Last update on December 20, 2018

You’ve said goodbye to friends and packed an extra pair of socks before moving abroad. But once you land, what will you do about finding a job?

Many would-be expats, going without the benefit of being recruited by a multinational, score high marks on having the little things prepared for moving abroad. Then they flounder on the seemingly obvious question: “How am I going to earn a living in while living abroad?”

Times are hard and often employers just don’t want the hassle of employing a foreigner with little or no local language skills. But muttering darkly that there are no jobs in this ‘God-forsaken country’, while tempting, will ultimately not put food on the table. That is precisely why you need to plan in advance, as if you were embarking on a military campaign. Consider how foolish it would be for the commander-in-chief to order his troops to invade an enemy country without having a clear idea what his army was going to do once it has seized the capital.

Don’t be like that over-optimistic general and hope that you are going to be greeted with open arms by the local populace. Double the chances of success by coming to your new country with a clear game plan.

Step one: Reconnaissance

Look on Expatica and in your local bookstore and you will find all kinds of advice from all sorts of experts on how to approach the task of finding that first expat job. Our advice is to read the lot and take notes. Then sit down and start planning ‘Operation Job Seeker’.

Step two: Marshal your forces

Are you living abroad to be with a local partner or an entrenched expat? If that is the case, you have a valuable resource. Use your partner for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Find out what the country is like and get names of family members, friends and business associates who might be able to help in spotting vacancies or even employ you straight off the plane. It is important to have as many people as possible with their ears to the ground, preparing for your landing.

Get your name out into the public arena and map out potential leads. If you are a member of a union or professional association, ask the organisation for a list of contacts and introductions — or better still, job vacancies — in the country you have chosen to live. Once armed with local contact details, sound the organisations out before making the move. Perhaps they won’t be interested to help before you arrive, but at least you can separate potential allies from the hostiles.

Your partner should also help you read the appointments pages in the local newspapers and to get a picture of the labour market. Having other people working for you, does not mean you can sit back and rest on your laurels. On the contrary, you need to decide what your marketable skills are and how to maximise them.

Get into the habit of checking out job websites for expats, as often as possible. Sign up with job seeker data banks.

Monitor the local main job sites regularly. Get your partner or another local speaker to help you navigate the boards.

Step three: Re-arm

Regardless of whether it is part of the job specs or not, you should make an effort to familiarise yourself with the local language – this will go a long way to getting hired, particularly higher up on the professional ladder.

English might be the lingua franca of international business, but wouldn’t it be useful if you could at least convince your new boss in the local language that you intend to finish your language course. Knowing a little bit of language will also help you make friends among your new colleagues easier.

What about your other skills? Do you have abilities and experience that will make you an attractive prospect for employers? Consider taking some extra educational courses. This might push back D-Day, but it is better to have to postpone moving abroad than to land unprepared. It should go without saying that you must arrange the proper documentation and paperwork to allow you to live and work abroad.

Check out the other articles in the Relocation channel on Expatica for more details. You can also contact the embassy in your home country or your relevant government authority or embassy. A lot of expats get the right documents and then come looking for work with the wrong sort of curriculum vitae. There is a lot of literature on creating the right resume and compiling references. Use it.

Step four: Attack

Ideally, you should have some job interviews lined up to coincide with your arrival. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You might need time to acclimatise to life in your new country before you start doing interviews or launch into a new job. The first few weeks might be the only free time you have for a long while, so enjoy yourself. Then — unless you are walking into a position — it is time for a blitz so get into job search overdrive. Get your CV out there because it ain’t going to do much good if it stays in your computer hard drive. Once you send it out, follow up.

Get confirmation that the potential employer has got your application and check when it will be suitable to ring back to hear the verdict. Often, employers are bad and only contact the successful applications. Don’t be left in the dark. Perhaps you don’t strike employers as CEO material straight off, so perhaps you need to consider taking work that is below your level of competence.

There is no harm in this as long as you make clear to yourself and your employer that you would like to move onto something more challenging when the time is right. You are in a new country and therefore you must be prepared to contemplate trying new challenges. The worst thing you can do is to step back and say, “I can’t do that,” so view your first job(s) in the Netherlands as a training period and then go for the jugular when you are ready.

If you really want to ‘dig in’ in to your new country of residence, you might have to endure one or more dead-end jobs at first. In Europe, networking and word-of-mouth can be key factors to landing the perfect job. Think of your first steps abroad as getting integrated into the local culture and language, as well as the professional market. But keep looking for the job you really want.

And finally, don’t despair just when things look to be really desperate, fortune smiles on the brave.