What is the best way for an American to get an office job in Europe?
March 22, 2010 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way for an American to get an office job in Europe?

This is my first Metafilter question so I want to say "Hi!" to the MeFi community : )

One of my biggest goals is to work abroad (in Europe, specifically: the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France, or Scandinavian countries) either for a year (or more), and possibly go to graduate school there. So my questions are:

1) How can an American find an office job abroad? And what is the best way for an American to get a job abroad?
2) Can Americans apply to jobs in Europe through European "Monster"-like job listing sites (like monster.co.uk)? If so, what are some good European job listing sites?
3) Is it difficult to get a decent office job in Europe?
4) Are there credible job placement agencies that can help me get a job abroad?

I've been told that one method of getting a job abroad is that I could work for an American company in the States and just hope to get transferred. To be honest I'm not really the type to just wait and HOPE to get what I want, but if this the more traditional way of working abroad please let me know so I don't write this method off.

Right now I'm in the transitional phase of trying to figure out what type of office job I want (ex: marketing, or a project management position), so I'm open to starting at an entry level position and moving up to higher positions. I speak English, Cantonese, and some Spanish and am very willing to pick up any language if it means getting a job : )
posted by metakiwi to Work & Money (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
While local law varies, generally visa restrictions are going to be working against you in this context. There are often exceptions for experts, performers, and persons sponsored by employers, but if you're just talking about general entry-level office work, I really don't think you're going to have much luck. The fundamental question is often reducible to "what skill(s) does metakiwi have that cannot be found in the Netherlands"--and unless you have special training (e.g., an American securities lawyer working in the City of London), it is going to be a hard sell.

You might have more luck as an au pair/English teacher, etc.

Good luck! (This is not immigration or visa advice in any jurisdiction; I am not your lawyer.)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:18 PM on March 22, 2010

Do you have a EU passport? Or a EU partner? Are you under 30 (in which case you could go to the UK possibly)?

If not, you are going to find working difficult. Hiring staff from outside the EU is very hard unless the job is senior. Studying is the best option by the sound of it if you want to pursue moving to Europe.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:19 PM on March 22, 2010

There was a thread a week or so ago along similar lines and one of the respondents said that if you do two years of graduate school in the UK you're then allowed to work for 2 (I think) extra years and they even outlined some way you could get permanent residence (or whatever the poms call it).

I was quite surprised at what they said - seemed reasonably straightforward if you were willing to spend your education dollars in the UK.

Give that you're interested in graduate school anyway you might find that thread interesting.
posted by southof40 at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2010

I was recently transferred to France.

The bad news:
- Office jobs (in France and much of nearby Europe) are fucking hard to get, even for citizens with good educations and perfect language skills. Do you realize what unemployment rates are like here?
- You will need some special skill both for visa reasons and hiring reasons. Being a random excel-monkey or report-writer won't get you in. Your office job needs to be something like coding, or SAP, or sales/management, or something.
- American companies are the biggest, and they work in the States, and so do all big international companies. Why would they send you anywhere else?
- Some jobs really require you to have a solid grasp of the local language and needs. Marketing, to pick one of your examples, is going to be double-plus-difficult if you do not have an incredible grasp of the finesse of the country's language and markets.

If you still want to come:
- If you choose to find an employer and get transferred, find a FOREIGN employer. Moving up in your career will mean having to get experience with the head office. (I work for a French company; this is my second international post with them.)
- You know who DOES have easy overseas office jobs for Americans? The US government (www.jobs.gov). Consulates, military bases, chambers of commerce, even state governments have offices all over the world. Some may require taking Foreign Service or Civil Service exams.

- Get your language(s) in order. Possible exceptions for working in the Netherlands or Further North (NO/FI/SE/DK).
- Several of the big US job posting places have international presence (e.g. Monster). LinkedIn is useful for finding overseas jobs. But a lot of these will say "local hire only" and you may be digitally round-filed.
- Marry a European (I kid!)

Also, be sure you really, really want to live in Europe, culturally, etc. I have found moving to France to be harder than any other international move I have made (this includes Japan and West Africa).
Also, just so you know, cost of living is higher here, taxes are higher, and salaries are lower (compared to the US).
posted by whatzit at 1:34 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

(I always forget something...)

