What I Look for in International Work

I finished my Master’s degree back in 2017, and started working straight away. For the past almost two years, I worked in a travel tech company focused on vacation rentals. This was my first post-university job, but I recently had my last day working there.

It was quite an experience, and I certainly learned a lot in the first year, most notably on the technical side. However, there comes a time when you have to take a look around, think about where you are, where you want to be, and consider if the current trajectory of your career will get you there.

Turns out, recent changes in the company were taking me down a path that went further away from my goals. Not to mention I was basically bored out of my mind by my tasks the last six months and wasn’t seeing any real career growth.

Having to conduct another job search in Germany was not exactly something that I really wanted to do, but in the end I think I’m going to be much happier in the new role.

I could write a whole series on searching for a job in Germany, but instead I’m just going to share a few things that I have learned are important for me in working abroad.

Integration

While I integrated into my former company just fine, there came a point when I realized that integrating into company culture is not the same as integrating into German society. I enjoyed how diverse the company was, but when my partner tells me multiple times that my German is actually getting worse, it’s an indicator that I’m not getting closer to my goals. For the record, I was taking a German course through the company the first time I was told that my German was deteriorating.

German courses offered in house were poor quality and only held once a week. Couple that with the fact that most of my colleagues / classmates had very low motivation to learn German, and I felt myself not applying myself as much. I also did not have to use any German in my daily work, so there was nothing that really forced me to improve my German so quickly in the short term.

While looking for a new company, I tried to find something which had a greater German language leaning, but still an international feel. The company that I will be joining is again very diverse, but the market focus is DACH (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and the UK. This is much more focused than the 21 countries and their languages that I had to work with in my former company.

When I was offered the job, it was also stated that they would expect me to be able to get along with German-speaking business partners as well as the English-speaking partners in the next year. This is great because I have some time to learn the product and work on my German, but I also have a set point in time that I should be ready to speak and write German as a representative of the company. Knowing that it’s expected that I learn is a much better motivator than being told that someone can always help translate so it doesn’t matter if I learn.

I should quickly note here that some people who work abroad in English-speaking roles, or roles in their native language, only learn enough of the language to get by (restaurants, grocery shopping, transportation), but search out multilingual doctors, services, etc. for most things they have to do outside of work. While there’s no “right” way to do it, my personal philosophy is that if I’m going to live abroad authentically, and not in an Anglo-bubble, I should try to learn the language.

Career development

I always thought, “When I start working, I will have so much more free time for myself compared to in university.” In some ways that’s true. I don’t have to stay up late trying to complete extensive reading for a seminar. However, because I sit in front of a computer all day at work, I don’t really want to spend as much time doing that outside of work.

I wrongly assumed that if I didn’t have time or projects at work that helped me advance my career, I could just do that career development in my free time. While I have done some things in my free time, it’s not enough to counteract not making any progress on professional development in my daily work.

For a variety of reasons, my former company did not give me the opportunities I wanted to further develop my skills and learn new things which are in the field of my interests. Therefore, in looking for a new role in another company, I tried to find a field which both fit my interests and would challenge me to grow my skills and knowledge in the direction that is right for me.

While I know I have an uphill battle going into my next role, I would rather be fighting to learn details about an industry and the technology they use than doing the same tasks over and over which give me neither benefit nor joy. Some people may thrive on repetition and stability, but I would like to have the opportunity to be challenged.

A residence permit is not a reason

When I was looking for a job after finishing my studies, I knew that my former company was not a perfect fit. Among the options I had at the time, it was the best offer on the table. I could have waited around for a better offer, but that put me into the position of needing a “job search” visa. I also had these frustrating student loan payments that I would have to start making, but I had a bit of a buffer there.

The main reason I accepted the job in the end was to secure my residency. While it happens that you have to accept an imperfect job in order to maintain residency without major headaches, I don’t think that it should be the reason to stay in the job on the long term.

I had a lot of stress around how long I needed to be in the first job before searching for a new job, whether I should just wait until I could settle into permanent residency, or how difficult it would be to switch my residence permit if I got a new job.

The answers? One year is long enough to know you aren’t a match for a company. Switching jobs doesn’t hurt or help with permanent residency. As for the last one, the jury’s still out, but I understand that it’s a relatively simple process that will only require me to sacrifice my soul to the Ausländerbehörde for one day.

In summary, if you’re looking for a job abroad and maintaining your residency depends on it, it’s okay to be a bit desperate. What’s not okay is forfeiting your happiness after you’ve given the role and company a fair shot and know it’s not for you.


Anyway, that’s my two cents on what I find most important in working abroad. I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, but it’s at least food for thought.

Cheers!

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