As expats, it's a common experience of many in our community to have to move regularly as our partners are offered bigger and better opportunities in foreign places.  We know how frustrating it can be to have to leave a flourishing career behind or start again to build new contacts and paths in an unfamiliar environment.  We've all been there. 

This month our Key Skills Coach, Archana Bhatia, gives her insight, advice and action points on exactly this experience.  There's so much to cover, you can expect part two of this article next week!

10 years ago, if someone had predicted, “In a few years from now, you will be working part-time, earning little money and dividing your time between bringing up a child, running a home and managing work. And by the way, your partner will have a flourishing career”, my response would have been, “Wannabe Nostradamus, you don’t know anything about me” As it turns out, I didn’t know much about myself as indeed this is my reality now!

The last 10 years have been a challenging journey - challenging is a word consultants use to let their clients know things aren’t going so well!. As a trailing spouse, I’ve moved 4 countries, learned two languages, eaten food I never thought I would, made many new friends and…worked! Yes, I found meaningful work in each of these very fast paced and competitive cities – Delhi, Shanghai, New York and most recently Dubai.

While walking the tightrope of balancing work and spending time with my daughter – this includes volunteering in school, coffee mornings with class moms, playdates, home work - made me very observant of women around me. Most of my friends who chose to follow their partner eventually became home makers or whatever the politically correct word is these days. Some friends have built very successful careers but have mostly stayed in the same city/ country for many years building their support systems, network of contacts and credibility. I’ve chosen to follow my husband but not to give up my identity as a working woman. The challenge I face (and the reason that some of my go getter friends gave up work) is the daunting task of building and re building many times over, my career and my work portfolio, as I relocate every 3 years. You only have to think of the prejudices full time working women encounter to understand what women like me go through. We are not perceived as being “enough”-

-       stable enough (how can we rely on you when you move ever so often?)

-       serious enough (so you work to keep your-self intellectually occupied not because you need the job or the money?)

-       experienced enough (you’ve taken a 6 month to one year break with every move)

-       investment worthy enough (we train you and then you will leave us in a few years)

While weaving through a labyrinth of negative emotions and a diminished self-esteem arose a question within me, “how do I create space in the working world for a person like my-self?” Several years and few grey hairs later, I think I have some answers to this question

1.     Find your (dis) comfort zone

I’m a great proponent of “letting the path lead you” instead of planning everything in advance. But, if you haven’t thought through some things, you might end up in a blind alley. It’s important to have clarity in 2 areas:

-       how much you are willing to push your-self emotionally, intellectually and physically (yes, finding a job is hard work!)

-       what type of job do you seek? By this, I don’t mean the job description and the deliverables, but all the other facets of work life that can be time consuming – commute, socializing, organization culture, team management etc. I created my “work life pillars” and while my quest for work takes me to different places and personalities, on my pillars I have remained firm. My pillars are:

-       Flexi hours (mind you, long hours are not a challenge)

-       Work from home, whenever possible

-       Minimal supervision (don’t we all want that!)

2.     BEYOND networking

The word “beyond” is in caps so that I make clear that I have no insights to offer on networking per se! It is a subject that has been researched, written and flogged to its very death. I believe to find work in a new country, you have to extend your-self a little more. When people don’t know you, they rely mostly on facts to make a judgement – in this case your CV. You will be assessed against the highest standards and most stringent criteria. Every little experience that you don’t have will stand out starkly and it’s easy to get rejected for jobs that you don’t fit a 100%. The trick is to find ways to establish credibility beyond what a CV can offer.

-       Pro bono work: I know people who believe that pro bono work can undermine your value but it can also build your portfolio and profile as long as the work is in the area that you seek a career. It allows people to see you in action, gauge your true worth and be willing to be your referee for a paid job or recommend you for one. (hopefully their gratitude for the all the wonderful work you do for free also helps!).

-       References: Whenever a business contact that I have worked with before refers me for a role to their contact, I know I’ve skipped at least one or two levels of the interview process because a baseline credibility has already been established. Bear in mind this is not a “I met Archana at a networking event last week and her CV looks impressive” type of reference. Instead, your referee should be able to validate your experience and provide testimony for your expertise. This can be difficult when you are new in a city, still building a network of contacts and that’s when the pro bono work helps.

-       Exploiting friends: Sounds terrible, right? When I relocated for the first time, I realized that many of my friends that I meet only socially (i.e. there is no work involvement) have no idea of my knowledge and expertise. I’m not encouraging people to sabotage social conversations but it doesn’t harm to make references to the work you do. After I became a coach, my friends noticed that I talk differently and ask very deep meaningful questions! That gave me the opportunity to tell them about my coaching aspirations. I also helped a few of them (pro bono, ofcourse!) to overcome personal challenges and that further built my credibility. When I coach women who are planning to get back to work, I tell them, “think of everyone person around you as your ally. The whole universe wants you to get back to work.” 

And the above is just for starters!  I'll continue on this topic next week, so come back for part two and in the meantime there's plenty for you to get going on.

Archana Bhatia is Hopscotch's Key Skills Coach.  If you'd like to contact her for a 121 Session, please email 121@hopscotch.ae