International career: Is a lack of experience a hurdle for prospective expats?

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Published on 2024-01-26 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Labor shortages have marked 2023 and are likely to persist into 2024. Prospective expatriates view this as a chance to enter the global job market. But what should they showcase on their resume? Is lack of experience a hurdle in finding a job abroad?

The quest for a first work experience abroad

Who has never been caught in the trap of the peculiar "experience loop"? Let's take the example of recent graduates or interns entering the job market seeking their first job. The employer politely rejects them due to their lack of experience. Motivated job seekers continue to apply, confident in finding a company willing to provide that initial experience. Despite sending out twenty resumes, the responses all echo the same reason: "lack of experience."

Many locals face this situation daily. Most companies seek a first professional experience. However, if no employer extends the opportunity, that crucial first experience remains elusive. Many expatriates encounter a similar invisible barrier. They possess the qualifications and even professional experience, but what's missing is experience within the host country.

The lack of experience issue in Canada

Is the Canadian dream still a reality? Many individuals have been raising concerns about what they perceive as discrimination within the system. While the government claims to open its doors to foreign talent, some companies had been closing their doors due to their "Canadian experience" requirement. Work experience was insufficient; foreigners were expected to possess Canadian experience. But how do you gain this experience when looking for a job in the country?

Feeling trapped, highly qualified immigrants often settle for positions beneath their skill level. While they gain Canadian experience, it may not align with their expertise and, at times, may not even be in their sector of activity. Consequently, skilled foreign professionals with one or more years of experience found themselves sidelined in the job market since Canadian employers were less willing to recognize their qualifications. Beyond the financial challenges (juggling between two underpaid jobs is hardly a sustainable future), these qualified foreigners lost confidence, and many of them even reconsidered their decision to relocate to Canada.

Consequently, the Ontario government introduced a new legislation on November 4, Bill 149, known as the "Working for Workers Four Act," making it illegal to mention "Canadian experience" in job advertisements. The government views companies' use of these criteria to reject foreign applicants as a form of discrimination, contributing to the country's brain drain. Ontario's government aims to eliminate the practice of placing overqualified immigrants in roles significantly below their skill levels. The initial shift began in 2021 when Ontario removed the "Canadian experience" requirement from 30 regulated professions.  

How do you promote yourself when you lack experience?

So, should you move abroad first or gather experience in your home country? The Canadian example illustrates that the decision lies in both scenarios. While foreign talent plays a crucial role, the state also bears responsibilities. To enhance their chances of being hired, foreign workers have a vested interest in delving into the job market of the host country.

List your skills and know-how

Everyone possesses a background. Whether it's a part-time job, volunteer work, or involvement in sports or cultural activities, these not only impart technical skills (hard skills) but also contribute to developing soft skills. For instance, being a volunteer treasurer or secretary for an association accumulates valuable experience. Providing a comprehensive list of activities related to the desired job allows you to identify both the hard and soft skills relevant to the position. This same approach should be applied to all past positions in your home country or abroad.

Deciphering job offers

Creating a list of your skills and expertise provides a snapshot of who you are. Similarly, when evaluating a company or a specific job offer, paying attention to the details is crucial. Recruiters have observed that many applicants overlook essential elements in job offers, including key terms. Whether written by a human or AI, it's important to carefully analyze job offers. What keywords and writing style are used? What are the essential and secondary skills required? While a foreign employer might be more lenient with candidates lacking some secondary skills, they tend to be unwavering when it comes to essential skills.

Research the company

When searching for a job abroad, find all relevant information about the company. Is the recruiter's name familiar, and can it be found on professional social media? Failing to conduct this crucial research can adversely impact the quality of your CV and cover letter. Moreover, there's a risk of appearing as an unmotivated candidate during a job interview. It's essential to gather as much information as possible about the company, whether you're responding to a job offer or submitting an unsolicited application.

