Guest Post by Anne-Marie Watson
Together with our kids, I relocated for my husband’s work to the USA, over two years ago. As I had my children late in life, I had established a part-time but useful career as a marketing contractor in the Australian Pharmaceutical Market for eight years before moving to the US.
After an extensive career as a full-time employee, and then having children, contracting was a great next job move. Work was flexible, challenging and usually with good clients. Working for myself, the pay was good and the people I worked with were fantastic.
It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing in the US.
After all, I was relocating to New Jersey where umpteen pharmaceutical companies have their home offices. With all my experience, and a work permit, what could possibly stop me from working?
I didn’t start looking for work immediately. We had a rough adjustment to expat life and my children took a long time to settle into their schools. So it was very important in the early days for me to be at home.
Eventually, as we slowly adjusted to life in the USA, I began a more earnest search to resume my career in Pharma.
Foolish as it may sound, it never crossed my mind that my work in Australia was successful because the situation was so different. New opportunities came from personal contacts in an existing small network, where companies were relatively free from rigorous bureaucracy, to fill in vacancies and work overloads, as they needed to.
The fact that I was nearly 50 years old didn’t seem to be a problem.
Oh, how different it was in New Jersey than I’d imagined! Each company here has their own way of dealing with contractors, often through third party organizations, something I’d never had to grapple with in Australia.
There are so many people in these companies that it is very difficult to know who you should be networking with, and even harder to reach out to them on a personal basis to develop a relationship. There were so many layers of bureaucracy between myself and the decision-maker. This was especially true as an outsider: you are forced to deal with middlemen.
Even with these people (most of them from professional recruiting companies), it was surprising the number of roadblocks that seemed to arise. For example ‘my resume was too long,’ I ‘didn’t know the US market’ and ‘I was only on an L2 visa (not a resident)’.
One interviewer even remarked “well, you’re obviously not a spring chicken.” That’s when I realized, at 52 years of age, I was not going to find it as easy as I’d imagined.
Even when I applied for full-time work, then it became an issue of how long I had been ‘out-of-work’. The one position I did secure was unfortunately frozen just before I started.
The dawning of my new unemployed situation came on slowly and then it hit me that I was being retired well before I was mentally ready, worse yet — I was completely unprepared.
As someone who has always worked and expected to be in useful employment until I was 70 years old, this came as a very rude awakening. In hindsight, I wished that before I left Australia I had more fully considered what I would do if I was unable to work. Ideally, I would have left with a plan that allowed for alternative career options, which would have made the closing of the last one much easier to accept.
At times I have felt utterly depressed with the way things panned out initially but I am not lying down to die! For better or worse, I am scoping out a new career as a blogger/internet marketer, with the hope that my business acumen and skills will help me carry the day, as I learn an entirely new area.
I am looking on the positive side, and enjoying the challenge immensely. Here is something I can throw my heart and soul into, like my previous pharmaceutical career and hopefully rekindle my self-esteem.
Assuming it pays off at least enough to add to my retirement savings, I will still be able to be there for my kids as they continue to navigate their lives as expats. What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? Well, you move differently to hit it back I think!
Here are some links to articles that may help you identify some career options as an expat living abroad:
What employment challenges have you faced as a trailing spouse and how did you cope with them?
Anne-Marie Watson is an Australian expat who wears multiple hats: mother, trailing spouse, marketer and recent blogger. Our travelling circus includes a husband, two children and a dog. While our family are a well traveled lot, we are now doing the ‘ultimate’ travel trip: living as expats. Follow our adventures in New Jersey, USA and our relocation trials as first time expats living in a strange land!