Jetlagged and tired from the long flight, I showed the address to my taxi driver. It was early evening and the hot, humid air hit me like a wall of bricks as I left the airport. It was pitch dark except for the neon lights buzzing everywhere. Just as you’d expect in this part of the world.
After a short ride, I made it to my destination. A large building down a shady-looking alley neighboring tiny street shops side by side. The type that doesn’t make it clear if it is a dangerous or nice neighborhood.
As I walked into the empty reception I noticed the creepy lights and not too well-kept interior. It turned out that this zombie-looking zone had just been abandoned by my new co-workers an hour earlier as everyone went home for dinner.
After locating the elevator and the right office, I finally found my new boss. That was the first day at my new job. One of many marketing jobs abroad.
I landed the first one in another country several years earlier. It was the perfect gig while in university. I had to figure out how to get the company in front of decision-makers at home and I was the only one with any experience in digital marketing and the excitement to learn it.
It felt nuts to start my career with something as fun as that, being abroad on an exciting adventure and getting paid for the privilege.
Another time I landed a marketing job abroad that offered me to lead the digital marketing projects with a great salary, no limits on holidays, and excellent budgets for my own training. That is when I realized that the marketing jobs abroad – those from the expat tales still exist in some shape or form.
How we’ve been told to find marketing jobs
Most people land marketing jobs by applying via job websites or through recruitment agencies. Naturally, many of us assume that we can use the same approach to land marketing jobs abroad.
I’m sure it’s possible but I’ve never seen it happen firsthand. Instead, CVs get sent into the dark void never to be heard from again. They get discarded by a system before a real human being could look at it or they get rejected as the cover letter doesn’t clearly show the value of going the extra mile that is worth relocating someone overseas for, instead of hiring a local or an expat in-country.
Once, I sent out one hundred applications abroad (yes, 100!). I even offered to work for free as part of an internship in university and I only heard back from two.
This approach sucks and makes it difficult for us to understand if this job overseas will be our dream job, a great career move or a dead end. At the same time, it is difficult for us to show how we can stand out compared to other good candidates the company has to choose from locally.
Job descriptions are often a good combo of the important tasks needing to be done and what the dream candidate looks like, rather than what is necessary. It’s hard to judge whether it’s truly a good fit after just a couple of interviews as anyone can put on a good show for an hour here and there. And most companies and bosses hiring feel the same way.
There are certain exceptions like at the United Nations where the hiring process is highly specific and rarely deviates from the standard process but even so, things might not always be the way they seem.
Even with recruitment agencies that promise to have an “in” with certain companies. Unless we have a personal friend working at the recruitment agency, it doesn’t make sense to outsource the most important decision to someone else as they tend to place us where they can to earn their commission. And who can blame them?
The only meaningful exception I know of is if we already have a job and want to interview for a new one as the agencies can help with the matchmaking without letting the whole world know.
In fact, I tried using a recruitment agency and landed a gig in Portugal. It looked decent on paper and people seemed nice but after working there for a few days I realized that it was a timewaster for my career with no real trajectory–and I had to pay for the privilege! Lesson learned.
The problems with marketing jobs abroad
Generally, there are three types of marketing jobs abroad
- When the company’s target market is in the same country as the company
- When it’s in a foreign country (e.g. your home country)
- Globally across many countries (e.g. the UN or large corporations)
Within that, things tend to be divided up into B2B and B2C marketing jobs. In both camps, the lower level jobs or jobs straight out of university tend to be challenging for expats to get because the skills needed are not advanced and it makes it difficult to justify paying an expensive expat when a local will do just as well.
Mid-level or senior management is a better fit because local market insights can come from the rest of the team and don’t have to rely on us. At the same time, many businesses like to have foreign mid-level managers to bridge the gap between senior (foreign) management and the local staff to reduce the headache that can happen when two different cultures work together.
The exception is if you work with businesses from your home country. Often that requires that we sell to businesses and people from cultures similar to our own and they tend to like doing business with someone who they feel more familiar with and can help bridge the can to this new world.
On occasion, I’ve even found it possible to get marketing ‘starter’ jobs abroad in outsourcing but it isn’t the best industry to specialize in as the key component often is cost savings and that means the business case will be more attractive by reducing our salary. That will make things more and more challenging for us the longer we advance our career but you might be able to find a meaningful approach as a way into the client’s businesses overseas.
For example, I’ve worked at a couple of outsourcing agencies over the years and both had clients who helped establish an outsourcing division in that foreign country. Had I realized it at the time, it would have been a terrific opportunity to move to the client-side and help them since we already had an existing relationship.
Finally, a huge challenge with marketing jobs abroad is that the best ones are rarely posted anywhere. Even if they are, they are surprisingly hard to find as they are not advertised or shared in the traditional channels since many of them are focused on locals or expats already living in the country.
Next, let’s look at an alternative strategy that I used to land marketing jobs abroad with great success.
An alternative strategy to landing dream marketing jobs abroad without sending your CV into a dark void
Through trial and error, I’ve been able to land marketing jobs abroad. What surprised me was that I didn’t have to apply the traditional way as these jobs weren’t posted anywhere and I’m pretty sure there were no other candidates being seriously considered for them.
The first time I considered myself extremely lucky to get what seemed like a unicorn opportunity. But when it happened more than once I got confused as to why I had never heard about this before since I didn’t consider my profile anything special.
I discovered that in some cases people get hired and either a role is created specifically for them or they are hired to figure out something meaningful to do based on the assumption that they are good to have in the company in general.
When I realized that I was skeptical as I had never been presented with that idea before or known anyone in that situation until I realized that was my own situation. As I dug deeper I began to hear this phenomenon happen more and more.
First, I got a great gig in outsourcing by contacting my embassy in the country, asking for a list of companies from my home country operating there. Looking at the list, I set up coffee meetings with a few companies that appeared to be a good fit and eventually landed a gig.
I got the next job by following the same approach before going on holiday in one of the neighboring countries. I again got the list of companies from my home country and selected a few key players. I reached out explaining the situation and asked for a tour of the office.
It worked. Later the guy I met had moved to another company and they reached out with an opportunity and a job offer to relocate and come work for them.
Another time, I went to look at an apartment and the owner’s friend happened to be there as well. Later, that turned into a freelance gig which eventually turned into a career-changing job opportunity.
The longer I’ve been working abroad and the more career expats I’ve met, the more I notice that my stories are not unusual at all. In fact, most of my friends have similar stories. One bought a concert ticket from a stranger and that led to a job a few months down the road. Another landed a great job on a suggestion from his former boss even though it wasn’t at the same company.
It feels as if there is this secret club, hidden from people at home, where expats help each other abroad.
The commonality between the marketing job examples above is that my network helped me. I’ve found that while networking can feel cringy, expats tend to be better and more interested in that than we’d expect from home.
Most people want that amazing job but don’t want to do the work to get ‘em and that’s why they love job boards. If you are one of the few who wants to take advantage of going abroad to advance your career, leapfrog your peers, and are willing to put in 2x the work in exchange for 10x the results, welcome. You’ve come to the right place.
I find that the biggest challenge for us going abroad to advance our career is that there is so little information available about it compared to finding the right job at home. That’s why I experiment with this and share the results in my private newsletter.
- Don’t outsource your career decisions to someone else, it’s too important
- It can be challenging to land marketing jobs abroad early career
- People say “your network is your net worth” and that is amplified abroad via the hidden expat “club”