How to land an international design job

Tweet your questions about how to land your dream design job—or just how to get your foot in the door—to our resident career expert @thegiantthinker. We’ll publish his answers here each month and keep the conversation going on Twitter @AIGAdesign.

How do I land a design job working internationally after school!? I would love to work in Europe and/or Asia!—@Matthew_Roop

First, congratulations on setting your sights on opportunities abroad. Not only will you be ramping up design experience, but the real profit is the cultural exposure you’ll receive. This will be a major head-turner on your resume, too, as you’ll bring diversity to the table throughout your career.

The only thing now is to land that job, which we know is easier said than done—but not impossible. It’s important to point out that for the most part, your international job search is no different than finding a job locally. Your introduction email or cover letter must be relevant, to the point, and authentic. Your online portfolio must reflect the role and demonstrate competency, design thinking, and strong ideas. Your resume must be clear and customized to the duties of the job you’re applying for. Plus, leveraging your current network will accelerate the process.

Companies hire designers from other countries because of what they’ll bring to the table, both culturally and creatively. However, this doesn’t dismiss the fact that you have to perform well as a designer, if not better than their local talent. Your diversity will bring new flavors and perspectives to the company and your technical and conceptual abilities should add equal ammunition.

Here’s what else you need to focus on:

1. Organize your visa

Without a valid working visa you’re left with wishful thinking. A good place to start is to research the requirements necessary in the top three countries you’d like to live and work in. It will filter eligibility and opportunity. If you've met the mandatories, apply to the countries that interest you. Project Visa is a good place to start.

2. Choose the exact city, not just the country

Define your target. By doing this, you can focus your energy and communication entirely on that particular city. Imagine an employer receiving this email from a recent graduate in South Carolina: “If I could live and work as a designer anywhere in the world, it would be Barcelona, Spain. After visiting last year, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it. I’m now actively seeking a junior designer role in Barcelona. It’s where I feel I would be most inspired, where I can best contribute, and where I can excel”. A customized approach like this is far more effective than stating you’d like to work in “Europe” or the country name alone.

3. Choose the exact companies

Treat companies like people. In every piece of communication, such as emails, tweets, and tagged mentions, there's an opportunity to build rapport. Choosing the exact company will allow you to hyper-target the key decision makers. Start planting seeds and get the conversation going while you organize that work visa.

4. Actually go there

Nothings says “I want to work for you and am willing to make huge sacrifices to provide value” than actually traveling to another country to job hunt a job face to face. It’s by far the most effective way to get a job overseas for the simple fact that you’re already there. Employers get a much better sense of what you can offer. This route does come at a cost, of course. Even if you land a job you’ll likely need to return back to organize your move and any necessary visas or paperwork.

5. Consider taking a side step

You may find you need to take a side step in order to move ahead, especially if you’re looking to work in a popular city. A common strategy is to work as a bartender or server at a well established bar or restaurant. During your shift you’ll be conversing with all types of people and expand your network, and during the day you can actively meet people for interviews or advice.

While the above points will help with eligibility and strategic approaches to working overseas, the bigger point to be made is creating a knockout portfolio.

For more, pick up a copy of Castillo’s internationally and industry-acclaimed book How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed.

About the Author:

If you'd like to be a designer, read Ram's internationally industry acclaimed book here:


Ram is an award winning Design Director, Blogger, top ranking Podcaster, Speaker, Instructor and Author of the internationally acclaimed book 'How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed'. He's based in Sydney, Australia and in 2012, started the blog which helps thousands of design students and graduates be employed. Ram has since been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine, Herman Miller, deFrost*, and Apple. 


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