Interviewing for an international position is much different than your regular job, and it should be treated accordingly. When you interview for a job at home, there are certain baseline assumptions that are made. Some aspects of your interview are treated with certainty, and your overall clarity about the company and role you will have are crystal clear.
Unfortunately, these same assumptions don’t apply when you’re looking for an opportunity to work abroad.
At home, you most likely won’t need any extensive documentation, will already know where you will be living, will already have a group of friends in your immediate circle, and upfront costs for starting your job are next to nothing (in many instances you actually get a signing bonus!) The process is pretty clean-cut.
When searching for a job abroad however, these certainties fly out the window.
When searching for a job internationally, there are certain questions you must ask, and ask quickly, or you will be in for one frustrating ride. There is nothing worse than getting to the final round of interviews with a company only to find that they aren’t willing to pay you what you are looking for, or they expect you to handle figuring out your visa on your own. This is simply a waste of everyone’s time, and leads to frustration all around.
Having been through this process several times myself, and now having helped others do the same since starting BrainGain, I have created a series of questions that I believe everyone should ask to a potential employer when working abroad. These questions will save you an enormous amount of time, energy, and research, and will help you to not only get the information you need, but also develop a strong bond with your future employer due to healthy dialogue.
This is hand’s down the most important question to ask when interviewing abroad. It is the biggest barrier to working abroad in general, and there are equally numerous approaches and responses to this question. Know what your options are so that you can make an educated decision.
The visa question can usually go one of three ways.
1) Rejected: The unfortunate reality is that most employers won’t be willing to sponsor an employment visa. It’s usually an expensive, time consuming, and frustrating process, and smaller companies will often simply reject you because they are unfamiliar with the process and unwilling to learn how to do it themselves. It’s a lot of resources for a company to allocate to interview one employee.
2) Come Here First: I have often heard companies say that they will only interview someone who is actually in the country. This means that you have to arrive in the country on a tourist visa (illegal to work on), in hopes that a company will find you an attractive candidate, and not only hire you, but sponsor a proper work visa. This usually leads to working pro-bono or under the table for a few months, and then a) be on your merry way or b) get legitimate. Currently, this is still the most popular way that people work abroad.
3) Do it Yourself: Sometimes a company will ask you to handle it on your own. If you can figure out the necessary paperwork and process, they are open to it. In this situation the question you have to ask yourself is “Do I want to handle this myself?” This is something only you can answer, and will be a common trend throughout.
4) Yes!: If they say yes outright, then you are in luck! Make sure to ask as many questions as you can and get as much possible clarity into the process.
Yes, you read that correctly. Not, “What can I MAKE?”, but “What can I SAVE?”. The most common mistake we see in international job seekers is to ask for a certain salary without taking into account the cost of living in that country. Salaries do not transfer internationally, and looking for a job based on what you currently make is a flawed approach.
If you are from the US/UK/Canada, your salary will almost always be 1/2-1/4 of what you would make at home, unless you are moving to the EU.
However, just because you are making 1/3 of your salary often doesn’t actually mean you are making less, in some instances it can be quite the opposite. Although your salary might be 1/3, the cost of living might be 1/5, enabling you to actually save more than if you were in your home country.
When interviewing with the company, this approach also helps you to come across as more empathetic of the needs of the company. If you are able to say “I am looking to save X per month”, a company will quickly know if they can afford you or not. If you come in saying “I want to break even every month”, it’s a much different conversation than, “I want to save $2k USD every month.” Come in from this perspective and it will help you save a lot of math and confusion on both sides.
Pretty straightforwards. Ask upfront. Most times companies won’t do this unless you are making a long-term commitment, but it’s an important question to ask. Some will cover only one way. See what you can negotiate.
This is a common deal breaker for a lot of people. A company might be willing to give you a job and handle your visa, but they want you to handle your own housing. If this is the case, there are some follow up questions that will be really useful for you to consider.
1) Will the company assist in any way? This assistance could be financial, connecting you to brokers or websites, or connecting you to an internal HR who points you in the right direction. Or they could say that they won’t give you any help at all. Either way, if you discuss this early on it will help. A lot.
2) What is the typical deposit like? This is a big one that is commonly overlooked. The deposit can be a large upfront cost anywhere from $500-$1000 or more, so you need to make sure you are financially prepared.
3) Will I have time during normal working hours to search? There are few things as stressful as starting a new job while also trying to find yourself a place to live. Work 9-5, then go search in unknown neighborhoods by night, all during your first few weeks in a country. This routine is enough to break anyone. Make sure that the company understands you will have to search and see how empathetic they are to your needs.
Most companies will cover this for you if you ask. Others will want you to get international medical insurance on your own. Make sure you are clear about who pays for what.
Knowing if a company has ever hired someone from abroad before will tell you a lot about how comfortable they are with it. Some have been doing it for a while and have formalized procedures and standards for bringing someone new on board. Others have tried it once before and had a bad experience so they will be very skeptical. Then there will be others who have simply never tried it and are clueless. Make sure you understand what type of company you are interviewing with.
If they have had other international employees, always ask for a connection. Getting information from previous employees is a massive help. If the company willingly does and someone replies quickly, great sign. If the company stalls or delays on this, watch out. It’s usually easy to tell when a company is being shady, and if you can sense a lack of transparency, run for the hills!
If you get into the later stages of interviewing, make sure to ask to speak with someone who has that role currently. This will give you a great understanding of your day to day responsibilities and how steep of a learning curve you will have when you come on board. Especially if this is a sales role, see what types of numbers people are achieving and see what is being expected of you in comparison.
Companies might be open to short term freelance or contract based work, year long employment, or maybe even an internship. Ask the company early on what duration they would like to bring you on board for, and how flexible they are on these durations. Depending on the role this could lead in a variety of different directions.
When interviewing for a role at home, you are almost always expected to begin working immediately. However when working internationally, this rarely happens. It’s important that you and your potential employer are on the same page with when you can begin working. There’s nothing worse than getting to the later stages of an interview only to have your employer realize that you want a job 6 months from now and they lose interest or can’t plan that far ahead. Don’t fall into this trap.
Paid time off isn’t the same from country to country. Make sure that you clearly understand local and national holidays, time off for international holidays, personal time off, etc. This varies greatly by country and is something that should be thoroughly discussed.
These are the questions we feel are the most important to ask, specifically in the context of international work. You should always make sure to ask questions to a company about their mission and vision, why they want to bring you on board, how many team members you will work with, who you will report to, etc., but we commonly see the questions above overlooked because people are simply new to the process and are unprepared with their genuine curiosity (it’s a good thing!)
In my own personal experience, these were the common pain points that I encountered when looking for a job abroad. Once you have these questions down, you can look to study techniques to help you nail your interview.
I hope that with these questions you are better prepared to handle the rigors of international work, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck in your hunt! 😀