Finding professional identity in the Group

For all professionals who transition from one country or another, changes in work status and worklife are inevitable. Moving abroad before securing a job – as dual career professionals often do – can create uncertainty and instability. But maybe the road to a successful career transition is in maintaining a group affiliation or in joining a portable network.

Career transitions leave you “in-between”

According to Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD Business School “a state of being betwixt and in-between social roles and/or identities” is the defining feature of an increasingly fluctuating career landscape. Ibarra calls this phenomenon liminality. One example of liminality, is starting a new life in a new country, but leaving a network behind in the former.

Ibarra identifies liminality as a precursor for social exclusion. In fact, dual career professionals are faced with two transitional risks: when they move, they experience a break in their social networks; and, they also get disconnected from their professional circles. The transition isn’t complete until they build those professional ties from scratch.

I believe that a career is the story that ties our life experiences together. In order to maintain one, we have to belong in a professional group that is personally meaningful, professionally supportive and financially promising. Better defining the professional activities (roles and responsibilities) can positively reinforce our group affiliation, and vice versa.

Professional Boundaries – Building Effective Relationships

When I arrived in Copenhagen 3,5 years ago, I was locally supported by several dual career groups. I eventually decided to explore Human Resources as a possible career track, because it answered so many of my own questions about dual careers and transition abroad. Through my off-and-on HR projects, I continue to many global professionals with different profiles.  What is often striking, is the stark difference between members who are specialists and those who are generalists. Both categories present unique difficulties for making a quick and successful career transition abroad.

Specialists such as cancer biologists and architects look for very close skill-to-job matching. They also prefer to advance in a narrowly-defined career track. Their profiles often qualify them for advanced positions with relatively high pay. Their opportunities, however, are limited to the number of jobs that are available in the market.

On the other hand, generalists who may lack a strong career identity, tend to be more flexible in the work they do. They might prefer engaging in non-industry-specific projects such as editing and graphic design. Defining roles and relationships for this group, however, tends to take longer.

As one can imagine, the two groups build their networks differently and they also require different kinds of support in their career transitions. In a mobility context, specialists may benefit further from interprofessional collaboration, while generalist may need to further specialize in a niche field.

The global professional’s advantage in a changing world

At the end of the day, staying on-track in one field, one company, in one role for life is something of a rarity these days –with or without the mobility context. Two decades ago, making progress within a career required further professionalization, stricter occupational identities and clear trajectories. While specialization is still important, the world of work today is rapidly changing in many industries. The new culture of work is digital and interprofessional collaboration is fundamental to the sustainability standards we globally aspire to.

This aspect of the current world of work is a strong advantage for us as dual career professionals: we are often connected to multiple locations and come in contact with many different people via online platforms.

We critically depend on networks to increase our capacity to get things done and develop professionally. We must use the time required to build a local network effectively. Taking a generalist’s approach would help grow a cross-cultural, cross-industry, diverse network. Diversity helps us with personal growth and cultural transitions. To make the relationships professionally more effective, it’s good to see the world like a specialist: strategically identifying smaller groups within our networks. Connecting with people who desire comparable occupational roles will help make our career transitions more successful abroad.

Transitions are an opportunity for exploring professional boundaries and mobility is our best advantage. Let’s agree to join forces to learn, grow, and advance professionally while on the move.

Here we are Member Petek Jinkins is a Technical Writer and HR professional currently located in Copenhagen Denmark. 

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