Also, keep in mind your timeframes. Is this a couple years abroad and partying for you? Or do you plan to settle down outside of the US? You might want to consider being more open-minded about your destination and moving to Europe 2, 5, or 10 years later.

For example, a 2 year post as, I don't know, an Executive Assistant in Doha, Qatar, may a) show your employer or potential employers that you have your shit together for the challenges of international work and b) expose you to the right connections (by being in a largely expat environment) to make a next and long-term move to Europe.
posted by whatzit at 1:40 PM on March 22, 2010

Previously: How to move my unqualified behind to Europe
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are a current or recent student (full-time, towards a degree), there are opportunities with BUNAC.
posted by K.P. at 1:59 PM on March 22, 2010

Easiest route I've found for an under-30 Canadian or American with French language skills (though by no means French fluency) who wants to get their feet wet in France: Foreign Language Assistants in France. Not an office job, but a chance to live/work/earn money in France for 7 months. I've been told a similar program exists for Spain, but I don't know the specifics. With some Spanish skills you might be able to make it work.

Many North Americans also come to France to work as au pairs. Again, not an office job, and not long-term, but a chance to see if you like the culture before beginning the (as mentioned) very difficult process of trying to find a long-term job in Europe.
posted by nicoleincanada at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a language assistant in France right now. I don't know if you've already ruled that out for some reason, but if not, I can tell you that, for me at least, it's been very good times. Work twelve hours a week, get paid, live in France! It's almost not fair. The longest contract is only nine months, though, and that involves more responsibility than my seven-month one.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your great replies.

Teaching (nicoleincanada and twoorthree): I've considered this as an option, but more of a second to last resort since I really wanted to build on my office related skills. I've seen Spain's teaching program, and this is the first time that I've seen France's, are there other countries that offer these teaching assistant programs (Like Germany, NL, or the other countries I listed)

To answer some questions:

Right now I'm working at a very European office. Most of my co workers have come to work in the US from Europe. Maybe at the time the people hiring them were generous enough to help get their visas? (I'm really not sure how that part works unfortunately- but I'm learning through asking : ) ) But some have said that they simply applied for jobs and got it. I guess I was naive in my thinking.

During school I was working towards getting into a research PhD program (=a load of research experience), but in the end I decided to try out working in corporate/small business. So, in other words I really need to build some of these skills and network hehe
posted by metakiwi at 6:22 PM on March 22, 2010

Since, as has been discussed, you're going to need some kind of a special skill that can't be filled easily in the local job market to justify a visa, the thing that jumps out at me is that you speak Cantonese. I don't imagine that Holland or Sweden are exactly drowning in fluent Cantonese speakers, but I do imagine it would be a very useful skill indeed for, say, somebody in a supply chain management position for a company that did a lot of their sourcing from factories in Guangzhou.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:44 PM on March 22, 2010

One random example: London 2012 is hiring. From their job application website:
"Legislation dictates that all employees must have the right to work in the UK. Please note therefore that all non-EU nationals must have an appropriate UK immigration permission before they can take up employment."

Another random example: customer support for IBM, located in Erfurt, Germany. "PLEASE NOTE: If you come from the new-EU countries or from a non-EU country, you need to be in possession of a valid residence and working permit for Germany!"
posted by iviken at 11:04 PM on March 22, 2010

1) How can an American find an office job abroad? And what is the best way for an American to get a job abroad?

As has been mentioned above, the biggest obstacle is obtaining a work permit. I'd first narrow down to one or two countries, then research their specific immigration requirements.

You should really do this anyway -- you've listed some extremely different countries. I'm sure they're all wonderful places to live, but they will all offer different challenges. For example, an English speaker is going to have a much easier time living in the Netherlands than in France, at least from a language perspective. It gets more complicated when you consider subtler cultural matters. Europe is not homogeneous.

I can only speak for the Netherlands, but I was able to immigrate here as a knowledge migrant (AKA highly skilled migrant). This basically hinges on a) how much your potential employer will pay you and b) how well your potential employer can justify hiring you instead of an EU citizen. In the Dutch knowledge migrant program, you must have a job offer from a company; this is different from, for example, the UK knowledge migrant program, which does not require you to have a job offer before you enter the country.

2) Can Americans apply to jobs in Europe through European "Monster"-like job listing sites (like monster.co.uk)? If so, what are some good European job listing sites?

