When I moved to London, England from Ottawa, Canada, I had to make a lot of adjustments—especially when it came to finding a job. Because I didn’t come to London with a VISA program or tour group, I didn’t have a lot of tools available to me, and had to do a lot on my own. If you’re trying to find work in a new country, here are three things you should know:
#1 Networking is important—and very, very hard
You’ve probably read any of the 1,000 articles out there telling you how important it is to network early and often to ensure career success. But building a network from scratch is a difficult task, especially when you don’t have a job to connect with someone over. This isn’t just important for job leads when you move to a new city—when you get interviews, employers want references, and giving them email-only contacts seems sketchy. However, long-distance phone numbers and a five-hour time difference also made reference checking a hassle for the HR teams at new companies.
Learn from my mistake: Ideally I should have had verified reference letters before I left old jobs, and passed those on to my new employers. Be sure to get these before you leave home!
Another way to get experience when you have none is to freelance. I managed to find some work building a web page for a friend of the family, which lead to a referral to an internship. Websites like PeoplePerHour, Elance or TaskRabbit can help you find the type of part-time work you’re looking for, and will give you local contacts who can vouch for your work ethic. Volunteering is another great way to build up references! For regular networking and meeting new people, sites like Meetup or Funzing are a great place to meet people with similar interests.
#2 Institutions don’t make it easy
When I first landed in London, I lived with my uncle temporarily until I could find a job, and after that, a flat. I figured it would be best to get a bank account first. That’s where the trouble began. The bank required a proof of address or a letter from my employer, neither of which I had yet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get those things without a bank account, either—who would rent an apartment or give a job to someone without a bank account? As a visitor at my uncle’s, I couldn’t get any bills put in my name, so I couldn’t claim residency there.
Learn from my mistake: I tried everything I could think of to work around it, which turned out to be a massive waste of time and effort. It was impossible to start my life without these things, so eventually, I went to an international bank and registered with my Canadian address. The HSBC has a program where they’ll put you on a probation account for 6 months based on your old address. Or, plan ahead and set up an international bank account before you leave.
#3 Writing your CV becomes very tricky
I had plenty of work experience in local events, federal government, and university groups—but nothing from organizations that anyone in England would have recognized. Sending out my usual CV without explanation almost seemed like I made up the jobs, but trying to keep my CV to two pages meant that I couldn’t afford paragraphs of wasted space based on company description.
Learn from my mistake: There might not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, depending on how important details of your previous workplaces are to you. But I searched for several different CV templates online, and found one that allowed me to put a one-line memo about each company I worked for in a way that didn’t get in the way of the information I wanted to convey. Look for different ways to move around the information so that the story you’re telling with your CV comes across clearly!