Become a STAR of your own relocation
2019-09-23 | By Veena Joseph
When one partner gets a job offer in another country, it can often mean the other partner leaving their job, life, friends and family to relocate alongside. Being an accompanying partner, trailing partner, expat spouse–whatever the term–can be a stressful time, often full of uncertainty, and even loneliness. But it can also be the perfect time for a change of direction and unexpected growth.
Relocating to another country can be a journey of self-discovery and re-invention if we learn to embrace the challenges and possibilities. A fresh start can mean new avenues for growth, provided we embark with positive thinking. This is particularly true for accompanying partners. Jo Parfitt, once an accompanying spouse in the Netherlands and now an author and founder of Career in Your Suitcase, found things initially tricky but was resilient and flexible. “People were impressed to see how I kept my career alive,” she says. “Even with a stamp on my passport at one point saying ‘Not permitted to work.’”
The International Community Advisory Panel (ICAP) is an initiative that acts as an independent bridge between the international community and government and civic organisations in the Netherlands. ICAP recently conducted a survey of accompanying partners on the topic of finding work in the Netherlands. The results will be used to shape future information and services to support accompanying partners in their careers when they relocate to the Netherlands.
Preliminary results of the ICAP survey reveal that of the international accompanying partners who responded, 69 percent were employed before they came to the Netherlands, with 72 percent of these giving up a career, a job, or a business to relocate. Of those who relocated, 44 percent moved because their partner got a job and 39 percent came to join a Dutch or other nationality partner already living here.
Relocating to be with a partner brings more changes beyond simply moving to a different country. “I have moved to several countries for work, but this time around it felt different, it was a huge decision to move to live with my partner,” says Busra, an accompanying partner who recently moved to the Netherlands.
While the new role abroad brings exciting opportunities for the relocating partner, he or she cannot do this without the support of their partner. Accompanying partners often experience a considerable loss of identity, initially finding themselves in the ‘shadow’ of their relocating partner, and away from the career and life that they previously worked hard to build. Even a simple social inquiry, “so what do you do?’ can trigger feelings of low self-esteem; do you answer what you were doing, or what you would like to be doing?
Without the village
Relocating abroad with a family can cause extra stress. Families often experience a longer settling-in phase, and for each family member the transition might be experienced in a different way. While one experience might be positive, another can feel out of place and dwell on what is wrong with the move.
“Settling children in a new environment, into a new school took extra energy, and the first few months were not easy,” says one accompanying partner who moved to the Netherlands around two years ago. For another, Arti, an international here for six and a half years, being far from home and family was particularly difficult. “Living so far away from family was hard, especially when my dad was sick, the circumstances were not easy.”
Living in a new country with children, without a back-up network of friends, grandparents and families, at least initially, leaves many expat partners solely responsible for their children’s pick-ups, drop-offs, activities and holidays. This, alongside organising life in a new country, leaves little time and energy to focus on a career path.
Other accompanying partners have found moving with children was beneficial. One, who has lived in the Netherlands for over a decade, remarked that “through my children, via schools and their clubs, I found social contacts easier to make and found there were networking opportunities. All of which I might have found more difficult without children as an ‘introduction’ to others.”
Moving without a family
According to those surveyed by ICAP, 44 percent of accompanying partners didn’t have children when they relocated to the Netherlands. For those internationals establishing networks and contacts more likely meant using social interactions. Meet-up groups for like-minded people can be a good place to begin, look online for groups and clubs based around nationality, lifestyle or profession. There are also numerous local cultural and social events nationwide; check local listings or contact ACCESS for help.
Finding work as an accompanying partner
Once the initial ‘honeymoon’ period is over, with the home-front settled, partners often turn toward reigniting their own careers. ICAP’s survey indicates that 39 percent of accompanying partners are educated to a Master’s level, 35 percent have a Bachelor’s degree, and seven percent have postdoc or PhD qualifications. While accompanying partners can be highly-educated with established careers ‘back at home,’ they may find themselves in a completely new recruitment culture. Having left behind the comfort of known surroundings, things can be daunting and might trigger unresolved past issues. It also goes without saying that if everything is in a new language, this can add to stress.
Job mobility in the Netherlands
The European Commission’s Job Mobility Portal gives valuable information about labour market trends in the Netherlands, and includes job listings, a valuable resource for those considering retraining or further study: ec.europa.eu/eures/public/en/homepage
Finding a job
Recruitment is not the same everywhere. For example, in the Netherlands, LinkedIn is a prominent recruitment tool, and there is a particular way to write a résumé. Learning to present oneself on a different recruitment platform is a job by itself. “A Dutch recruiter might not appreciate a five-page résumé. They will be looking for skills and precise experience. A long résumé will be viewed as not being clear,” says career researcher Cora Utama.
