversion.

Are you ready for compromises?

Even if you're occupying your dream job in your dream country, things may not always go smoothly. What compromises are you willing to make? Here are some examples:

  • Accepting a lower salary than what you were earning before
  • Accepting a lower salary than you should have earned
  • Accepting a position that is below your qualifications
  • Accepting a position that has nothing to do with what you applied for
  • Accepting company values that are a little (or a lot) different from your own
  • Accepting to combine jobs
  • Working alone all the time
  • Working in a group all the time
  • Working in total autonomy
  • Having to get approval from your supervisor for every task
  • Working alone (or with a few colleagues) in an office
  • Working in an open space
  • Having staggered working hours
  • Working (a lot of?) over time
  • Living far from the company
  • Enduring traffic jams, rush hours, and urban density
  • Living in a small 10m² apartment
  • Living in an area without internet (or with a weak connection)
  • Living in the countryside.

Involve the people around you

Solo travel is already a project that involves loved ones, even if they are not part of the trip. The adventure is even more challenging when you have a spouse and children. Who is behind the move abroad? Do you and your spouse agree with the idea of moving abroad? What about the choice of the country? Does one of you already have a job contract abroad, or will you look for a job once you are on the spot? How old are the children? Younger children generally have less difficulty adapting to life abroad. However, this is not a reason to exclude them from the planning. If they already go to school, they have socialized and may experience the departure as a real heartbreak. 

If you have goals, so do your spouse and children. For example, you may have a great experience at work but could find a less happy home. This mismatch can have a negative impact on both your corporate life and your overall experience as an expat. To avoid this, consider not only your personal goals but also your joint objectives. Check in regularly with your spouse and children to ensure you are all moving in the same direction. The pace may be different, for example, if your spouse has a poor perception of his or her professional life abroad. In this case, slow down and take more time to support your partner.

Get some training

Achieving your professional goals may require some training, like learning the language of the host country, acquiring a specific diploma, training in digital tools, and so on. Take advantage of your preparation time to upgrade yourself. You will be better equipped for your job abroad. This additional training may delay your move abroad by a few months to a few years (if you need to obtain a new degree, for example). In the latter case, ask yourself if you would prefer to study in your home country or leave as an international student and then look for a job once you have graduated.

Pay attention to corporate values 

Working abroad is one thing, but working in a company, with its framework and values, is another. Corporate values are often the backbone of a business. They represent all the principles on which the company is founded. They encompass the organization of work, interactions between employees, hierarchy, etc. Other corporate values include respect, transparency, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, creativity, humility, and team spirit. Start by listing those of your company. Identify the ones you cannot compromise on and the ones you could trade off. Ask yourself why these values are so important to you and how they support your professional goals.

Get familiar with your host country

Obviously, you will have a much better expat experience once you have become familiar with your host country. It is not about knowing the country's history by heart but more about developing habits in your neighborhood, finding your way around, doing activities, and making new friends outside of your professional circle. Since your life as an expat will not only revolve around work, you will not spend all of your time in your company. Whether you work from home or in an office, you will have to rub shoulders with your neighbors, go to the supermarket, use the transport system, etc. This whole new world in which your professional life is intertwined deserves to be discovered. You will get a good idea of it as soon as you get off the plane. You will have to interact with the local staff, speak the language of the host country, and use the country's infrastructure and transportation. At the end of the day, successful integration in the host country is where a thriving career starts.