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Looking to work abroad? Here’s the homework you need to do first

THE QUESTION:

I am a communications professional with over seven years experience, and currently based in Toronto. I see numerous job opportunities that would be a great fit for my experience and talents, but there is only one problem: the jobs are located in international markets (specifically London and New York). I would love to gain some international work experience and know I have much to offer. Will companies even look at relocating an external candidate? If so, how do I convince international companies to take a chance on me? What should or shouldn't I include in my cover letter and CV? Should I hire a headhunter based in my target city?

THE ANSWER:

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While living abroad and gaining international experience can be rewarding, securing a job in another country is not necessarily easy.

Most companies will only consider sponsoring and relocating a foreigner once they've exhausted all searches for local talent. So be prepared to pay for your own relocation costs, and communicate that clearly for serious consideration by prospective employers.

But first, determine the country and city to where you want to work. This will help narrow your focus in making realistic plans for a potential move. Research the local business landscape to identify market opportunities, so you can best position your work experience. For example, do you have a niche expertise that is in high demand in that international market?

Marta Huebsch, a communications professional who currently works for the Government of Ontario, moved to the U.S. a few years ago when she got a public relations job there. Her advice? "Be prepared to show how your work experience is relevant to the company you are speaking to," she advised. "I looked for organizations I wanted to work for, cold called executives for information meetings, and pitched how my unique 'international' experience would be an asset to them."

She ended up receiving two job offers from companies willing to sponsor her to work in the U.S.

Familiarize yourself beforehand with immigration processes too. There is often a lot of red tape involved in getting clearance to work in some countries, and many require that a non-national must have a very specific and unique set of qualifications before they can be granted permission

"Before speaking to a potential employer, make sure you know everything about the immigration and sponsorship process. Employers often don't know the details, so make it easier for them to consider you," Ms. Huebsch said.

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Work with a local recruiter in your target city and articulate exactly what you are looking for. Reach out to your network as well, for potential international leads.

Sarah Waldock, managing director of PR consultancy The Sarah Waldock Group, decided a few years ago that she wanted to experience living in London. She secured several job interviews through a local recruiter, but diligent networking ultimately led her to her U.K. job.

"I leveraged every contact I ever made – I spoke to every friend, and friend-of-a-friend who may know another friend, so I could build a database of people who worked in my industry over there," Ms. Waldock said.

As it turned out, the childhood babysitter of the husband of one of Ms. Waldock's former employers, a fellow Canadian, was running a communications agency in London. That is where Ms. Waldock spent a year and a half, running an international press office, before settling back in Toronto.

So, do your homework on the local landscape and business culture, reach out to people in your industry and your contacts, and be prepared to answer the question, "Why should we consider you?"

Julie Labrie is the vice-president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

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