Internationals can sometimes discover their qualifications and certifications are not recognised or transferable. Often this means restarting from the beginning and can feel daunting. The ACCESS Training Network (ATN) has members who specialise in career and personal coaching specifically tailored for internationals in the Netherlands; details can be found on the ACCESS website.
Helping accompanying partners in the Netherlands
ACCESS Trainers, part of the ACCESS Training Network (ATN), are a diverse group of professionals working in and offering a wide variety of support. They offer courses that provide opportunities for personal growth, support the development of community, give a chance to learn something new, assist preparations for a new direction and help with cultural adaption. Find more information about current ACCESS Trainers at access-nl.org/what-we-do/meet-the-trainers/
Do the groundwork
Start by building your résumé and LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn experts and courses can help you build a great profile, or you can get advice from a career coach–the ATN is perfect for finding the coach who suits your needs. Learning the language improves opportunities, so consider starting with a Dutch language course–of those accompanying partners surveyed by ICAP, 65 percent recommend learning Dutch before relocating.
Keep an open mind to small projects, as sometimes you have to start small and build on those experiences. Go easy and do not be fixed on job titles, but look for jobs that could resonate with your skills in a relevant way. You might find your first job in a smaller, more challenging setting. Sometimes looking at things from a slightly different angle creates a whole new scenario.
Most importantly, give yourself enough time to settle and explore as being happy in the process is important. When you feel ready to make a vision for yourself, take one step at a time, and don’t forget to celebrate small progress.
While regular networks such as school, after-school activities, international clubs or sports clubs are positive, challenge yourself and grow beyond boundaries by trying to form networks in unusual places. Volunteering can help with that, opening new doors while you give back to the community. There are many volunteering opportunities where little, or no Dutch, is expected, but will offer the added bonus of helping practise the language with new-found friends.
Consider taking up a new hobby; arrange for childcare to make time to pursue new areas and beginnings. To discover local opportunities resources in your area, call or visit the ACCESS website or helpdesks for assistance. Above all, enjoy exploring a new country and adapting to a new employment culture.
In order to focus on networking or job searching, set aside days of the week when you have the time, have childcare or other help. See it as an investment for your future. Check to see if your partner’s employer has schemes to help accompanying partners find work, or talk to people through LinkedIn, networking events or job fairs to know more about your industry in the Netherlands, or to research a new area of work. One of the consequences of country becoming more international is there are many professional and business networks nationwide. There are also some great organisations and initiatives set up to help accompanying partners throughout the Netherlands; check online, or consult ACCESS for assistance.
Writing your résumé
To give a valuable first impression of you and your skills and experience, it is important that your CV is clear and comprehensive. Companies inundated with CVs will speed-read or scan through the CVs, so make sure your résumé markets you in the best possible light. Find guidelines on how to produce a CV or cover letter on the Dutch government’s website: werk.nl/werkzoekenden/eu/working-netherlands/applications
Ask for feedback
Rejections are bound to come up, but do not leave them as they are; write or call for feedback, and to check why you were not called for an interview. This can help with the next application you make. Remember that all information will move you toward your final goal.
Define work for yourself
Building a career is more than simply finding a job. Find a purpose and define your work around it. Setting up your own business is also an option to explore, and fairly simple in the Netherlands. Your local municipality, the government and the Kamer van Koophandel – KvK (Dutch Chamber of Commerce) have lots of information in English that can help. There are also many platforms bringing international entrepreneurs together, such as the Women’s Business Initiative.
Starting a business
Business.gov.nl is the point of contact for resident and foreign entrepreneurs who want to establish a business or do business in the Netherlands. Their website, business.gov.nl/ gives comprehensive information in English on starting a business and opportunities.
The KvK, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, gives advice and support for anyone thinking of starting or owning a business. They offer English language seminars and their website even has a webinar about starting a business in the Netherlands: kvk.nl/english/
Staffing shortages exist in the Netherlands, which means there is a job market out there for internationals. Sponsoring companies and government agencies could do more to assist accompanying partners–the ICAP survey found 38 percent did not receive support from partner’s employer, but would have welcomed it. But by supporting one another, growth and success is possible, no matter what hurdles exist. Building bridges helps us rise beyond limits and flourish. Who knows what will come out in the process, maybe you can become a STAR – Successfully Travelled (ing) and Relocated (ing) Spouse?
About the author
Veena Joseph accompanied her partner to the Netherlands her partner in 2012. She is the founder of Forerunners Consulting and Coaching, and a member of the ACCESS Training Network. Through the platform SheSustains, she brings women together to support each other and grow.