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How to return to work after living abroad

How to return to work after living abroad

So you’ve been living and working abroad for a while and now it’s time to return home. If you’re lucky enough to have a job waiting for you upon return, that’s awesome! However, many returning expats aren’t so lucky.

In some ways, even if you’ve been working in the same industry that you’re hoping to return home to, it can feel like you’ve been out of the game for a while. Certain processes may have changed, certain skills you have may now be obsolete, even the structure of a working day may seem alien to you now.

These all may seem very worrying, but there are steps you can take which can help you bridge the potential skills gap created by your time abroad, and get you straight back in the game. Here are our suggestions:

Assess your skills, objectively.

The key word here is ‘objective’. Take an objective look at what you can offer an employer, perhaps even visit a recruitment specialist to assess your skills from an external perspective. This will help you gain confidence in your current skills and could help you discover areas where you could improve yourself.

For example, even if you’re returning to an industry you know and have worked in, the country you’ve moved back to may do things differently to the country you’ve been living in, and you may not have been aware of the difference. This objective look at your skills and the skills required can help you bridge any potential gap you may have acquired whilst away.

Seeing a staffing specialist can help you identify skills you didn’t know you have and skills you didn’t know you lacked. In either case, it’s a useful endeavour all round.

Sharpen or refresh your skills.

It’s not uncommon for people who move abroad with a partner to do so for their partner’s career, and often at the detriment of their own. This can lead to significant gaps on their CVs, simply because their industry or skill set was irrelevant in their expat home. An IT consultant may struggle to find much work in a small rural village, for example.

What’s important here is some forward planning – if you know you’re likely to return home and work, it’s important to upgrade your skills to make up for the employment gap. Take courses online and keep up to date with the latest developments in your industry so that you can show a potential employer that you may have been out of work but you’re definitely not out of the loop.

Something else we’d recommend is volunteering, preferably in a related industry (as much as possible). This shows initiative and determination, allows you to develop transferable skills, and gives you the chance to gain contacts.

During interviews, you are likely to be questioned directly about your time abroad. Show employers that you’re still relevant and just as good as, if not better than, people who have been working in the industry more recently than you.

Look for startups and young tech companies.

Startups and young tech companies value ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds and experience more than ‘traditional’ companies that have been around for years. Startups are often formed by young people/graduates, and it’s incredibly common for graduates to spend a year or two travelling straight after university so they’ll understand that taking time out doesn’t make you a lesser employee.

Use your experience of living abroad to your advantage. Perhaps you learned a second language or perhaps you lived alone and developed independence. These are all strings to your bow that you can use in job applications.

A more concrete example is if you blogged your expat life or took to Instagram (if you were lucky enough to live somewhere picturesque). There are many desirable skills associated with these ‘hobbies’, including content creation, writing, social media, SEO, and other elements of digital marketing. Don’t sell yourself short – your hobby as an expat blogger or photographer could make you very attractive to a lot of startups and tech companies.

Something else we recommend is applying to work for apps, websites, and services that you use (fairly) regularly. This is a good idea for multiple reasons. First of all, you’ll likely enjoy working there because you believe in the service and know that it’s good. Secondly, you’ll be able to demonstrate intimate knowledge of the service as a user, as well as enthusiasm as a regular user – two huge factors of any job interview.

Recognise your transferable skills – you definitely have some.

We’ve touched on this point briefly already in this article, but there are many skills out there that don’t seem career-related but are actually very useful for the workplace.

A major thing that employers look for is a willingness to learn – something that’s applicable to all situations and doesn’t necessarily fade by being out of work or out of your particular industry.

Transferable skills can include both technical ‘hard’ skills and ‘softer’ virtues. For example, the more technical, ‘hard’ knowledge of SEO and social media marketing can be applied to any business involved with the internet and social media (so, almost all businesses nowadays). ‘Softer’ virtues may include patience, timekeeping, and interpersonal skills, which can be used in any work environment. These can all be improved/maintained whilst living abroad, and it’s important to be aware of these skills that you possess when competing for jobs with people with more particular skills in your industry.

Consider a different industry.

After living abroad for a significant amount of time (this could be anything from a few months to several years), it’s unlikely that you’ll slip right back in where you left. Jobs, even company’s themselves, change so quickly now that it’s unlikely that your exact job will exist by the time you get back. With this in mind, it may be worthwhile considering other industries.

Either as a way to branch out and try something new or as a step towards returning to your industry, smaller companies and freelance work may be good options to try. You’ll likely have a wealth of experience from working before your move abroad, as well as from the things you did whilst living abroad, and this can set you apart from the competition. Especially since, as we’ve already mentioned, smaller companies often like people with nontraditional career backgrounds and experience – being an expat certainly counts as that!

Freelancing also gives you the opportunity to market yourself almost as you wish, so show off your experience and make your expat lifestyle work for you.

Use your expat experience in your favour.

This is really a culmination/common theme of all the aforementioned points. Your expat experience has inherent value, and it’s important to realise that and utilise it when people question your time abroad.

There are three big reasons why those who took the plunge and moved abroad for a while are glad they did so:

  1. You’ll be seen as a confident person who’s not afraid to take risks and make big decisions. 
  2. You’ll be able to see things from a different perspective – having to adjust to a new culture and a new way of living helps develop this skill which is incredibly valuable in the workplace. 
  3. The time away and fresh perspective it brings allows you to reevaluate your life and career choices. You may find you want a completely different career, or you may even discover that the career you’ve chosen is what you really want to do, and upon return to work, you’ll feel excited and motivated to continue where you left off.

So it may seem very scary and you may feel at a disadvantage when entering the workforce again after living abroad, but that’s not the case. Follow the advice we’ve given in this article and you won’t go far wrong.

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