Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Work permit 2 of 5: Preparing your Résumé

Mad Scientist
Mad scientists still count
as "skilled workers".
Photo by Christopher Neugebauer
You're either a "skilled" or "unskilled" worker. The terms are vague, but loosely involve the amount of training/education needed for a particular skill. You may be a the best pizza delivery guy in your country, but you're still going to be considered an "unskilled" worker. Unskilled workers are going to have to go a different route to working overseas (such as teaching English), but these posts are going to concentrate on what skilled workers need for a work permit job.

Building your Résumé/CV

The first thing you have to do is to build your résumé. This is your key to making things happen. Early in 2006, I dropped by a former employer in Portland to pick up some paperwork I needed for my UK work permit. One of my former colleagues asked: "why do you get to go to Europe and we don't?"

I replied, quite honestly, "I know some of you are better programmers than I am, but nobody knows who you are."

In other words: I marketed myself. I constantly answered questions for people online and posted advice for them on appropriate forums. I did this for years and still do it on different forums.  You won't necessarily have to do that (or do that for years), but you do need to figure out some way of "marketing" yourself so that you stand out. What this means is that you need to be competent in your field but you don't have to be the absolute best.  Here's where a multi-prong strategy helps. In addition to getting myself known online, I also ...
J'ai le goût du voyage ! / i want to travel !
Don't forget why
you're doing this!
Photo by Paul Falardeau
These are all on my CV. These sorts of things may not apply to you, but you need to find something which will. For example, are you a social worker? How many social workers in the US do you know who have joined the National Association of Social Workers? Did you know that many magazines and Web sites are struggling to find new writers? If you're not sure who you would submit article proposals to, grab the 2011 Writer's Market.

Remember that the goal is to have a résumé which makes someone say "hey Inga, take a look at this!" This means having something on there that other applicants don't.

Let me repeat that: have something on there that other applicants don't. In fact, have several somethings. I have an entire section entitled "Notable Publications" and I have other accomplishments in another section. My résumé gets noticed.

And try to make it relevant to your career. If you're a jet mechanic, volunteering at a homeless shelter is nice, but if you're trying to get a job as a volunteer coordinator, it's a lot nicer. Anything which is both positive and career-related should show up on that résumé, particularly if it's something other applicants won't have (at the same time, a 37 page résumé is going straight into the trash after everyone laughs at it).


While you're at it, hit the major search engines and search for your name. If you search for my name, most of those links are me. If you search for my name and "Perl", the programming language I specialize in, almost all of those links are me. That was me deliberately marketing myself. People will search for your name. What will they find? If they find dishing out snotty, off-color remarks and being rude to people, or find that photo of you Facebook where you're vomiting at a frat party, you're not going to get the job. I know a couple of people in my field who are very competent and well-known, but because they're rude online, they lose employment opportunities. Even if you're not going to spend a lot of time online, take care of that online image. Every time you post something think "would I want an employer to see this?"


While you're at it, have your friends Google you — and read your résumé/CV — to look for things that you'll miss. You can't afford to screw up here. A single misspelled word may be quietly killing your dreams.

Also, throw a "go away" party with them. You'll just sit around and get stupidly drunk (or whatever it is that you do) and brainstorm ideas for things you can get on your CV (failing that, ask reddit!) Get those creative juices flowing so you can figure out how to make this work.

Overview of Part 2

The first part of getting that job overseas is all about you. It's laying a solid foundation.
  • Count von Europe (listed in part 1)
  • Get your papers in order (listed in part 1)
  • Have several unique things on your résumé
  • Google yourself
  • Get help from your friends
Is this hard work? Yup. I never promised it would be easy, but it's not going to happen without effort on your part.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the job hunt and applying.

<< Part 1: the IntroductionPart 3: Applying for jobs >>


  1. I know this is was posted like a year ago, but this is certainly helping me out by answering some questions I hadn't had answered yet. I'm only 25, and thus only have 3 years of professional experience as a Java programmer. I don't plan on trying to make the move for another year or so, but I was curious as to what I could do in the meantime to make myself look better (pet project web apps, start a programming blog, etc.) and reading this made me feel like I"m possibly heading down the right path. Thanks for writing this!

  2. @Anonymous: you're quite welcome. Actually, a young age helps because many countries give preference to younger workers. Of course, they also prefer experienced workers for work permits, so it's a tough line to walk.

    Good luck and let us know how you get on!

  3. This helped me SOOOOO much! I'm also quite young (23) and I plan to make the move in about 2.5 years. The economic climate in Europe now is extremely tough so I'm depending on a Master's Degree, knowing 2 languages, and working for the Central Bank of my country to give me an edge. I'm also well traveled, having lived in 5 countries already.

    Do you find that those language learning software really work? I'm thinking of learning something like German or Dutch to give me a better edge on my competition.

    1. Generally speaking, no, I haven't been terribly impressed with language learning software. There is some which is very heavily marketed but doesn't have solid pedagogy behind it. Sadly, there's not really much of a shortcut for learning languages (though you might want to check out Anki decks).