Whether you’re a diplomat or a digital nomad, a volunteer or vice-president, you’re working hard to grow your career while you’re abroad. Employers around the world value the skills and experience expats bring to the workplace, but the journey isn’t always easy; moving through professional life can be challenging, especially in a new environment.
Nina Hobson is a blogger, writer, and communications expert who offers one-to-one mentoring to expat women. She regularly speaks at conferences, workshops and events and in 2017 she founded her lifestyle blog, The Expater, to give an insight into her experience of life abroad. In the final part of our series, she sits down with us to share her advice on building a career as an expat.
1. How has expat life affected your career? Has it helped or hindered?
Life abroad has undoubtedly equipped me with skills and experience that I could not have found in a book or regular office job. Nevertheless, while I see these benefits, the truth is that a lot of employers do not. Search online and you will see article after article extolling the benefits of expat assignments, but they do not tell the full story. As a remote worker or expat, it is easy to become side-lined. Removed from casual corridor chit chat, you lose out on HQ exposure. You need to make a conscious effort to get onto people’s radars, or risk losing out on promotions and other opportunities. While the pandemic is shifting the narrative, many still view serial expat life as thoughtless job hopping. Candidates with international experience need to show how their experience has advanced them, not just list it on their CV and hope for the best.
2. Have you found it difficult to find a job during your time abroad?
Yes. I remember a contact telling me that finding a job in Chile would be easy, and I bought into this. However, the truth is that finding a good job depends on so much more than you might first realise. Getting a work visa is just one part of the process. Finding the time to work when you need to find a home, register for IDs, sort childcare etc. is another matter. Then comes the nature of job hunting itself – in some countries you go through LinkedIn, in others you go through friends, in some places you will need your photo on your CV, in other countries you don’t need a CV but a personal introduction. Job hunting abroad is more complex than a lot of people realise.
3. What advice would you give to an expat trying to find a new job abroad?
Step back and ask yourself what you want, and what you are prepared to do. What would be your ideal job? Can you find this type of role in your new country? If not, how much are you prepared to adapt? Would you consider shifting to a different industry, to remote work or to a smaller company? Next, I would advise taking a good look at how job hunting works in your new country. Culture is subtle, and it is easy to assume your way of doing things is the norm. Ask around to get a clearer picture about how things are done in your new country. Now take a step back and think how you could adapt your style.
4. Would you recommend expat life to those who have the chance to take up an assignment abroad?
It depends. I would only say that it is important to take everyone impacted into consideration. The spouse and family need to enter the equation from day one. I would also recommend doing a lot of research first. Check online, and most importantly ask around contacts on a one-to-one basis for their honest opinions. I declined an offer to move to Dubai, for example. After speaking to friends and trusted work contacts, I felt that the package was not right for me. Finally, I would also encourage transparency with the company from the start. It is normal to negotiate an expat package, however it should not feel like the company is making it up as they go along. I would want to see solid experience, or at least commitment to ensuring the welfare of its employees, wherever they are in the world.
5. In your experience, are there specific career paths that suit the expat lifestyle?
Any career which lends itself to a remote lifestyle is of course a good option. I know many serial expats working as coaches, writers, translators and tutors. While it depends on the personal situation it is also useful to have the flexibility to dial up or down work as necessary, or to work for a firm that recognises the shifting pressures of expat life. Of course, as a freelancer you work for yourself, so with some careful planning you can prepare for those ‘all hands to the deck’ moments. Often though, it is not the career path, but the employer that makes the difference. Some companies are just better at managing their international staff. They take a more connected, holistic and personalised approach.
6. What tips would you give to someone considering a career abroad?
- Research – connect on LinkedIn with people who have been through a similar journey and ask for their insights. Dig deeper into your research. Don’t trust one opinion only; ask around to build up a more realistic picture. Communicate – speak, and more importantly, listen to everyone involved in the move. Open communication is so important throughout the expat journey. It is important to talk through concerns and doubts as soon as possible, in a transparent way, rather than deal with misunderstandings and resentment later down the line. This applies to your manager, spouse and extended family. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst – ensure your health insurance is equipped to deal with your needs. Check you have access to enough savings for a return ticket if things do not go to plan. This security gives a great sense of control and reassurance when life gets tough.