Move Abroad Work Abroad

Step by step how to find a job abroad (Part 3: Get Referred)

In the first and second parts of the How I Found Work Abroad series, I walked through the basics steps to complete before ever applying for a job.

In the end, getting hired abroad was actually very simple for me.

This may come as a surprise, but I did not apply to one job online. And I spent zero time on job boards.

Job boards are good for one thing: validating that there is indeed a job market in your country of focus. But, you should spend exactly zero time applying to jobs on job boards.

Instead, I networked my way into a job. To find a good role abroad, I ended up spending all of my job searching energy gathering leads through referrals.

I found that referrals are the KEY strategy in international job searching.


Because if I was referred into the company by another person, I essentially started to derisk myself.

As a foreigner looking for a local job, I knew I was a riskier hire to a company. Who was to say I wouldn’t just quit and leave after they invested in my visa?

But, when another person vouched for my character and recommended me, I was much more likely to get a response from the employer.

Not only that, but I started hearing about internal opportunities that were not being posted online. By being referred in generally to a company, I was beginning to tap into the large majority of available opportunities that never make it online because they are filled internally, or by referral!

Just to repeat, getting referred by a contact to a company or individual abroad was the only way I was able to get my foot in the door. Nothing else worked.

Knowing this, I set-up a formula to generate leads using referrals and tracked it all in my excel sheet.


Creating a specific lead meant I knew someone who could introduce me directly to a person or company in my target market (Dubai).

For example, my old boss from NYC was connected on LinkedIn to the head of a big PR agency in Dubai


Every time I came across a connection like this, I created a tailored email to send to my contact directly. If for some reason I didn’t have their email, I would scour the internet or use LinkedIn messenger.

A few tips on email writing for producing specific leads:

  • Be clear. You need to tell them exactly what you are looking for. To be connected to someone in their network. No beating around the bush.
    • BAD: I am hoping to secure work at a PR firm in Dubai. Do you know anyone?  
    • GOOD: I noticed on LinkedIn that you are connected to John Doe of WPP in Dubai.
  • Tell your story. Use this email opportunity to let them know about your abroad plans! Let them invest in your story and they may generate even more leads.
  • Make it easy to be referred. Do the hard work for your contact. Write an email they could easily forward.
  • Don’t ask for the job *yet*. Your goal is to get referred to their contact so you can start building your network. Don’t blow it by asking about the job too soon. And remember, the majority of good roles never make it to online posting.
  • Don’t be spammy. No mass emails for specific leads ever! And no purple text because you are just forwarding an old email. Make it sharp.

Example email:

Hello Mr. Austen,

I hope you are well. I saw from your LinkedIn profile that you just completed 15 years with Ketchum. Congratulations! What a milestone.

I also have a life milestone taking place as I have decided to relocate to Dubai! I’ve been wanting to move abroad for quite some time now, and I am incredibly excited to use my cross-culture knowledge in the region.

I noticed that you are linked to John Doe of WPP Dubai. As an esteemed colleague in the industry, I’d be ever grateful for your introduction to Mr. Doe as I’d like to expand my network in the region as I search for an appropriate role.

I’ve written a sample introduction (below) that you can tweak and forward if it suits you.

Let’s catch-up in person when your schedule allows. I am still on the Upper West Side.

Again, congratulations on 15 years!


Hello Mr. Austen,  

Great chatting yesterday, and I appreciate your willingness to connect me to John Doe at WPP Dubai. I’ve been following the company since they won the Middle East PR Agency of the Year Award last fall.

After 5 years working as a SVP in public relations in New York City, I’ve decided to relocate to the Middle East. It’s been a personal quest of mine for some time to live in Dubai and be part of the digital change taking place across the region.

I’d be grateful for the introduction to Mr. Doe as I imagine he has great insight and perspective on current market changes and needs.



These are just examples. You do you. But the point is, I treated those perfect specific leads with white gloves!


Anyone that I considered to be part of my network become a general lead. Friends, family, family friends, internship colleagues, volunteer leaders, church get the idea.

But most importantly – because this is what got me a job – I took a cue from master networker, Adam Grant, and tapped my dormant ties or the people in my network that I had not spoken to in awhile.

(To be honest, I didn’t know at the time that this is what I was doing. It’s only hindsight that’s brought this clarity.)

I had no idea if these people knew anyone in Dubai, but I had to activate them to see. So I listed as many people as possible in my excel doc, and I did batches of email sending (10-20 every weekend). Each person received an individual email.

It took awhile, but it started working, and I began to get leads!

A few lessons I learned.

  • Don’t mass email. It’s so tempting because it’s easy. But I’ve found that people are less likely to help if the email is not to them directly.
  • Again, be specific.  Be specific with what you are looking for..
    • BAD: I’m looking for a job in the Middle East.
    • GOOD: I am looking to use my knowledge of the Middle East and experience in public relations to add value to an international marketing firm such as WPP in Dubai.  
  • Track everything. I started out thinking I could keep track in my head of who people were and how I’d been introduced to them. I couldn’t, and I sent an email to the wrong person and lost the lead. This was enough to recommit to my excel sheet.

And ultimately, a dormant tie gave me a really good lead. A lead that ended up converting into multiple phone interviews, a face to face interview in Dubai, and an offer!

Here is the actual email I wrote to him back 8 years ago that ended up getting me a job abroad. [Sidenote: this is a cringe worthy email to read today and not very specific, but hey, it worked.]

Dear Mr. Rockland,

This is Lynze Yoder, the summer intern who had studied abroad in Dubai. I hope this email finds you well and in good spirits this spring.

Well, I am a recent graduate from the University of Michigan and am heading back to Dubai! I will be in Jordan until August learning Jordanian Arabic dialect and then relocating to Dubai in August.

I know you had a short trip abroad when you went to the United Arab Emirates, however if by chance when you were there or since then you saw an opportunity or company of which you think I could be of service of please let me know as I am trying to find a place to fit in Dubai.

Your help would be greatly appreciated. And please let me know if business gets you back to the Middle East. This time, I will not need to write you an itinerary but can show you!

Regards, Lynze

Leads didn’t come in overnight or even in the first month, but I kept steady to the process of reaching out to my contacts. The funny thing is, the people I thought would quickly respond a lot of the times didn’t. It was the broader contacts that surprised me by bringing in great leads.

I knew the right lead was coming, and I remained optimistic!


[Have a current employer?] If you know there is no way your current employer will send you abroad, and you aren’t comfortable blatantly job hunting, you can still use the techniques I outlined above. Just tweak the messaging to be more about learning about the industry for personal development or for an article you are writing. It’s hard to get mad at a person just for being curious. However,  I personally believe in being honest about your career goals with your current boss. I get that’s not possible for everyone.  

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