Career-planning tips for expat stay-at-home moms

Many expat moms decide to re-establish a career while living overseas. Careful planning is the key to a smooth transition from stay-at-home mom to working woman.

Career planning tips for expat stay-at-home momsExpatriate 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 moms 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 Moms

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 moms 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 résumé  is a sales document,” she says. “You shouldn’t lie, of course, but you can – and should – highlight what’s relevant, and downplay the rest.” Volunteer work has its place on a résumé  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 moms 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 résumé , 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.’”

This article originally appeared on on March 15, 2010 © Maria Foley.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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11 Responses to Career-planning tips for expat stay-at-home moms

  1. bookjunkie says:

    I love this article. Am not a mum but it applies to me as well. I can attest to the lack of confidence part for sure. Thanks for the tips. This was very useful and I’ll be tweeting it 🙂

    • Maria says:

      Lack of confidence has always been an obstacle for me, too. Sometimes I can fake it, but it seems that prospective employers have a sixth sense about that kind of thing.

  2. Crystal says:

    This is very timely for me, thanks!

    • Maria says:

      I didn’t realize you were planning a return to work, Crystal. I hope it goes well for you.

      • Crystal says:

        I’m at the “I’d like to go back to work at least part time…now what” stage. I don’t think I’ll actually be working before the fall at earliest, and not more than part time (tutoring or some such), but I feel a little overwhelmed at the prospect of job hunting here, so it was good to read some tips. I’ve been out of the workforce for almost 4 years, so it’s been a while.

  3. Very good article that sums up everything! Well done Maria. I will facebook, tweet and linkedin it! 😉

  4. An ‘oldie but goodie’ that deserves another round. Good advice for anyone with a gap in their working career timeline, but especially expat partners.

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