career conversations – an engineer’s journey from SOUTH AFRICA to the netherlands
Listen to the full interview here.

I’m excited for this first, of many conversations about careers. Specifically, for people keen to work in a different country. From better earning potential, to building a diverse skill set, we all have different reasons for moving abroad. But one thing we can agree on, is that it’s not always very obvious how to prepare yourself to be an ideal candidate for a job in another country. At times, it seems like the process to getting there is difficult and opaque. Through these stories, I hope to give you actionable items you can take away to make yourself a better candidate for a job in a different country. My first conversation this week is with Zimbabwean-born engineer Mkhokheli, who is now based in the Netherlands. Before I unpack the lessons we can learn from his story, take a moment to listen to his story above.

Do your research for tertiary education funding

You might be thinking that you can’t improve your career prospects because you don’t have any tertiary qualifications. Not everyone can afford to go to university, but there are many organisations that are able to assist and provide funding. There are also many people that don’t know that it is possible to go and study in another country. From Mkhokheli’s story, he speaks about someone planting the idea of studying at the University of Cape Town in his mind. This prompted him to search for funding opportunities. Eventually, he found his scholarship through the Institute of Engineering and Technology. Check it out if this is a field you want to explore. Your choice of university, internships and masters projects can open doors for you that will help you land that next job, or acquire a set of skills that will prove to be valuable in your job search when moving abroad.

Don’t stress if you don’t land in the right industry straight after university

Most of us don’t land in the industry of our dreams right after university. That’s ok. It’s ok to take a break to rest. It’s also ok to work in an unrelated industry. What’s important is that the vision remains clear, and you constantly think of ways to align yourself to the right industry. It can be discouraging if you are in a country that doesn’t seem to offer opportunities based on what you studied, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll never end up where you ultimately want to be. Just keep the vision alive.

When used right, social media is a very useful job search tool for roles abroad

I have seen countless roles advertised on social media. And many people just aren’t on social media, so they will never see these. I’m not saying go and create a Facebook or Twitter account right now. What I am saying is, if your reason for not being on it is because it’s not valuable and people only post pictures of their food or share memes, then perhaps you should reconsider how you use it. Many people share the companies they work for, so it might just be that you need to change who you follow. And through this, you will come across job posts that could lead you to your next opportunity.

Don’t let visa processes deter you

For South Africa specifically, getting a work permit is an extreme sport. For some, this is a stumbling block and results in them not moving. There are two types of work permits you can get in South Africa: the general work visa, and the critical skills visa. If South Africa is your country of choice, familiarise yourself with the requirements well before applying! Some of the requirements take a long time to get. Be proactive and start getting some of the requirements. If you do land a role, you will be able to fast-track the visa process.

Master how to use LinkedIn

By far the most powerful way to find work in another country. People don’t seem to realise how powerful LinkedIn is. I will soon be preparing a guide on how you can use LinkedIn better, but it’s important to know what type of job you want, then build your profile in such a way that it is discoverable for recruiters searching for people like you. From Mkhokheli’s story, it’s a simple case of going online to check what the ideal profile looks like, then building yours to be something similar. Please, don’t lie! Write about YOUR relevant work experience and education. Don’t lie in the hopes that noone will notice. Because once your profile has been discovered, you still need to be successful in background checks and in interviews. And ultimately, you need to be able to do the job! Being discovered is just the first step.

Ultimately, you need to fit into the culture

Cultural fit is extremely important. You need to be a team player, and you need to fit in with the team culture. It’s very possible that after securing the role and moving, you don’t get a permanent offer and you go back home. It has happened to people I know, and it hurts. Understand what the company culture is, and do you best to fit in, and work well with others. If they feel you are not a good fit, you won’t last long. Skills can be taught, cultural fit can’t. And ultimately that’s what firms want, a person with the intangible skills that complement their organisation.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt from this story? If there is something you would like me to expand on, let me know in the comments so that I can add more detail in future posts!