While living our lives as global professionals and partners most of us realize that we gain important skills along the way. Soft skills – they are often highlighted in job posting, but can still be so difficult to pinpoint. We asked our Key Resource Person Lone Skriver to point out some of the soft skills she often sees accompanying partners develop and share ideas on how to use them to stand out on the job market. Lone Skriver has extensive experience within HR and Global Mobility and is Partner at Slater Consult.
Let’s be honest: when we speak about career and job, soft skills can never stand alone. You need to possess the professional skills required for the job. However, that said, the soft skills are often the differentiator when a company chooses one candidate from another.
When you go abroad as an expat spouse or partner, it can be rather difficult to articulate what you have gained professionally from the experience when coming back or moving on to the next destination. Maybe you didn’t have the opportunity to work abroad because you couldn’t get a work permit or you chose to have a break from your career and focus on the family. You have possibly done voluntary work or even started up your own business. In any case, the experience you have from abroad is not easy to translate into an experience known in your home country. Hence, you may find it a struggle to identify to a hiring company why they should hire you above another candidate, who has been continuously on the job market, while it seems you were on a relaxing holiday abroad.
Relaxing!? No! After 10 years with Global Mobility I’ve so far never met an expat partner who could lean back and just enjoy when going abroad. It’s hard work to settle in to a new country. Just think about the effort it takes to build a completely new social network or pick up a new language. Even if you are supported by professional providers, you still need to acquire knowledge on many new things about the country you’ve settled into. While learning, you will also discover a thing or two about yourself. Many of the expat partners I have interviewed over the years acknowledge that the biggest change they’ve experienced has happened within their minds. Changes that have made them grow as persons.
Cultural sensibility and open-mindedness are some of the basic skills you easily learn when living abroad. New ways of doing things, opinions different from you own, navigating a society completely different from the one you left, meeting people you never would have met at home, and so forth. Understanding new perspectives sets you free from your pre-programmed opinions from back home. Mastering this particular skill is of high value to any employer who works with diverse teams, wishes to penetrate new markets abroad or simply prefers to work with employees that are open to new input, changes and innovation.
Adaptability. Living in another culture requires adaptability to your new surroundings. Adapting to a new environment can be stressful yet rewarding at the same time if you encounter that it makes you stronger in any smaller or larger groups. It is a strength that you can highlight and make positive use of going forward – be it in private contexts or in any given future employment situation.
Flexibility. Going abroad means change. Sometimes you just go with the flow without knowing where you will end up and you may not get things as you prefer them to be initially. This skill is relevant when working for companies adjusting to their markets and restructuring the organization frequently. You may not know where you’re heading, but taking your expat experience into consideration, you are genuinely aware that the journey will take you somewhere and you’ll find out in due time where that “somewhere” is. You are also flexible in your demands because you know that your way is not always the only way of doing things.
Resillience. “I learned to trust myself and stand alone” is one of the sentences often said by expat partners. You feel alone in a new country and your partner works all the time. Most likely, you don’t know the language, don’t have a social network or a job and you may feel quite lost. Building up a new life and set roots in a new country makes you tough. You know you can survive challenging times without depending on anyone else. Which employer wouldn’t want that skill set?
Courage. Think about all the times you have just jumped into it! Saying ‘yes’ to an assignment without knowing exactly what you entered? Getting lost in your new city for the first time? Eating things you didn’t know were eatable? Going to an event without knowing anyone? Being an expat partner also means courage. You don’t always know what’s coming towards you, but you know you can handle it. Courage is useful in any job situation. It sometimes takes courage to speak out your opinion loud or solve a conflict with a customer or colleague, but with your expat experience in the luggage, you can handle more than most!
Persistance. Taking one step at the time to reach your goals can be challenging in this era of performance and achievements. Sometimes you just want to give up and go home. But persistence makes you stay and take another step in the direction you want to go. Persistance is required in a job situation when a task or an assignment turns out to be more challenging than expected. You may also want to just give up and let someone else fix it, but most employers appreciate employees who stay on track when fighting against strong headwinds.
Finally, I want to emphasize the ability to merge different experiences and create new hybrids. One expat partner described her moves between countries as “moving between silos”. And each “silo” contained a whole new world. Merging the best from each “silo” finally gave her a unique career possibility in Denmark that she had never thought possible.
The concept of merging the best from both worlds can be applied to almost any area in your work life. Management styles, administration practice, development processes, communication channels, socio-cultural approaches; there are no limits to the topics where you can find inspiration for your work life in your experience as expat partner. Even if you don’t have a paid job abroad, it is still possible to pick up inspiration from your host country’s work culture. Inspiration that you can use later on in life when you are heading back to the job market and need to differentiate yourself towards an employer.
The soft-skill set you gather when living in a foreign country are not always easy to decode in a recruitment situation and translate into relevant job skills. If you want to maintain your employability when returning home after years abroad, you need to work deliberately with your competences. It must be clear to the hiring manager or HR person why you are valuable to the company.
And the only one who really can tell them how valuable you are, is you.