Career planning tips for expat stay-at-home mums
Many mums decide to re-establish a career while living abroad. Careful planning is the key to a smooth transition from stay-at-home mom to working woman.
Expatriate wives who are stay-at-home mothers might find that re-entering the workforce after a prolonged absence is fraught with issues that go far beyond cover letters and interviews. Many mums at the crossroads find themselves battling a crushing lack of confidence, the erosion of their skills, and the loss of their professional network. Even something as simple as putting together an appropriate working wardrobe can seem daunting when starting from scratch.
Low confidence levels have a way of sabotaging even the most determined efforts to restart a stalled career. That's not surprising, considering stay-at-home mothers spend several years focusing on developing softer, more nurturing skills that aren't always valued in the workplace.
During that time away, things change: technology, corporate attitudes, client expectations. Many expat wives start to question whether they've still got what it takes to be competitive in an increasingly unforgiving business climate.
Job search strategies for expat mums
Working abroad is possible, but grabbing the first job that comes up can be self-defeating. A better approach, according to Dubai-based career coach (and expat mom) Nicola Supka, is for the expatriate to design a strategy to relaunch her career overseas.
In an interview with Suite 101, Supka outlined a few steps every expat mom should follow on her journey back to employment:
Check spousal employment restrictions
Policies regarding accompanying spouses vary from country to country. A call to the home embassy should clear up any questions about spousal employment restrictions. (An expat wife who is unable to work needn't despair - she can use the time before the next international assignment to lay the groundwork for the job of her dreams.)
Be clear about career goals
The jobseeker who takes the time to consider her passions and values will be better able to find a job that reflects her needs.
Upgrade skills to re-enter the workforce
Technology becomes obsolete with lightning speed, and industry-specific practices can change over time. Fortunately, the internet has made skills development a breeze for virtually everyone.
A motivated expat mum might even decide to take the plunge and retrain completely, or upgrade her current qualifications by tackling graduate school -- either locally or through a distance education program.
That kind of effort is not overlooked by those doing the hiring. "Enthusiasm definitely counts," Supka says. "Employers like to see that level of commitment."
Take advantage of volunteer opportunities abroad
Volunteering is an easy way to explore options; a dry run for the real thing. However, it's important to approach overseas volunteer work with professionalism.
The best unpaid work affords the stay-at-home mom the opportunity to hone transferable skills, learn new proficiencies, develop contacts, and establish some credentials. (The fulfillment that comes from working for an important cause is an added bonus.)
Create a winning resume
Many mums who've been on a lengthy hiatus are concerned about that glaring hole in their CV. Nicola Supka doesn't see it as a problem. "A resume is a sales document," she says. "You shouldn't lie, of course, but you can -- and should -- highlight what is relevant, and downplay the rest."
Volunteer work has its place on a resume as well. "Employers don't care if you got paid," Supka says. "The important thing is that you did the work."
Make use of networking opportunities when seeking jobs
Supka advises expat jobseekers to tell everyone they meet what their career goals are. "You'd be surprised what other mums do for a living. Some of them are hiring people just like you," she says. "Taking that risk definitely pays off."
Professional women's associations are a rich source of networking opportunities, where expatriate women can gain the support of like-minded people, gain access to industry news and professional training, and possibly find a mentor to help guide them along their path.
Understand the host culture when working overseas
Odds are good that the business environment in the host country won't be identical to the one back home. Meeting etiquette, preferred negotiation styles, gift giving, the cultural view of time -- these are just a few aspects of intercultural business communication that can trip up the unsuspecting expat working overseas. Another potential minefield is the role of women in the workplace.
In some countries, it may be unrealistic for expatriate women to expect to achieve the same level of success they did in their own country. Women are also advised to pay special attention to dress codes, especially in more conservative regions.
Once an expat mom has determined her eligibility to work abroad, she can make the transition to full-time employment easier with proper planning. By establishing clear career goals, upgrading her skills, volunteering overseas, creating a winning resume, networking, and taking the time to understand the international business culture, she'll increase her confidence -- and the odds of finding the right job for her.
"Most people spend more time planning their holidays than developing a career plan," says Supka. "But if you're lucky, and if you put some effort into preparing for your job search, you can have something special -- something that's more than ‘just a job.'"
Maria Foley is a Canadian who lived and raised a family as an expat for many years. Aside from writing for Suite 101, Foley still writes about her expat life on her blog, I was an expat wife.