Career

Sick of Working in Singapore? Here’s How to Get Hired Overseas

how to get a job overseas

Joanne Poh

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It’s no secret that Singaporean workers are a miserable lot. Long hours, bosses who deserve to be locked up and salaries that barely cover basic living costs are just some of the complaints of the typical Singaporean worker.

If you don’t like something, change it or stop complaining. If you’re certain working here is a surefire way to end up in an insane asylum, then fly the coop and get a job overseas.

Granted, you’re not going to get a job within 24 hours of your first application. But turning your dream of working overseas into more than coffee shop talk is definitely achievable within a few years if you make it a priority. Here’s how.

1. Know where the jobs are

There’s a reason so many foreigners are flocking to Singapore—getting a job here, whether as an expert or a worker, is easy. Unless you have a blindingly clear idea of which country you want to move to, it’s better to keep your options open.

Which countries will be easiest to get a job in also depends to a large extent on your industry. For instance, many Singaporeans in the banking industry get posted to Hong Kong or China, but fewer manage to get jobs in places with ailing economies such as Spain.

Linkedin has come up with this revealing little chart detailing which countries are losing more people to migration, and which are gaining. Countries with strong economies take in more people because the economy is growing and there are more jobs.

How to get hired overseas

In short, you might be in love with pasta and vino, but the Italians aren’t about to give you their jobs when there aren’t enough to go around.

2. Pick an industry and role that gives you more mobility

If you’re lucky enough to have realised early on in your career that you want to get the hell out of Singapore, you’ll be able to pick an industry or course of study that will give you more mobility.

However, even if you’re already some years into your career, that doesn’t mean you’re trapped here for life. In fact, if you’re working for an MNC, you might already have a good chance of asking for a transfer. If not, you still have the opportunity to make a gradual transition into a more mobile role or build more transferable skills on the job.

The fact is, some jobs are more mobile than others. Here’s a list published by Linkedin on some of the skills people who’ve found overseas jobs most frequently possess.

How to get hired overseas

As you can see, social media marketing is high on the list of desired skills. If you’re working in marketing or corporate communications, you would do well to try to engineer a move into the social media side of things if you’ve been largely dealing with traditional marketing.

Even if nothing related to your industry appears on the list, that doesn’t mean all is lost. Many of my friends in industries like banking, engineering, marketing, accountancy and law have found jobs overseas, and none of those appear on the list.

The trick is to find out just how you can mobilise your own job. Even within industries, certain specialisations make you more marketable overseas.

For instance, a lawyer who has experience in areas like banking or finance has a much higher chance of moving overseas doing the same thing than a divorce or criminal lawyer.

3. Try to move overseas within your current company

A surprisingly high number of Singaporeans I know who have managed to secure overseas jobs have done so by working for MNCs and then requesting to be transferred overseas. You might not get a transfer immediately, but if your boss knows you’re gunning for international experience and you’re thick-skinned enough to remind him about it from time to time, sooner or later an opportunity might knock on your door.

I see this happen a lot in banking especially. May, a 30-year-old assistant vice president at an international bank in Singapore, spent two years in Hong Kong at the same company.

“At many international banks, they cannot find locals to fill positions in other locations, hence they are open to people from other countries,” she says. “You become useful because they may need you to bring know-how and share best practices from Singapore.”

However, the opportunity to move didn’t just fall into her lap. “It didn’t happen by chance. My strategy was to indicate interest in relocation. I spoke with my boss about it and made enquiries about vacancies from time to time. So when a vacancy did open up, they naturally thought of me,” she says.

4. Build transferable skills

Technically, virtually everything you do at work is a “skill”, whether it’s schmoozing with clients at a bar or mixing chemicals in a lab. But if your main skills are standing at the fax machine, you’re not going to go very far.

Technical skills in mechanical engineering, programming or science have proven to be very transferable. So if you’ve got such skills, keep it up and try to get awesome at them.

In non-technical industries, on the other hand, skills that are actually useful to overseas markets often contain an international and/or Internet component. For instance, social media marketing is in huge demand in countries where English is not a native language because businesses need native speakers to help promote their products on the Internet in English.

Also, language skills can be a distinct advantage, even if you don’t have to use the language directly at work. For instance, 38-year-old Herman, who is now working in Japan as an architect, credits his Japanese language skills with his success at finding a job there. “I flew directly to Japan for a few months to job hunt instead of applying from Singapore. It’s true that many companies did have lots of foreign staff who spoke only English. But it was easier for me to look credible at interviews because I could speak fluent Japanese.”

Lynn, a 30-year-old marketing manager based in Shanghai, also credits her Mandarin skills with helping her get hired in Shanghai. While those working in upper management at her job converse mainly in English, many of the junior employees are China nationals, and giving instructions to subordinates would be a pain without a strong command of Mandarin.

Do you intend to find work overseas and why? Share your job-hunting strategy in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Berns Wu

    very informative post, thanks Joanne!

  • Desmond Yee

    I am currently working in melbourne and have worked in singapore and hk. I would say that networking is really very important (it helped to land me my job in hk). As for melbourne, i just happened to get it as i knew the ex colleagues of the ceo here. So i would say networking is rather important. 🙂