You can apply for anything, but the vast majority of companies won't consider you unless you're already authorized to live and work in their country. The job ad will usually say so.

Again, you're better off narrowing down your country list and focusing on job sites for one or two countries.

3) Is it difficult to get a decent office job in Europe?

Yes. There are tons of non-Europeans who also want to work in Europe for a few years, and you're all competing against the many educated, multi-lingual, non-work-permit-requiring Europeans who need jobs.

"Office job" is very vague -- what do you actually have an education and experience doing? It's easier to find a job that requires an easily quantified and somewhat rare skill; for example, if a company needs a person who has 10 years of C programming experience, it's easy for them to prove that they need a certain person who might not be European, and it's a lot more rare than "person who can file things".

Fortunately, being fluent in Cantonese is most likely a rare skill. If your main goal is just "to work in Europe", your job searching strategy should be to focus on exploiting your rare skill, not to focus on what you want to actually do. So search for ads that ask for Cantonese, not ads that are for a specific job title.

I've been told that one method of getting a job abroad is that I could work for an American company in the States and just hope to get transferred.

I wouldn't bother with this method. As whatzit points out, most American companies aren't going to bother to transfer you to a non-American office unless you have a rare skill and they for some reason need you physically at that office. And again, you'll be competing against any colleagues who also would like a free move to Europe.
posted by transporter accident amy at 4:14 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was in Amsterdam last year they had ads everywhere for The Undutchables, a recruitment agency for internationals. I can't vouch for the service but it does suggest there's some market for external candidates at office jobs in the Netherlands.
posted by Gortuk at 6:50 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Undutchables won't help you unless you're already authorized to work in the Netherlands.
posted by transporter accident amy at 11:29 AM on March 24, 2010

Actually, the "Work Permit" page on their website suggests that they will, under certain circumstances.

"In short, if Undutchables is able to find you a suitable job position which complies with these regulations AND if the company is willing to wait until the permit is granted, we can begin the procedure. The knowledge migrant is responsible for the application costs (435, - euro)"
posted by Gortuk at 7:45 AM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Hi,
When some of you say "work permit" or permission, does this mean the work visa? Is it really difficult to apply for these? I assumed that you can apply and pay for the permit and this would make the hiring process easier.

Thank you again for your responses :)
posted by metakiwi at 1:23 PM on March 27, 2010

The names are different here and there, but yes, the permission to work (and then there is permission to be a resident, and they are often separate).

In general, you need a sponsor to get a work permit, who would be your employer. It's an irritating circle where you can't get a permit without a sponsor/employer, and it's damn hard to get an employer without a permit.

A few countries have a different set-up where you can apply for permission to work before having the job offer; iirc the UK is one of them, but those other countries you're looking into aren't ones I recall doing this.
posted by whatzit at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2010

Afraid I'm not sure about teaching English in other European countries. Though if you do wind up teaching (bear in mind this still requires prep and the necessary language skills, and some luck), why not use it as an inroad into Europe, rather than trying to land that office job immediately?

I can only vouch for France, but as mentioned, English language assistants here have ridiculous amounts of free time/holidays. I can't say for sure if you'd be permitted to find other work on top of the teaching hours (sites like assistantsinfrance.com can clarify these sorts of questions), but you could presumably intern/volunteer your time in some office cor another, formally or informally. Disclaimer: I'm not aware of specific visa rules on volunteer work, though they may well exist.

The gist of this is that the teaching wouldn't take up much of your time, but would give you enough money to live in France -- albeit frugally, unless you have some savings stashed away - and a legal way of staying here for 7 months. Whether you'd be able to find a company to sponsor you to stay here is a big question mark, but you could also use the time to look at grad school options.
posted by nicoleincanada at 9:06 AM on March 30, 2010

I recommend checking out the local Cragslist like websites

For example, in France kijiji.fr is very popular. In England,
the most popular classified site is gumtree.com

I would first apply to jobs available in the area you want
to travel to (tell them you're from US) and see if you
can get an interview with them.

If you can get an interview from an online application,
you can surely land a job when in need.

Also, I don't know about office jobs, but there are a lot of
babysitter jobs with decent pay that can help you make your
first money no matter where in Europe you want to go.

You can spot them pretty easy in Classified sites. Teaching the
children English could be a nice extra bonus for the parents.

Hope it helps.
posted by gabc at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2010

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