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Taking a professional working holiday

Posted October 13, 2011, by Helen Isbister

Many of the one million Australians living and working overseas are professionals who have packed up their extensive skills and taken them abroad gaining invaluable career and life experience. They can be found working in multinationals, aid agencies, government departments, NGOs, community organisations or private practices.

The rest are likely to be fresh from school, fuelling their travels with whatever jobs pay the bills. They can be found on the Canadian ski fields, serving tapas in Ibiza, picking fruit in South America, teaching kids to horseride in American summer camps, au pairing in France, or photocopying and filing in London.

Both types of working holidays have their perks, but the experiences they generate can be very different.

If you are a vet, lawyer, journalist, engineer, doctor, nurse, teacher, manager, banker, accountant, public servant or other professional getting a gig might not be as easy as rocking up with a backpack and starting the same day.

The first thing you should do is suss out whether your qualifications will be recognised in your chosen destination. Australian qualifications are generally very well regarded globally, but you may need to do a bridging course or apply for registration.

Next it's time to check out the visa situation. Australians under 30 are allowed to automatically apply for a working visa in lots of countries, but don't despair if that age has come and gone. You can be sponsored by a company to work for them regardless of your age if they are keen to have you on staff.

Don't wait until you rock up in Botswana with your prestigious law degree under your arm before realising no one can understand a word you are saying and you are virtually unemployable. Do your research on the political, security, cultural and economic conditions of your target country.

That said, if you work for a multinational, chances are you will probably be able to use English regardless of where you are in the world. Also don't be afraid to think outside the square – London may be the favourite working-holiday destination for obvious reasons, but plenty of amazing opportunities exist in less predictable destinations.

If you work for a multinational company in Australia, then applying for a transfer to one of their other offices can be a fabulous career move. You will be gaining experience in your field, receive transport and housing assistance, and have a job to come home to at the end of your international stint.

Some government departments also have solid opportunities for international work. The Department of Foreign Affairs offers overseas employment in Australia's international posts within embassies, consulates and high commissions. Federal and state bodies such as tourism and trade, security, policing and armed forces also provide good opportunities to work and play overseas.

Aid work is a great way to see the world while also making a difference. There are lots of different roles in almost any country you can think of. Engineers, agronomists, environmentalists, logisticians, linguists, and medical professionals are always in high demand because of their highly technical knowledge, but it's also very competitive so be ready to dazzle with your qualifications and experience.

You might choose to apply for many international jobs before you leave Australia, making the transition a lot smoother. This also may be a necessity if you are unable to apply for a working visa and need to be sponsored before leaving.

However, if you want to work in a smaller organisation or private practice it might be easier to begin the job hunt once you have arrived. Adopt the same job-hunting strategy as you would back home – sign up to employment agencies and scour newspapers and online jobsites. Also be sure that you have budgeted enough to be able to eat and house yourself until you find a job.

When it comes to taking your profession global, the world is your oyster. If you do your research you could take your career almost anyway in the world, and have a blast doing it!

Helen Isbister

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