Last month, ClearanceJobs described how to get a job abroad, how companies can help make it happen, and even how the coronavirus is facilitating careers without borders. But for many people, the opposite problem is true. In a hyperconnected world, moving abroad for work is as easy as doing paperwork and booking a plane ticket. The problem is how to get a job when you come back home. While there are no exact figures, the State Department estimates that around nine million Americans live in other countries. This doesn’t even consider the military; there are three hundred thousand service members in Europe alone, and with them, their spouses and children.
In short, a lot of Americans work abroad, and the idea of returning home and entering the U.S. job market can be daunting. But we live in trying times. The coronavirus and COVID-19 are like scythes sweeping across economies the world over. Maybe you’ve lost your overseas job and need to repatriate. Maybe you need to be closer to family. Or maybe you are a military spouse, and your partner is separating from the service, or about to have a permanent change of station. Whatever the reason, you really can go home again. Here is how to find a job when you return to the United States.
SOFT SKILLS MAKE STRONG WORKERS
Priya Jindal is the founder of Nextpat, a job consultancy that helps Americans returning from living abroad. She says that repatriates should consider how to translate their overseas experiences into points that prospective U.S. employers will see as beneficial to the bottom line.
“Take the time to sit down with your resume or CV and understand what skills you are employing, and how that relates to the job you are applying to,” says Jindal. “Those proficiencies may often be soft skills, so it may not be things easily captured in your CV—things like resilience, innovation, figuring out how to make life work in a new place. Those aren’t like language skills, which you can just write down and anyone can easily understand the applicability.”
And though it takes some doing, the truth is that employers want and need the skills that one learns from living abroad. “The nuance necessary to navigate different business environments and cultural environments and work environments across borders is valuable and important, and absolutely critical for most companies that are international,” says Jindal. And those hard skills such as language proficiency make you more valuable yet. “The ability to create a relationship with a vendor or a partner in a foreign country can be critical to an employer. Not everyone can do that.”
Moreover, a worker’s experience of having run another country’s rat race can keep a U.S. company vital and dynamic. “This idea of a person navigating a new place and making it work for them has implications for a prospective employer entering new markets. Hiring someone who lived abroad brings new blood and ideas into a company. People who’ve been working at a different place in a different culture may bring you new ways of doing business that are more efficient or even better for people’s wellbeing.”
Living abroad has implications for security clearances, Jindal notes, adding that good recordkeeping can go a long way. “If you’re overseas, when it comes to protecting your clearance or clearance eligibility, you have to be really conscientious with whom you are engaged, and in what way. Who are your contacts? Where do you talk to them? What do you talk about? Just being aware, keeping track of this information, and being prepared to inform the government of it is going to give you a head start, because it is a lot of paperwork. Keeping a record of your addresses while abroad is also going to be really important.”
WHAT MILITARY SPOUSES SHOULD VOLUNTEER
As any veteran can attest, “military spouse” is the hardest job in the armed forces. It takes a special person who can be told, “Now you live in Germany,” and then somehow make it work. In a sense, being a military spouse cultivates the very skills that companies desperately need. The added experience of living abroad can make for an irresistible job candidate. The secret is in how that experience is presented to prospective employers.
“For military spouses, finding employment overseas can be really challenging just because of the nature of why they’re there in the first place,” says Jennifer Hadac, director of military and spouse career resources for RecruitMilitary, a veteran hiring company. She is also a navy spouse and navy veteran. “So they may pick up either a part-time job that’s not really relevant to their overall professional experience, or they’re strictly limited to volunteer work. And they sometimes think that that’s not worthwhile in putting in their resume—but it absolutely is.”
She says that membership in a family readiness group, work as a command ombudsman, or membership in a child’s parent-teacher association at an international school—all of those things are great ways to demonstrate active involvement in the community, programs, and events.
Although cover letters have become less important in recent years, says Hadac, they are a useful place to highlight transferable skills picked up living abroad that might not be easily worked into a resume. “The ability to adapt, the organizational skills, the niche, the motivation—consider just the challenges that come with moving overseas, and then add the challenges of doing so as a military spouse. You are moving into an environment where the support system can be very limited. Taking that time to highlight those types of skills in the cover letter would be my recommendation.”
Not every company has experience working with veterans or military spouses, and that can present challenges for servicemembers and their partners returning from overseas duty assignments. “If it’s a smaller organization, they may not feel that those overseas skills are relevant to the way we do business here stateside,” says Hadac. “When people have those kinds of misconceptions, I always come back with, you know, you have an individual that has had to adapt to environments within days. We’ve got folks that are being stood up in the guard right now, going to New York with literally hours of notice, and they in the hot zone where they have to adapt, adjust quickly, and understand the environment and what works and what doesn’t. The same goes for those folks that are coming back from extended tours overseas, or contractors who have taken a contract for several months or several years overseas.”
VETERANS HELP VETERANS
The biggest mistake she sees military spouses make when they return from living abroad is a failure to network in advance of a job search. “For a lot of positions—especially in in the contract industry—job postings don’t always get you the job. It’s the people that get you the job.” She encourages job seekers to lay the groundwork for jobs they want by reaching out to industry professionals and putting themselves out there, sharing their experiences and making connections before they return to the U.S. “Otherwise,” she says, “you follow the traditional path that you normally would, that we’ve all been taught since we were eighteen years old: you see a job posting, you post your resume, you submit the cover letter, you submit your references and you wait, right? But nowadays, that’s not the case. It’s about networking and connecting with folks within that organization, laying that groundwork before you even start.”
When they don’t do this, service members and spouses returning to the U.S. can quickly feel discouraged. They possess the security clearance and the exact training in demand, but they hear only crickets when they apply for jobs. “They get really disheartened—especially when it happens over and over and over again. And it’s not because they’re not qualified. Rather, it’s because they are not that highlighted person, that recognizable name within the job space, where somebody says, ‘You know what, I’ve connected with that person…I’ve had conversations with them. I want them on my team.’”
She advises job seekers to look to professional networking sites and reach out to fellow former servicemembers at companies where they would like to be hired. “Veterans help veterans,” she says. “Find a veteran in a company and reach out to them. Say, ‘Hey, I see that this is your background. I would love to learn a little bit more about how you got into this role. Would you be open to an informational interview just so I can kind of pick your brain?’ People love to talk about their experiences. Don’t ask for a job—that’s the big thing. Ask for information. Ask what they did to be successful. And it’s going to be a natural progression into either a position with their team, or maybe they know somebody within their network that they can connect them with.”
HOW CLEARANCEJOBS CAN HELP
When it comes to writing your resume, ClearanceJobs has you covered. Does your resume tell a story? Do you know how to move it to the top of the pile? How to get noticed when you apply online? We’ve talked about how military spouses can get debt-free education, and surprising degrees you can earn online from traditional universities. And of course, check out our online database of over 50,000 jobs located in the U.S. and around the world.
Have you repatriated from abroad? Share your experiences in the comments. After all, these are uncertain times, and we’re all in this together.