You can only get so far by thinking about stuff. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Maybe “going for it” for you means landing a full-time job someplace abroad, or maybe it’s becoming a digital nomad–traveling around the world continuously and working for yourself. But whichever path you’ve got your eye on, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’ve done a ton of research, lots of mulling it over, and now feel both really inspired and completely hopeless.
This is precisely the moment where a purposeful trip overseas can be a real breakthrough. If you’re dead set on making the type of career change that requires a valid passport, taking two weeks or longer to do some strategic networking can be hugely beneficial. Based on what I’ve seen work in the past–and after four years living and working abroad myself–here’s how I’d recommend going about it.
If You Want To Get Hired Overseas
If you’re looking for an international job, there are a few things you need to do before going on your recon mission.
Step 1: Decide where. First, you need to know exactly where you want to move. “South America” is not an acceptable search radius, nor is “maybe Colombia or Brazil.” At the very worst it can be “either Bogotá or Rio, I’m not sure which,” but any more than two specific destinations and you’ll spread yourself too thin. It’s impossible to plan a purposeful trip when you haven’t narrowed down to the specific place where you want to live and work.
Step 2: Research, research, research. Next, spend a solid month or two doing some serious homework– getting a sense of the demand for the two to three roles you know you’re qualified to fill in that market; identifying 30-40 companies (yes, that many!) where those types of roles are available over there; speaking directly with locals and expatriates (ideally people who work at those same target organizations) about those opportunities; joining Facebook groups for expats in the region where jobs are posted regularly; and asking everyone you know for everyone they know who lives or has ever lived there.
After a couple months of this, you should be getting some traction. How will you know? Because you’ll have gotten a helpful response from a recruiter or two, or maybe even a few invitations for interviews. Several expats will have given you useful advice over the phone, and you’ll have assembled a list of friends of friends who live there now and have been friendly over email. But probably no job offers yet, and no concrete hope of getting a visa yet. And that’s okay–this is enough to work with.
So you save up a bit of money, ask your boss for 10-14 days off, and book a flight. But you’re not going on vacation–this is going to be hard work.
Step 3: Build a grueling itinerary. Before departing, you ideally want to have a few interviews at prospective companies on your calendar, but it’s okay if you don’t. Either way, you set up coffee and lunch dates with anyone and everyone you know in that city. You shake your network like you’re trying to get the last crumbs out of the last bag of chips on Earth. You search for local events in your field in that city. You contact recruiters.
You schedule yourself in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a real human being who lives in that city every single day. And every single night, you have a networking event to go to, followed by a drink at an expat bar to meet even more people. You go on Tinder if you have to and line up dates with people in your field. This is all in.
If you can’t get this rigorous of a schedule locked in before boarding that plane, you haven’t done enough homework–stay home until you’re able to put together a social calendar that would suit the Duchess of Wales traveling on royal business. Once in your city of choice, you go do all your interviews and meetings, connect face-to-face with as many human beings as possible, keep track of these new contacts, and get as much of a footing in the market as you can. You meet your friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law if you have to because she just might know someone who’s hiring for an account manager, and that could be your lucky break.
Step 4: Work your newfound network. This strategy boosts your chances of coming home with an actual job offer in hand, but that’s not the goal entirely. If you come back with 20 new contacts in the expat or local community who know your face and name, that’s still huge. Maybe they can put you directly in contact with their boss or their head of HR about positions you’re qualified for, or tip you off when they’re hiring–either way, you’re going to be in much better shape than when you were sitting in New York and blindly sending out resumes to international employers.
These scouting trips, when done right, can be really successful. A few years back, the boyfriend of a colleague of mine flew out to visit us in Doha for two weeks. He was an experienced web designer and film producer from Mexico looking to score a creative role in a Qatari fashion company–a super specific objective (that’s a good thing). He’d done his homework beforehand, and after two weeks on the ground had scored four job offers and a signed contract. He’s still there.
If You Want To Become A Digital Nomad
If you’re more interested in setting up a remote business or working for yourself while traveling abroad, this is a smart approach for you, too.
Step 1: Find a digital nomad hotspot. Take two weeks (or as long as you can) and ship yourself off to a digital nomad hub like Chiang Mai or Bali. If you can afford it, enroll in a program geared to helping people like you develop remote businesses, like the ones offered by the The Crew or Hubud. Or rent a coworking space and systematically get to know people who are already nomadic and working there. How are they earning their income? How did they get started?
Step 2: Learn everything you can. This is crucial networking–but think of it as an investigation of the lifestyle and business mechanics more so than an as exploration of a specific locale where digital nomads typically gather. You may not want to wind up in this spot long-term, but you’re heading there for the intel.
Step 3: Add contacts to your network. Don’t interrogate anyone, just go for some beers. Put yourself in a position where you can sit next to somebody at lunch and introduce yourself. Go to parties in Ubud and strike up friendly conversations with everyone you meet for a couple weeks. You just might run into someone who happens to have a killer e-commerce business and gives you the inspiration you need to launch your own venture.
This kind of trip requires much less planning, but it’s no less strategic. If you can’t leave with a robust base of firsthand contacts, and knowledge from people who’ve already achieved the specific goal you have in mind, you haven’t quite succeeded.
No matter what type of international opportunity you’re looking for, sometimes getting on a plane is the logical next step. It’s not about hopping a one-way flight after you’ve quit your job, though–glamorous as it might sound–but a sensible roundtrip ticket for a well-planned networking mission can help you stick your foot in the door of your dream life.
In my experience, there’s no substitute for meeting real people who already do what you want to do, in the place where you want to do it.
Elaina Giolando is an international project manager and digital nomad who’s lived and worked in more than 50 countries. She writes about global careers, unconventional lifestyle design, and meaningful travel on Life Before 30.