How to Get a Dream Job Overseas Using Your Language Skills
“If you want the job it’s yours.”
I couldn’t believe it. After teaching English for a few years in China I’d been offered a job as a cultural liaison. I’d be working at an international design and manufacturing company in China, using my Mandarin Chinese skills every day.
I’d previously tried to find a job the traditional way – by looking at job boards and submitting applications. Then, I discovered a new method for finding jobs. This had worked! I was finally going to be able to live in China and use Chinese.
I’d like to share my approach – including the exact steps I followed to land my dream job.
How to Use Your Language Skills to Find Work
Speaking another language is a valuable asset when you’re looking for work. Employers like seeing it on your resume even when the job they are hiring you for has no foreign language component.
Language is a valuable skill, but it’s not always clear how it can be parlayed into a job.
When it comes to using your language skills for work (assuming it is not a job such as a language teacher, translator, or interpreter), you need to have a main skill which can add the value your employer is looking for. This could be something like finance, trade, manufacturing, or engineering. Whatever it is, you need to realise that this is your most important asset in your would-be employers eyes, not your language abilities (unless your employer needs someone who can facilitate communication or teach—this was the case for me). Most positions that can benefit from knowledge of a foreign language have a hierarchy of the necessary skills which looks like:
- Main skill (engineering, video editing, management)
- Cultural understanding (this usually includes some understanding of the language though not necessarily a lot)
- Language abilities
As I mentioned earlier, if the position you are aiming for is primarily a language-related role, then language is your main skill. So how do you get a job that uses your language abilities while satisfying the above requirements?
Here are the steps I followed:
Step 1: Identify Your Skills – and the Types of Companies that Could Benefit from Those Skills
Maybe you are an accountant, nurse, or engineer. Maybe you are good at video editing or singing.
Not sure what you’re good at? Ask your friends. What do other people ask you to help them with? What did you enjoy doing as a child, before you had any responsibilities?
Next think about the types of companies that would want to hire someone with your skills. For example, almost all manufacturing companies will hire accountants, engineers, and production managers. Engineers help develop products, production managers help build the product, and accountants keep track of the money. Internet companies need people with programming, copywriting and design skills. All companies need to sell – so marketing and sales is another area to think about.
For extra insight, call up a few companies and ask them about the different roles in their business. Tell them who you are, that you are looking for a new job, and want to understand what they do.
You can also ask around among your friends and acquaintances. Ask people you know about their jobs and what their colleagues do. For example if your friend works at a bank ask her to tell you about her coworkers’ roles (loan officer, teller, customer service, accountant).
Another method is to search for a company on LinkedIn. You can see all the people who work there and look at the positions they hold, like this:
Now you’ve identified the industries you could work in (your niche), you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Work Out How You Can Help in the Industries You’ve Identified
This step where your knowledge of other cultures and languages starts to be useful.
A lot of job hunters make the mistake of assuming they must fit the mold of advertised roles. If they don’t have the exact skillset specified, they move on and look for another job.
Why is this a mistake? Companies typically recruit for their ideal candidates – and they often struggle to find these. So it’s to your advantage to sell yourself to the company instead of waiting for them to tell you what they would like.
Take the example of a design and manufacturing company. They’re based in your home country – and you want to work for them using your Chinese skills. You’ve also got skills in marketing and sales. You could:
- Help them find factories in China to have their products manufactured at a more affordable price.
- Be a sales representative in China – pitching their products to Chinese retailers
- Conduct market research to help them adapt their products for Chinese consumers
- Offer your services as a translator or interpreter to facilitate any of the above.
Working as a translator or interpreter is often an excellent way in – and it’s worth your while to spend time looking for companies with an office in both your home country and the country you want to live and work in.
Speaking of searching out particular companies, here’s how you can find them…
Step 3: Use LinkedIn to Find Your Ideal Company
Head to LinkedIn and type in a keyword to search for the type of company you want to find. You can narrow down your search by company location and size. I recommend searching for small companies of 200 people or less since they are often younger and more likely to need people. Small and medium size businesses are are the biggest source of job creation (at least in the United States).
In the screenshot below I am searching for a US company with offices in China is hopes of being their linguistic and cultural conduit.
Step 4: Get the Company’s Contact Information
Once you’ve identified a target company, head to their website to find a contact email address. A submission contact form is also fine. To find these contact details, look at the bottom of their website, or look for a Contact page, or an About page.
This is where you find their website on LinkedIn:
A “Contact Us” page often looks like this:
LinkedIn can also be handy in making contact – especially when you can’t find an email address. Look for the profiles of people on LinkedIn that would be interested in hiring someone like you (President, CEO, manager of the department related to what you do, human resources manager, owner of the company) and send them a message directly.
LinkedIn has a service called InMail you can use if you don’t find an email or personal blog in their profile. It’s paid – but when you’re looking for a job using this method, it’s well worth the investment.
Step 5: Send a Short Email Explaining How You Can Help
Send them a short email telling them how you could help. Make the subject about how to help the. Avoid phrases such as “looking for work/job”. For example, I speak Mandarin, have teaching skills, and understand Chinese culture. As such, I can help solve communication issues.
Here’s a script you can use:
Subject: Mandarin Speaker Would Like to Help
I found out about through LinkedIn.
I have been living in southern China's Guangdong province for four years. I've spent the majority of my time teaching English to students of all ages and recently started an English training center with my business partner. I speak Chinese proficiently, can read and write, and have HSK (a Chinese certification) certification. My background is in mathematics.
I am returning to the US in hopes of finding a job at a company that deals with China on a regular basis, and was hoping my experience and talents could be of use at .
Please let me know if you have such a need. I attached my resume for your convenience.
Step 6: Keep Trying!
If you don’t hear back from them within a week you should email, call, or visit them in person until you do. Do not give up. I’ve succeeded both times that I have used this tactic. The first time I did it a position was created for me. The second time I did it, I met with the HR manager and then was contacted a few months later when a position opened up which I eventually got.
Note that in some instances you will be creating your own role. In the Chinese job I mentioned in the introduction, I was the first ever cultural liaison at that company. They created the role for me because I expressed an interest and explained what I could do for them.
While I was working there we hired someone as the head of a department that didn’t exist until we met this person. We created the role for them, because we saw what they could do for the company.
Try to be creative when selling your services. Companies like smart, creative people – show your skills, and businesses will find a way to fit you in.
There is no bullet-proof way of finding a job, but if you put in the time and effort in the right places you have a much better chance of being successful. Good luck!