Learn about the country's culture

Foreign companies occasionally attribute the lack of experience in foreign candidates to a lack of cultural knowledge. Common culprits are mistakes in job title wording, CV presentations that deviate from the country's cultural norms, sending unsolicited or missing essential documents, and the use of awkward or irrelevant language. Familiarizing yourself with the host country's job market, corporate culture, and proper ways of formulating professional emails is essential. While employers may attribute some errors to cultural differences, they also anticipate a specific "basic" proficiency, such as knowing how to present a CV effectively.

Extra tips for looking for a job abroad

Find out all you can about your host country

Canada is often praised as one of the most popular destinations for expatriates, with numerous positive reviews. However, the challenges faced by these expatriates, despite their skills and their rejection by companies, are less frequently discussed. While we anticipate the promised changes in Ontario, disappointment is prompting a reconsideration of moving abroad plans. A good understanding of the host country, including its history, culture, politics, and employment landscape, is the best approach for anticipation. In contrast, countries like Japan are known for their strict immigration systems and the complexity of their job markets. Facing an aging population and labor shortages, the government is gradually changing its approach to improve its image with foreign workers.


Governments' immigration policies are now predominantly focused towards attracting qualified foreign professionals, emphasizing high-level and even ultra-high-level positions. In a global market grappling with skilled labor shortages, governments are actively seeking out foreign talent. Ensuring that you possess the appropriate training can be a time-saving measure. If needed, it's worth considering additional training to maximize your chances of being accepted.

Studying abroad

Studying abroad can open numerous doors. It allows you to adapt to the country's culture, graduate from that country, and build a network, often facilitated by the university's support.

Learn the host country's language

Learning the language of a foreign country is crucial if you intend to work there. English may not be universally spoken, and even if it's used in the workplace, proficiency in the local language is often necessary. For example, in Finland, fluency in Finnish is a requirement. Mastering the language provides numerous advantages at all levels—it opens doors to the local job market, enhances cultural understanding, and facilitates the development of professional and informal networks as well as integration into the local community.

Use your network

Professional networks, informal networks, expat coaches, international recruitment agencies, professional social networks, and professional associations are just some of the agents and organizations dedicated to international careers. Establishing and maintaining the right networks is an invaluable asset, especially as many job opportunities emerge within these networks.

Send the right CV

Should your CV be in English, the local language, or both? It's important to do everything possible to avoid making a serious mistake. A well-worded diploma title in your native language may not hold the same significance for a foreign employer. At each stage of the job search, it's essential to consider the individual you're interacting with. Avoid translations and copying and pasting CVs, as impersonal resumes can swiftly be identified and prove off-putting. Each employer has their own requirements in terms of CV. 

Showcasing your skills

It's a common misconception that professional experience means "long work experience". It all depends on the job you're targeting. And even if it's a management position, every worker has necessarily started with a first experience, and therefore "a year of experience". Rather than cheating by adding imaginary years, it's better to genuinely mention your experience and detail those most relevant to the position. Even 6 months' experience should not be downplayed. On the contrary, the employer needs to sense the candidate's self-confidence and motivation right from the CV.

Pitching yourself

What should you do if a foreign employer suggests a telephone interview within an hour or the next day? And what if they schedule a video interview? The recruiter might request the candidate to introduce themselves in just 2 minutes—a challenging task, especially when caught off guard. To avoid long moments of silence, it's crucial to anticipate and prepare. Practicing out loud, looking in the mirror, seeking guidance from a coach, and considering the cultural nuances of a foreign country can help build confidence. While a lack of experience can slow a job search abroad, it doesn't have to be a roadblock. Overcoming these obstacles is possible. Perhaps more countries will follow Canada's example by introducing effective measures against discrimination.

Useful links:

ENIC-NARIC Center: facilitating the international recognition of diplomas

EUROGUIDANCE: information on internships, studies, language courses and training in Europe

EURES: find a job in Europe