When Cassandra Franklin first took a job teaching English to kids in South Korea, it was an experiment to see whether she would enjoy living and working overseas.
Five years and three countries later, the 30-year-old from Waterloo, Ont., isn’t sure when she’ll return home.
“The plan was to go home and live in Canada,” said Ms. Franklin, who also taught in Japan before landing her current job teaching English in Xiaoshan, China, about 180 kilometres southwest of Shanghai.
She tried returning to Canada for about five months before heading to China last year, but owing to the scarcity of teaching positions she could only find irregular work as a supply teacher.
“I was looking for a stable job where I could practise and get better at teaching, and not have such an unpredictable work life,” she said. “Also, I wanted to learn new teaching philosophies and experience other cultures and customs.”
Ms. Franklin is one of many Canadians working overseas, whether by choice or necessity.
About 2.8 million citizens – roughly 8 per cent of the population – live outside Canada, according to a 2010 report from the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated that 1.1 million people who were born in Canada were residing in other OECD countries, with the vast majority living in the United States. But that figure does not take into account migrating Canadians who were born abroad, so the total figure is presumably much higher.
Job-hunting site Workopolis reports a 19-per-cent increase in Canadians searching for work in other countries in 2013 compared with a year earlier. The United States was the most sought-after location, accounting for about 50 per cent of searches outside Canada. Top non-U.S. destinations included Australia, Bermuda and China. Some of the top 10 key words searched for include manager, engineer, sales, marketing, analyst and communications.
To land a job overseas, experts say most job hunters need to have the full complement of skills that an international employer is looking for, especially since hiring a foreigner can be complicated and expensive. Candidates must also show they are open and adaptable to working in other countries and cultures.
One of the easiest ways to land work in another country is to be employed by a company that already operates in several international locations, Workopolis president Kelly Dixon said.
“Transferring either temporarily or permanently within a company is often much less difficult than lining up a job from afar,” she said.
Those who are starting their international job search from scratch need to do some homework first, including figuring out what jobs are in demand.
For countries where English isn’t the mother tongue, Ms. Dixon says having some conversational knowledge of the host country’s language can boost a candidate’s chances of getting hired.
Robert Quinn, a Toronto-based partner with executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, said anyone looking overseas needs to ask themselves: “What is it that I bring to the table that’s in demand?”
Mr. Quinn, who helps to fill executive roles overseas, said Canadian candidates need to show they can lead people across cultures, which includes having strong communication skills.
Common mistakes some international job hunters make are assuming their style of work is best and not being open to how business operates in other cultures.
“You need to understand how decisions are made in that new environment,” he said. “That’s where being open is very important.”
Job hunters should also market themselves to international communities, both in Canada and abroad. For example, someone looking for a job in Germany should try to make some connections in the German-Canadian business community in their area.
Reaching out to headhunters overseas, or groups that help connect Canadians to international jobs, is also recommended for candidates who aren’t transferring from within a company.
Ms. Franklin found her current teaching job in China through the international teacher recruitment firm, Teach Away Inc.
Ash Pugh, recruitment manager at Teach Away, which has its head office in Toronto, says the agency looks for candidates who are committed and flexible.
“They need to realize this isn’t just going to be Canada in a different climate with different food and a different language,” Mr. Pugh said.
Teach Away is candid about the challenges of working overseas and in different cultures, which Mr. Pugh said helps to weed out casual job seekers just looking for a place to work between backpacking adventures.
Candidates are told the potential pros and cons of working in particular country, and then asked how they would adapt to the changing circumstances.
“It they can’t give us a reasonable answer, then maybe it’s not for them,” Mr. Pugh said. “Their role there is to support [that country’s] learning goals, not to try to be some educator who is going to change a country’s viewpoint or approach to the world.”
The Canadian government has a guide for Canadians considering working abroad. It suggests people look at the risks and rewards of relocation, evaluating everything from safety and security to cultural isolation.
For Ms. Franklin, the biggest challenge has been the language barrier, especially in smaller Asian towns where English isn’t commonly spoken.
“Back home, you can be independent. When you are in a foreign country, you have to rely on other people and sometimes you feel like a baby,” Ms. Franklin said. “That part is hard, but I’m getting better at it.”
Special to The Globe and Mail