My network of foreign contacts in ICT is “considerably” large. The niche-recruitment arm of Valbonne Consulting receives over a hundred non EU based CV’s from qualified engineers each month. We often get asked by applicants how to land a job in Germany/France/Holland, as a foreigner … So I’d like to shed some light here.
Germany is now the hot-spot of the EU job market. There are thousands of qualified applicants from all over the world (especially from those EU economies who are troubled right now).
These people are easier to hire than somebody without a visa because:
- many are already in the country
- most have a high quality education, strong work ethics and are familiar with the local culture
Hiring managers hence ask themselves whether an overseas applicant who has never even visited Europe, would actually like living in the country. This is much less of an argument for people from other EU countries.
So competing against “locals” is always tough when trying to apply from overseas. Below are some hints about the most common traps and some “insider” know-how to help improve your odds.
The three biggest filters on any hiring process are: location location location.
So if the hiring manager received your CV from Sweden but there are 5 more CV’s from suitable candidates in Germany, it makes sense to interview these first. (optimize the work-flow and reduce its impeding logistical complexity)
Even your CV is a solid technical match, hiring managers prefer to have interviews in person (at least in later stages of the process). And while a video chat is a good way for a first contact, it simply won’t suffice to base a decision whether to sign a permanent contract with you and pay for your relocation!
The challenge for hiring managers is: Even they’re excited about your CV, and would theoretically want to invite you, they’re still required (usually by law) to cover your expenses to travel to/from the interview. Fair? I think so.
If the applicant is already in Germany it’s easy because costs are predictable. From outside Germany it’s much harder due to additional costs to get you to the site for an interview. This needs clarification from higher management. Agreeing to reimburse travel fees implies a risk of spending more from the budget than normal, but with an uncertain outcome. If the interview does not work out, they might need to explain why they invited you in the first place, or if these shortcomings should have been spotted already in a video-chat. So again the rule of location.
I’ve noticed that applications from India are the most difficult to evaluate in terms of whether the person really knows their stuff.
This is not a generalization and has nothing to do with cultural barriers. The issue here is that an Indian CV will often (90% of the time) contain every keyword that exists on the planet, just to get the foot in the door. That makes it very hard for hiring managers to gauge what the applicant knows best and what their real speciality is. Even for a person like me who comes from a technical background with years of SW development I find it often hopeless. Having to invest massive time figuring out the real skills behind a CV will waste the hiring managers time!
Because of this, it becomes very hard to enter the market even for applicants with perfect CV’s. Because 9/10 times CV’s are like this, hiring manager looking at your name/phone number will simply already expect the worst and think “oh dear another one of these jack of all trades”. Often they don’t even continue reading when realizing you’re based overseas. That said it’s refreshing to see CV’s from people who get it right.
Please don’t get me wrong I love people who are “all-rounders”. But listing every one of the 500 tools you have every used in your 3 years of command line usage, along with “project management duties fresh from university” simply begs the question what you really know. Especially people in tech should know that just because they beat the companies keyword logic of their applicant tracking system, doesn’t mean the technical hiring manager will be convinced too!
It would be better to focus on what you really know, what you love and drive home your passion. Don’t add sh!t to your CV you don’t use on a weekly basis. It always backfires when people are willing to sell themselves as “qualified for everything”. It makes your audience also wonder if you just want to go to another country and don’t care about the actual job (you should never look desperate whatever situation you are in). Again I bet that even if you think you got it right you still have too much irrelevant info on your CV.
If you want to highlight the fact that you’re a well-rounded person with a broad sense of interests, then this is great. But then better to add links to these other documents (online) and keep your CV focused/crisp and in line with what you’re really about.
The following is a problem common in applications from all nationalities:
Applicants with only 2 years of development experience often feel they have to include info about their management experience or ambitions to eventually move into PM. This is a double-edged sword because it indicates that the person would rather manage than be an engineer. It is very common when people come from previous jobs where there was no career-path for engineering professionals even in engineering companies (yes you heard that right).
What you wanna be when you grow up?
If the only way to earn more money in engineering is by moving into a mgmt role, then it’s only natural that engineers get fed up and want to reinvent themselves as managers with better salaries. Well managed organization do offer you a career-path in engineering. Unfortunately many big companies who outsource to low-cost countries do it like this: hire the cheapest people they can find (“cheapest” even for local standards, often by overloading their org with 95% fresh graduates and nobody to mentor them). Then have a few selected local managers “drive them” like slaves until the employee had enough and leaves to a competitor next door. That cycle repeats until the engineer had enough “of engineering” and wants to become a middle-manager.
Who wants to hire a middle-manager?
Before you put focus on your “extensive management experience”, better carefully check what the job-spec says: Do they want a worker-bee, a team-leader or a technical-PM? Do you even want to be a manager? Would you have better chances in mgmt or in a senior architect/design role. There is the title of “Distinguished Engineers” in many companies who earn far more as you would probably imagine: and they’re really the best in their field mainly because they stuck with technology.
