Thursday, July 8, 2010

Trailing Spouse Work in the Foreign Service World

This is an exciting post for me to write today. I am going to be the guest speaker on Job Club Radio on Monday, July 12th, 2pm ET, discussing my experience of being a working trailing spouse in the Foreign Service world. You can listen to the show at http://ow.ly/1GtFk.

(Dial-in number: (917) 932-1762 to ask questions during the show. You can listen to the archives after the show as well. For more information, check out the blog at: http://wp.me/pRThs-30.)

I joined the Foreign Service world the way that so many others did . . . by marrying into it! It's a bit of an "unknown" world within most of the US. My quick and dirty explanation is that my husband works in US Embassies around the world, and our lifestyle is much like that of a military family - we move quite often, usually every two to three years.

But this constantly mobile lifestyle wrecked havoc on my professional career, in that I had to give up my successful career as a recruiter in the US.

At our first post in Rome, Italy, I was able to find a wonderful position that both challenged and fulfilled me. I thrived in my job there and wished I didn't have to leave. Yet the longer I am part of this diplomatic world, the more I have come to understand one very simple truth: opportunities like that position are few and far between.

In every US Embassy there are a few positions designated specifically for eligible family members; most of which are clerical or secretarial in nature. Family members are always to invited to apply for any open position at the Embassy, but often there are stringent language requirements that negate practically anyone that isn't a native speaker of that particular language. In some counties, the State Department has been able to negotiate work agreements so that dependants of diplomatic staff can gain work permits to work locally. Many family members take advantage of this to become teachers at the local international schools, or in a few lucky cases to work for international corporations or other non-governmental organizations located in that country.

I realized that the most disheartening of all this is one simple fact: every two to three years I was going to have to start all over again from scratch. It really hit home for me at our second post in Zagreb, Croatia. That "dream job" from my first post? Already filled by family members who were going to be at post at least as long as I was - so there was no hope of me applying for the position at all. In many posts, even the most menial of "family member jobs" are highly coveted and fought over. In short, when seven or eight people apply for a part-time basic filing position, you're never guaranteed you'll get a paycheck, much less a rewarding career.

This realization sent me into a long period of self-reflection. I had always worked, and in fact, I really didn't know how to not work. I got involved in volunteer work and I joined women's groups, but I knew that this was not a long-term solution for me.

What came out of that time of self-discovery was the simple fact that I wanted a job, a career, that could be portable, and would not be dependent on a specific location. What I liked most about every single other job I had ever had was helping people get jobs. And as I searched for ways to create my own personal portable career, I came across the idea of being a resume and job search coach. And I fell in love.

Being a self-employed entrepreneur is not for everyone. There are constant issues that I have to deal with as my own boss, and these are made only even more challenging by the idea of being overseas. One of the first questions I always ask is can I get reliable, constant Internet access? Often taken for granted in the US, but even in major capitol cities, it's not a certainty. Time zone differences can also make talking to clients more difficult - I've gotten up at 4am to conduct sessions with clients across the globe, and often schedule client conversations late at night when my children are asleep. I must not only constantly motivate myself and stay on top of all the little details of running a business, but I have to be my own marketing and sales department and develop and maintain my client base. It can be tiring and frustrating and often feels like you never get to "punch out."

However, nothing is more rewarding than getting that email from a client telling me about that offer letter they just received, or how happy they are in the job they just started.

I would also like to mention that in addition to "working" there are many other things one can do while being posted overseas that are positive ways to further and support a career. I have received grants to further my education and take online certification courses. Many accredited universities are now offering online advanced degrees as well. Taking language courses and improving your linguistics skills is another highly desirable way to boost your resume. Volunteering can be an opportunity to expand your experience and get immersed in new cultures, as well helping others. There are many ways you can continue to really boost your resume if you are overseas and not in a position where you can get that weekly paycheck.

I hope to "see" you all on the podcast next week! Email me or post if you have any additional questions.

Julie Mendez, CJSS

1 comment:

sigsoogca said...

Very interesting post! I really love reading on your nice story.

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