The Expat’s Survival Guide Part
How I Found a Well-Paying International Job After a Financial Crisis
By Leslie A. Strazzullo
The last time you heard from me I was in limbo, professionally speaking. My company, a small business unit within a larger Italian multinational had been sold. That led to reduced work hours and the eventual closing of my company. What came next? If you haven’t guessed already, I was officially unemployed. Yup, out of work.
Unemployed, Your Company has Closed its Doors
With all the recent attention it is receiving, Italy is probably not the best place for an expat to be unemployed but definitely not the worst. On the upside, the severance payment that I walked away with turned out to be a nice sum of money which allowed me to be choosy and gave me the time I needed to find the “next” opportunity. On the downside, the laws that protect workers as in my case make for a sluggish job market — so it was a kind of Catch-22. Employers were, and still are, hesitant to hire workers fulltime knowing the long-term obligations and costs. However, all that appears to be changing. The current public debt crisis that is affecting Italy and much of the Euro Zone is forcing the government to take another look at labor laws and work contracts.
To make a long story short, finding my next assignment was a rollercoaster ride with plenty of ups and downs for myself and those around me. In the end, after an intensive 9-month search, I found a global marketing communications opportunity that met both my professional objectives and personal preference of staying put in Milan.
I haven’t written in a while, but I still receive lots of inquiries about living and working abroad. This got me thinking about my own situation and how I’ve been able to land the jobs I have, in the 6-plus years I’ve been living in Milan.
If I count the expat assignment that brought
me to Italy, I’ve received four solid job offers in six
years….not bad, I have to say. These offers
came prior to and during the crisis. So how did I
do it? I still subscribe to what I wrote a few years
back in How
Search for International Jobs. However in obtaining
my current job, I had one more obstacle to overcome: the status
of being unemployed, which in Europe seemed to be taboo up
Below you will find some pointers to help you find or—as in my case—transition to a new international assignment during a crisis.
1) Be prepared, start with a job search plan. As many of you know this is critical. If the renewal of your work permit depends on you already having a job then a plan is a must. Whether you’re employed or out of work, having a clear idea of what you’re looking for will make all the difference in the world, saving you lots of time.
a. Career plan: Your plan will include an objective or definition of the opportunity/ies you are looking for; be as detailed as you can. Mine included job function/title, industries and companies of interest, company size, type of contract, and location. The more detailed you are the better.
b. Timeframe: How long will it take you to reach your goals? When do you want to make your change, six months or one year from now?
c. Tools: I hope this is obvious. Make sure you are clear about what you want and can communicate it throw your curriculum, conversations with contacts, emails, and interviews. Along with your pitch and CV, be sure that your online profiles are up to date and aligned with what you are seeking.
d. Practice: This means that you should be able to communicate your professional status and that which you are looking for in a confident and concise manner. So when meeting up with friends or attending a networking event, be prepared for the questions such as, “So what do you do or what’s new? No hesitation or stuttering allowed.
e. Actions to take: Define the steps you will take and when you will complete those steps, i.e., attend a networking event and meet at least one new contact to follow up with.
f. Measurement: It’s not good enough to have a process, you must also track and evaluate what you are doing. You should be making small gains which lead to interviews and then job opportunities. If not, look at what you are doing and make the necessary changes.
Survival tip: Write it down, and review it every day. I’m talking about your plan. Whether you actually write it out or keep it stored on your mobile device is irrelevant. The point is that you must look at your plan and take action. Also, make sure your plan is doable. If you set your goals too high then the first failure is likely to set you back and delay your progress.
2) Tell an interesting story, standout and be different. This is probably the most important takeaway. As an expat living abroad, you will have a tough battle transitioning during difficult times. Why should anyone hire you? In a tough market, companies will, naturally, go with local candidates. What does that mean for you and your chance to advance? You must create a compelling reason why a company should take the risk and hire you. What makes you special? What do you have that can’t be easily obtained through the local pool of candidates? This can include unique aspects of your background: education, training, awards received, certifications, experiences, work history, knowledge of languages and /or countries lived in, types of organizations you have worked in (NGOs, multinationals, start ups, etc.), volunteering, and of course any and all relevant achievements in any of these areas. As expats in your host country, you automatically bring a new perspective to the job as an outsider. Be sure to use this to your advantage. Whatever you say, make sure you can back it up with specific examples.
Survival tip: Create your personal value proposition. Spend some time understanding what makes you stand apart from the others. Go beyond the basics of speaking another language or an MBA to discover what you have to offer that is not easily found in your host country. This could be a combination of skills and experience that makes you unique.
3) Create opportunities — networking and the hidden job market. There are jobs out there. Most would say…well, where are they? These jobs are not listed. Whether you like it or not, networking and telling your story will be one of the most important things you do. Put your pride aside and talk to anyone willing to listen, you never know where it will lead.
Survival tip: The statistics vary, but the hidden job market represents 75- 85% of available jobs. While it’s tempting to apply for jobs posted online, you’ll have better luck by identifying influencers in your field, those who have the power to hire you. So how do you meet your next boss? Networking with existing and new contacts will help you get closer to your next job. For more information on the hidden job market check out the following two articles, Crack the Hidden Job Market by
John Lees, a UK-based career strategist for The Harvard Business Review and 6 Ways to Crack The Hidden Job Market in Forbes. A search of the web will turn up many more such articles.
4) Be persistent. This is coming from the voice of experience. Trust me, you will have good and bad days. In cultures where lifetime contracts were the norm, the current wave of job losses has really hit hard. Unfortunately, you will still encounter those who think your pursuit is hopeless or that it is just too difficult to find a job now so best to go home. Try to avoid these type of people, they will only bring you down.
Survival tip: Don’t stop, knock on as many doors as you can. Finding a job is a numbers game, the more opportunities you uncover the quicker you will find your next opportunity.
Job uncertainty and unemployment are tough pills to swallow, dealing with these pressures abroad can be that much worse. Stay positive and take one step at a time. Don’t go it alone, stay connected to friends and family; they will help you get through the rough times. As many of you know, an overseas work experience is enriching both personally and professionally. While difficult, changing jobs abroad is not impossible. Since arriving in Italy more than 10 years ago, I’ve met many expats who have transitioned into all types of professional opportunities from corporate to entrepreneurial ventures.
Leslie Strazzullo is a marketing professional working in Italy for an American multinational. You can learn more about Leslie on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @lstrazzullo.