How to look for a job in Europe

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Americans seeking jobs this side of the Atlantic should be aware that sometimes things are done differently here. Jennifer Vessels, of, reveals the right way —and the wrong way — to get a post in Europe.


Think like a local. That's the tip from careers experts for potential expats looking to gain international experience. Learn what skills are needed in the country you are targeting and market yourself in a European way.

The wrong way

After earning an MBA at night in international marketing, an ambitious product manager working for a computer-systems firm in San Jose, California, was ready to put his knowledge to use by relocating to Europe.

To prepare, he used the Internet and his local library to research European countries. He decided that France and Germany were most appealing and, fortunately, his company had subsidiaries in both countries. When he approached senior management about seeking an expatriate assignment, they agreed that the subsidiaries would benefit from his talents.

The product manager then submitted a formal proposal requesting a transfer to his boss, who was supportive and suggested that he send a resume outlining his accomplishments to hiring managers at the French and German offices. The product manager followed up by voice mail to explain his interest in joining their team.

A few weeks passed without a response, so the manager sent another fax and left more voice-mail messages. His boss also directly contacted the hiring managers to stress how the new MBA graduate's innovative marketing ideas would benefit the organisation. Both hiring managers agreed that the candidate would be a good addition to their teams, but said they needed more time to think about it.

After six months of leaving voice mail and sending faxes highlighting his accomplishments, the product manager got frustrated and started seeking international opportunities outside the company.

What went wrong?

The MBA had the right educational qualifications and a solid track record in the US, as well as the support of his management. Yet he made a critical mistake. He based his approach on techniques that work in the US, but not in Europe. He didn't realise that when seeking a new position or transfer overseas, you must know your market well. Since the culture, business and decision-making style and needs of each European country varies, first-hand knowledge is essential.

"The most common mistake Americans make is assuming that the needs and business practices of the European countries are the same as those in the US," says Erwin De Wolfe, a partner in the Brussels office of Korn/Ferry International, one of the world's largest executive-search firms.

The right way

The best way to understand the nuances of any country is to spend time there. By not visiting France or Germany, the product manager mistakenly assumed they were interested in marketing ideas from America. But that's rarely the case.


How to hunt for jobs in Europe
  • Know your market, which is best accomplished by spending time there.
  • Present yourself as a solution to market needs.
  • Build relationships with European managers and team members.
  • Create a European-style curriculum vitae.
  • Use personal discussions with European managers to present yourself as a potential candidate.
  • Be prepared to participate in multiple in-depth interviews.
  • Follow up on all meetings in a personal manner.
  • Be persistent but patient.
"We generally rely on the locals in country to drive our marketing campaigns, since they're much closer to the customer than US personnel," says Patrick DeRoy, operations manager for Newbridge Networks, a local- and wide-area networking systems firm with operations throughout Europe. By offering new marketing ideas from a US perspective, the MBA and his boss were proposing exactly the opposite of what the European managers wanted.

If the product manager had instead suggested a short-term assignment in Europe, working on a project where his knowledge and education might be helpful, it likely would have been accepted. That would have given him the opportunity to learn more about the culture before proposing a longer-term assignment.

Building relationships

American Chuck Elliot worked in the Benelux office of Ungermann-Bass in Brussels for three months to coordinate the European roll-out of a new product line. During this time, he learned the needs of various countries and subsidiaries. As his assignment neared an end, he used his knowledge to propose a longer-term project as European marketing manager, with a focus on working with US managers to introduce new products in various countries. The proposal was readily accepted.

Another reason to spend time in the country you're targeting is to build relationships with local managers and other members of a team. While it's often said in the US that "it isn't what you know but who you know that counts", having solid personal and professional relationships with key managers is even more important in Europe. The MBA was viewed as just another American trying to tell Europeans how to do marketing, even though his qualifications and track record were excellent.

By learning more about the cultures of France and Germany, the project manager also would have discovered that sending a resume and leaving voice-mail messages aren't effective ways to present yourself as a potential candidate. In virtually all European countries, major hiring decisions are based on trust and shared values, which are built over time through face-to-face meetings.

When Paula Atkinson transferred to London with American Express Co, she was amazed to find "they really are a much more close-knit team than in the US," she says. "I now understand why I needed to meet with at least 10 of my peers and have many discussions and lunches with my future manager. They wanted to make sure I fit into the culture of the office."

Your resume…err…CV

When you approach a European hiring manager (either in person, via video or by telephone), you should be prepared to provide him with a European curriculum vitae — or CV — instead of an American resume.

"Many resumes we receive from Americans are very difficult to assess," says Per Bjornsen, human resources manager for an offshore production firm in Oslo, Norway. "They often list many glowing accomplishments without clearly stating the responsibilities of the position. This is seen as bragging about oneself, which is viewed very negatively here."

Your CV should focus on the facts: your responsibilities, what you've actually accomplished and your educational credentials. Since it's important for hiring managers to know you as a person, you should also include a "personal" section that includes your date of birth, marital status, number of children and their ages, hobbies, etc. While many European CVs are long descriptions of a candidate's life versus the relatively brief resumes American employers favour, consider creating a CV similar to the adjacent example that combines the best of both worlds.

Your CV should be sent to the hiring manager with a personalised cover letter, either before or after your initial interview or discussion. To solidify your relationship with a hiring manager or key team member afterwards, follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.

Have patience

When considering an assignment in Europe, be aware that decision-making there can be a slow process. Employment decisions especially need to be considered and discussed at length with all team members. So don't be surprised if a period of silence follows your interviews.

Sally Fredrikson, who transferred to Paris from New York with an international bank, says "it was very difficult to wait while the transfer was being considered. I wanted to call every week to find out what was happening, but was advised that would be seen as impatient and overly persistent, qualities that would have damaged the French team's perception of me".

Jennifer Vessels is a career consultant and managing director of New Start Norway, an organisational career-management firm based in Oslo.

Subject: Expat career tips

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