Predictable and steady are two words rarely used to describe the career path of spouses who live abroad. Instead, building a career can be an uneven road with many twists, turns, and unplanned detours along the way. Though obstacles may abound, it is still possible to build a quality work experience sought after by employers. Here are a few tips to help:
1. View each location as an opportunity to gain new skills
After receiving a new assignment, focus on what you can take away from the opportunity by reflecting on past positions and building a competency list for each position held. Reviewing your resume and past job descriptions can help. Next, think carefully about the skills developed and write them down. Then think about the skills that you’d like to build and the ones that are lacking. If you need help, compare your skills to others within the target industry by searching LinkedIn profiles and reviewing job announcements.
PRO TIP:Once you’ve created a list of skills to acquire, recall them often, especially when seeking a new opportunity. Ask yourself, “What can I take away from this experience that can boost my career?” This will help with finding the right position to build valuable skills.
2. Take a position different from past positions
Company cultures can differ abroad from in your home country. It is a fact that the European working landscape is different than in the U.S. Many people go abroad to reinvent themselves. Why not apply this as career logic during your stint abroad? After getting settled in your new location, explore a few different options. Living in a country where English language skills are desired can lead to a path of teaching. Do you have a great idea for a service? Consider starting a business. Locals can be a great resource on all of these matters. Be sure to explore and abide by the employment rules and regulations relevant to your situation and make plans accordingly.
PRO TIP:Taking a different type of position will not derail your career. Instead, it will add flair to your work history and can also make for interesting conversations with potential employers. Everyone has transferrable skills. The key is identifying the right ones for a target employer.
3. Volunteerism isn’t a dirty word
It’s true that doing work for free can sometimes be viewed as a foreign concept in other cultures. Do not let this stop you from pursuing it! Find something that peeks your interest and jump in! To secure this type of position build a case highlighting why the organization needs your help and the expected outcome. Who can say no to that?
If you are not happy with the available career options, volunteering is the one area where you can do anything that you want. The benefits are numerous including immersing yourself in the culture, making new friends, and adding valuable skills to your resume… all accomplished while living abroad.
PRO TIP:Volunteer experience should be annotated on a resume in the same way as paid work experience. Many adventure seekers go abroad every year to support volunteer projects across multiple areas including humanitarian and ecological causes. Do something that you care about.
Upon receiving an assignment, think objectively about your next career move and engage in research before you go. Will you want to work for a public/private company, an NGO, or with a DoD-related organization? It is important to identify the type of organization, as you will need to know specific hiring practices. As a spouse, remember to take advantage of all resources available to you. Once arriving at your new location get involved with the local spouse community to get real-time information from those who are currently living and working there. There is no better resource.
The career path for global minded spouses who live abroad can be extremely fulfilling if you are flexible, know your options, and prepare for it. Remember that cross-cultural skills are sought after by employers. Be sure to highlight this on your resume. After all, you’ve really earned it. Good luck!