There are many ways to the top and it doesn’t always have to be via management. Also the top is where your heart feels at home and not where some deluded organogram says you should be (these charts get reshuffled with every merger anyway ;-)).
If management is truly your thing take a look at the business analyst profession (though there are many more routes that lead to Rome).
If you do put focus on management in a job that asks for “worker-bees”, it’ll raise questions whether you actually love your work and still feel passionate about the technical aspect. Who wants to be managed by a manager who doesn’t even like the line of business they’re in?
Companies (and people) prefer when people have a clear idea of where they are in life and which direction they want to go! If an employer is looking for a senior developer they probably won’t risk bringing in an applicant who actually prefers to manage, while knowing nothing about the highly complex internal work-flow/process/politics (which often takes years to develop). This problem becomes stronger as the seniority of the candidate increases. But sadly is also present even in some Junior applicants. So think about what you really want and clearly say so! Want to become a PM? Then don’t apply for a Senior Development role because people will think you are the worst manager ever. And we sure have enough of those around!
Do I have to speak German/Dutch/French:
Yes and no. Many people will love to speak English with you (which sometimes even makes it hard to learn the local language quicker). But in a work environment you would do better when making an effort and learn the lingo at least in the long run. Anglo-Saxon suffer from this most because the rest of Europeans are raised/drilled to improve their English. They were told that English is very important already in primary school. So when they see a chance to speak it, they do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to make an effort. The most successful integration of an English man I’ve ever seen was an ex-colleague of mine: He insisted even in a multicultural work environment to speak German with his German colleagues. He would give anyone an upset look followed by a long pause and reply in German to any English question he received from Germans 🙂 I realized later that only due to this persistence and strong will was he able to speak at that level.
Finally the excuse that “in your 5 years working in the country you were simply “soooo” busy with your job” is a straight fail in the interview. If not for yourself then at least as a form of respect to those co-workers who don’t speak English as good as yourself – learn the language 🙂 !
Not learning the language will put you in a situation where once you change the employer after few years you’ll suddenly have to explain why you couldn’t be asked to make an effort in those years you were already here!
Are German and France extreme? No. Picture landing a job in the UK without English, or in Japan without Japanese? Would be hard right? So better get cracking because the sooner you do, the better your chances in the long run. What will help big time for your application is if you enrol in language classes long before you go. It will also lead to a better salary because you become more competitive on the local market and feel more at home in the country of your choice!
Never apply to several different jobs at the same time in the same company unless they all happen to be really close to your skills. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Spell check the text before you send and if possible have a friend proof-read it too!! (-> this one goes out especially to my native English-speaking friends who seem to be unable to understand the difference between “its” and “it’s” ;-))
Ensure you include in your contact details at minimum a phone number and an email address. Especially freelancers who deal a lot with recruiting agencies and headhunters often have their own email alias set up to filter out the job related email traffic. That way you don’t “pollute” your inbox and can keep an eye on the market once you have landed the perfect position.
Last but not least, here is a list of documents required by many hiring managers (some of this might look especially strange or over-the-top to UK applicants):
- Motivation Letter (cover letter): if you can pull it off write it in the local language. Keep it brief! Find common ground between the job-spec, the skills in your CV, and the company information you have (do your research). Ensure the cover letter is written for this one position. If it could be sent to several jobs it’s not specific enough and will do more harm than good! Avoid common phrases and marketing bla!
- University diplomas
- University transcripts (showing grades)
- Reference from earlier employers (get them before you even think of quitting your job and always get them when your superior changes).
- 2 or 3 references (only supply them when requested) who may be contacted.
- Links to any interesting projects you did outside work (github, sourceforge, etc … or even your blog)
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Please note Valbonne Consulting does not provide professional coaching or mentoring services to job seekers. However we’d like to hear your story on how you went about your job hunt and successfully landed a job abroad. If you’d like to publish your experience with us as short essays (so that others can learn from it), then please contact me via email: talent [at] valbonne-consulting [dot] com
What follows below are individual short success stories of people who kindly provided feedback on how they experienced the process (thanks guys!!). Hope this provides you with ideas and shows that there are many ways to reach your goal.
“I am an American and I was working as a process engineer at a mid-sized avionics firm in the US. A lot of my time was spent developing DXL customizations for DOORS 9.x and thus I often visited an online forum devoted to DXL. I noticed that one particular user was a rock star in the forum. I thought, “It would be great to work with such a smart person.” I looked up the company in the user’s signature; it was in Germany and had job openings. I had a longstanding dream to live and work in Europe so I rolled the dice and contacted them. After a couple rounds of e-mails and a phone interview with the rock star, they hired me! My presence, participation, and demonstrated knowledge in the forum was key to convincing them I was worth the trouble of sponsoring my work permit and residency.” — $mike
Valbonne Consulting provides Research & Consulting for emerging technologies in Internet/Web of Things (WoT/IoT/M2M) and Emerging-Tech. We specialise in decentralisation, security and privacy. We work across a variety of traditional industry verticals (Telecommunications, Automotive, Energy, ...). We support Open Source and technologies built on open standards.