Feb 04, 2014

    Mistakes to avoid when relocating for work

    HAYLEY Spraggett's first clues that working overseas would require a lot of attention to cultural differences and finessing her presentation came well before she got her first job.

    It turned out that her Britain-friendly two-page curriculum vitae (CV) would just not cut it Down Under. Instead, recruiters advised her to include every job she had held.

    She also realised the interview process in Australia might be painfully slow - five or six rounds of interviews are not uncommon.

    Deciding to make an overseas career move is exciting - but also fraught with ample opportunity for mistakes. Everything from cultural differences to the length of a CV can quickly cause an international move to go awry.

    But it doesn't have to be so painful. Lots of planning and research can help smoothen the transition.


    "Find out not only the legal requirements of the destination country but the local employment culture," said Ms Barbara West, a partner at Culture Works, a Melbourne-based intercultural consulting firm.

    For example, in the United States, international experience is highly valued. But, on the flipside, in some countries, such as Australia, non-local experience can be viewed as suspect. "Try to get somebody local to put in a good word for you," Ms West said.


    Once British residents Michael Dennison and Lowri Llwyd decided Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was their top choice for an international relocation, the couple, both corporate lawyers, planned a visit so they "would be on the ground to interview if need be", said Mr Dennison. "This generally went down very well with the firms we were talking to as it showed real commitment."

    During their visit, Ms Llwyd had a handful of interviews, set up in advance by the couple's recruiters. "We also had hundreds of coffees with loads of contacts," she said. "We exhausted our network through Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera."

    Visiting first is the best way to "get a feel for the place", according to Ms Natalie Murray, a Vancouver, Canada-based technical recruiter with Irish software developer DemonWare.

    "Spend some time on the ground in the new location before making a decision," she said. "One big mistake is to leave home and expect your new host country to be exactly as your home country is."

    That kind of thinking can lead to serious homesickness, according to Ms Llwyd.


    One aspect of the new life that took a little getting used to was the different social patterns, wrote Mr Dennison. "In the UK we tended to socialise with work colleagues during the week and non-work friends on the weekend; in Dubai, the groups are much more intertwined," he said. "There is also a greater emphasis on the weekends here which are always busy socially. On weekdays, people are more about working hard and clean living until the next weekend."

    Social media proved to be a lifesaver: Mr Dennison said that it was a great way to meet people when they first arrived. In their case, it was "friends of friends" who lived in Dubai. "We went on quite a few 'blind friend dates'."


    Advertisements for agencies offering overseas positions are everywhere - but that doesn't guarantee legitimacy.

    "I would be cautious about paying any organisation that claims to process applications and paperwork," said Ms Dorothy Dalton, a Brussels-based career transition coach. "There are numerous dubious operators around, especially dealing with lower-level positions."

    On one Australian job board, which appeared reputable on the surface, Ms Spraggett kept reaching dead ends.

    "I found that the jobs were often 'gone' and the ads were really just a 'hook' to get you to register with the agency," she said. "Quite often, the recruiters were inexperienced and struggled to understand their clients' roles and/or understand and interpret how my skills might be appropriate."

    Ms Spraggett made the decision to focus on a few recruiters who she felt understood what she was looking for, vetting each of them by phone before submitting an application or registering with their agency.

    "By investing a bit more time 'interviewing' them about the positions they had, the organisations they work with, the reporting structure, the programme/project objectives, it helped to identify (which ones) really understood their clients' needs," said Ms Spraggett. "It also enabled me to gauge their general interest in me and my experience."


    As with any career move, "do your research", said Ms West. And that means doing more than picking up a few guidebooks and perusing websites. Find people who lived there before or, better yet, live there currently.

    "Talk to everyone you can possibly find about life in the new place," said Ms Llwyd. "Friends of friends, old colleagues, friends of your second cousin's boyfriend, et cetera. Get as many perspectives as you can."