Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Expat Careers: From Human Resources to Writing

This is the first post in the series about expat careers. To kick off the series I thought I would share my expat career experience with you.......

I moved from the UK to the Netherlands in 2000 and at the time I was a Human Resources (HR) professional. I had studied for a Post Graduate Diploma in HR Management and intended to continue practicing HR when I moved abroad.

Within two months I had a new job with a large international company in a HR role. But to start earning again I’d made many compromises. The position was lower than my UK role was, the salary less. It was a temporary role and working through an employment agency.

Despite the number of international companies based in the Randstad in the Netherlands I found that the job market for my niche was relatively small because my Dutch was nowhere near good enough to work in a Dutch company – and that reduced my options considerably.

Feeling insignificant in a big
office block
Photo: Ryan Smart
After years of working on a specific contract in the same company, having been given a permanent, direct contract with the company the project came to an end and I was moved within the organisation to another team. It went downhill from there.  I felt like a number not a valued team member, a face in the crowd. I started reviewing my career options. I needed creativity in my daily work life. I wanted to write for a living but didn’t really see how.

I considered how I could combine HR and writing and then I discovered Jo Parfitt and attended one of her courses. It was the springboard that took my career on a new direction. During the course, Jo made a general statement to the group which stuck with me,

“You can make a career of writing and you can earn well with it. But you need to be passionate about what you are doing.”

I knew I wasn’t passionate about HR anymore. It hadn’t fulfilled any of the hopes I’d had, especially for much of my time in the Netherlands. But I was passionate about writing.

When I went on maternity leave it was the opportunity to take stock and make the change. I never went back to my HR role nor the international company. I set up The Writing Well instead.

The main barrier was financial but my departure from my former HR position left me financially secure for a number of months so I had a safety net – plus the income provided by my husband’s role gave us enough security to support the inevitable drought times.

Setting up a business in the Netherlands turned out to be straight forward, particularly given the nature of my company. I visited my local Kamer van Koophandel (Chamber of Commerce) to register The Writing Well and then registered the company with the Dutch tax office. That was the administration taken care of.

I undertook a web design course with NTI so I was able to design and build my own website for the launch of The Writing Well. And then I began networking and producing articles for various expat websites and publications – for free.

It built up my name and portfolio and then paid work started to steadily flow in.

A while after I started writing, I started a distance learning course at the London School of Journalism to boost my professional skills and keep my personal development going.

For expats wanting to make a move into the world of writing, my advice is this:  choose a niche, know your market and grow your networks.

Working virtually is vital if writing is your chosen
expat career.  Photo: Maripepa
Grow a platform for yourself (or as Anastasia Ashman and Tara Agacayak call it – a global niche). Writing is a great expat career because it is portable. Your clients can live across the other side of the world and it makes no difference so long as you can work virtually in an effective manner. I would also add that you should make the most of distance learning courses.

You do need the support of those around you. My husband enables me to take the time to disappear into my home office and work because he takes on the household and looking after the children. He has motivated and supported me from day one and even before – and takes an active role in decisions I make, and activities I undertake relating to my business. Jo Parfitt has also been a great support over the years – somebody who remembers her network at every possible chance and points clients in the right direction.

To succeed in a career overseas I think you need to be able to effectively network, both virtually and face to face. You need to be passionate about what you are doing and it certainly helps to be creative – to think outside the box. Finally - believe in yourself.

  • Useful links for an overseas career in writing:
London School of Journalism

  • Here are just some of the websites that welcome articles which enable you to build a portfolio - 

And for inspiration to build a creative career doing what you love, no matter where you are visit Tara Agacayak's site - Turquoise Poppy.

Next week Louise Wiles shares her expat career story.

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