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CONDUCTING AN OVERSEAS JOB SEARCH

(Adapted from The Harvard Guide to International Experience)

By William Klingelhofer

Finding an overseas job--or more accurately in many cases, creating one--can be an easy prospect or a decidedly difficult one, depending on where you want to go and what you want to do. A temporary summer job in a foreign city can be a relatively easy thing to arrange. There is, however, little entry-level recruiting conducted in the U.S. for international jobs. If you really want to work abroad, it's generally up to you to make it happen.

Many of the techniques and steps of the process that you would use in a job search at home are equally useful in the overseas job quest. Information gathering--talking, reading, and writing--is the way to get started. The thrust of all of this activity should be directed to creating a network of contacts that will lead eventually to a job.

Unless there is a booming, hungry employment market in the place you are going, you have to be a pretty good salesperson to convince an overseas employer why they should hire an American student. Employers offering temporary jobs, in whatever field or capacity, are often seeking to fill an immediate need and will offer an opening to the first available, qualified body on the spot. Expecting someone to hold such a position for you while your letters go back and forth and you make your travel arrangements from the U.S. is probably unreasonable. What have you got to offer to make it worth the risk for an overseas employer to take a chance on an unknown American student? Probably a lot, but be prepared to address this question. Also, be prepared to admit that it might be easier and in the end necessary to present your case in person than through the relative anonymity of a cover letter and resume. Courtesy is at a premium in this transaction, but so is a motivated (yet sensitive) persistence. Don't give up, but don't be overly aggressive or obnoxious in your attempts to sell yourself.

Pick up information from any source you can--parents, friends, teachers, fellow students, current or former employers--that may provide you with a useful contact overseas. Identify the relevant directories of overseas companies, U.S. companies abroad, international research centers, overseas schools, international law offices, English language newspapers published abroad, or anything else that might be helpful. Go through the listings at OCS of Harvard alumni/ae serving as Overseas Career Advisors and make a list of the Harvard Clubs in countries where you might be going. These Harvard contacts can sometimes offer excellent information and advice on the local market. If you are targeting a particular industry or professional field, do whatever reading you can to make yourself as informed as possible in the practice and recent trends of that field in that country. Then start sending out letters and resumes to possible employers.

These letters, whether to prospective employers, Harvard alums, or other contacts should be in the language of the country unless you feel quite confident that the recipient is a fluent English speaker. Be careful, however, not to overstep the bounds of your language ability by having someone else write the letter for you. If your language ability is up to it, don't hesitate to use the phone.

Give yourself at least several months to pursue a job before you leave. Obviously, it is a more time-consuming process when your letters are traveling thousands of miles and when you may be corresponding with someone who is not quite sure how to deal with an American student's request for a job. For a summer job, it's not unreasonable to begin this process in the autumn, even though you shouldn't expect a definite offer before the spring.

You may not get a job offer before you leave. But, if you go armed with as much information and as many names of contacts or potential employers as possible, you will find the job search when you arrive much easier to cope with and often more successful in its conclusion. At the least, this information will give you a starting point and a sense of confidence in commencing your search in this unknown territory. It may be one of the most challenging job searches you'll ever do, but chances are it may also be one of the most rewarding.

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