When totaljobs ran a survey about the EU referendum back in May, we found that 24% of Europeans living in the UK planned to leave the country if Brexit became a reality. Now that it has, it seems it’s not only Europeans who are thinking of going to work abroad.
Whether it’s Brexit driving you out of the country or your own personal ambition, there is no denying the positive effect that working abroad could have on your career.
We spoke to experts in international careers as well as professionals who have experienced working abroad for insights into this bold career move.
Develop valuable skills
Al Shariat grew up in New Zealand and moved to the UK to complete his master’s degree. He then started his own company, The Coconut Merchant, an online shop for ethically sourced food products.
His experience of working abroad in the UK has offered him perspective:
“Working in countries around the world has engrained in me the realisation that there are many ways of viewing the same issue, none of which is definitively better than another. Business culture, practices and phraseology vary dramatically.”
Whether or not you plan to start your own business, knowledge of international business practices is beneficial.
“Besides enhancing your language and communication skills, working abroad fosters intercultural competencies such as a global mind-set and cultural intelligence”, according to Dr. Maike Andresen, expatriation expert and professor at the University of Bamberg.
“Employees with experience abroad will be better at working effectively in unfamiliar contexts and in adapting to situations of change.”
Maike also reveals that these skills are in high demand in today’s job market: “Intercultural knowledge is a valuable asset for career progression in today’s increasingly diverse working environment.”
Working abroad can also encourage you to develop personal skills such as resilience and independence. Dr. Julia Richardson from Curtin Business School offers her insight:
“Choosing to work abroad shows that you are an independent thinker willing to take on new challenges.
These personal skills are very transferable and likely to be in strong demand in many work environments, particularly in senior management positions.”
However, Julia warns that some skills may not be transferable to your career back home:
“Not all skills gained are equally valuable – you’ll need to think about their currency or value in different job markets.”
Discover new career opportunities
Katherine Wilson was born and raised in Washington, D.C. After university, she moved to Naples for a three-month internship at the U.S. consulate.
“What was supposed to be three months in Italy became 20 years!” she explains. After working as an actress, Katherine wrote a memoir about her life in Italy.
She explains how going abroad expanded her mind-set:
“Needless to say, I never could have written a book like this if I hadn’t moved abroad. I’ve learned to let the beautiful Italian language and culture influence my ‘American’ approach to work.
I also got a distance from my own language and culture that enabled me to find my own voice and tastes.”
Morag Pavich is the founder and CEO of Mo’s Cookie Dough. Her first career as a communications specialist sent her around the world, but it was a different experience in the US that inspired her to start a business in the UK.
“When living in the US, I enjoyed the convenience of making home baked cookies from pre-prepared cookie dough. When I moved to the UK I would just make my own and stock it in my freezer.”
Eventually she would go on to sell her frozen cookie dough to a previously untapped audience in the UK.
“Living abroad in the UK enabled me to spot a gap in the market but also helped give me the confidence and resilience necessary to become an entrepreneur.”
Morag’s story proves that working abroad can lead to a complete career overhaul and allow for entrepreneurial ides to come to life.
How can I work abroad?
Katherine advises jobseekers to keep an open mind when looking for work abroad. She explains:
“Follow your interests but don’t exclude a place or job because you think it’s irrelevant to your five year plan. When you begin an experience abroad, you never know what personal and professional adventures await.”
Yelena Mackay is the author of “Moving without Shaking”, an expatriation guide for women.
She encourages people to network: “There are companies that will want your language skills and experience – find them!”
Born in Ukraine, Yelena has worked in technology in over 25 countries – a remarkable example of an international career.
“It is incredible to look back and realize that from my first scholarship to the last job, my network has delivered the majority of my opportunities.”
Another top tip – consider your reasons for going abroad. As Maike explains, introspection before moving can help you make the most of it:
“Before seeking a job abroad, jobseekers should question their motives. Do you want to work abroad for career reasons or is it a thirst for adventure? This will help you actively shape your experience.”
Once you are abroad, the experts all agree. Don’t look back!
“Make the most of your experience! Once you are there, get on with it no matter the challenges. Your work experience abroad will be about what you make of it,” says Julia.
If an international opportunity comes your way but you're not sure you should take the plunge, Julia has some final words of advice:
“It’s difficult to cover the full range of both professional and personal skills to be gained from working abroad. Suffice to say, if you do have the chance to do so, grab it with both hands.”
Check out these jobs in Europe or jobs in the Middle East for inspiration!
Do you have any experience working abroad? Is it on your career bucket list? Tell us in the comments below!
Who we interviewed:
Al Shariat is from New Zealand and the director of The Coconut Merchant in the UK.
Dr. Julia Richardson is an expert in international mobility. She works at Curtin Business School in Perth, Australia.
Katherine Wilson is the American author of “Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from my Italian Mother-in-Law” which she wrote while living in Italy.
Professor Dr. Maike Andresen is an expatriation expert and Chair of Human Resource Management at the University of Bamberg in Germany.
Morag Pavich is an American entrepreneur and founder of Mo’s Cookie Dough in Scotland.
Yelena Mackay is a Ukrainian American sales operations executive in tech and the author of “Moving Without Shaking”, a book to help women build successful lives and careers abroad.