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A Career in Your Suitcase
Jo Parfitt
(see also

Success Strategies
By Mary van der Boon

Are you really, thoroughly sick of being instructed to ‘think outside the box’? Are you certain you’re already doing everything possible to maximize your career potential, but it just isn’t working?

Prepare to see this box from a new perspective: imagine, just for a second, that perhaps you built that box yourself, climbed in, and have nailed the lid shut from the inside. With a little critical self-analysis, you will be amazed to discover how many of the obstacles to your successful career development you are placing there yourself. And how few of them are truly insurmountable.

Alternate Paths

The Chinese believe that while all the paths of your destiny are laid out with your birth, different ones are revealed to you at separate times in your life. Some doors close, and others in turn open again, and that is exactly how you’ve got to start viewing your life abroad, career path and your skills set: as an unending voyage, or journey, packed with jewels, treasures, thrills and adventure around every corner. Life is what you make of it? Bloom where you are planted? You’d better start believing it, and remember: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always get. And where’s the fun in that?

Start at the beginning

Do a SWOT analysis on yourself, and on your present situation: performing a ruthless assessment of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is always revealing, and very often provides us with key answers.

Ask yourself some soul-searching questions:
  • What am I good at?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaker areas, where I possibly need improvement?
  • What do I like doing?
  • Why am I in my present line of work?
  • Do I honestly enjoy what I have been doing in my career to date?
  • What was my passion when I was a child?
  • What stage am I at in my life?
  • What are the obstacles I can foresee to developing a (new or different) career for myself at this point in time?
  • What are the opportunities offered by present situation?
  • Can I now relocate/travel easier now than when the kids were younger?
  • What kind of work would I prefer: how much of a commitment do I want?
  • Can I work on a contract/interim/consulting basis?
  • What skills do I need to update in order to stay current?
  • How have my personal and family obligations changed over the years?
  • What do I consider the ideal career?
  • Who do I consider my role models, and why?

Answer these questions, truthfully, and then carefully consider the answers. Do as many personality, career or aptitude tests as you can lay your hands on, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator style test or Enneagram, to help discover hidden drive and talents (see Appendix A). Many of these are available online, and one recommended website is http://www.career-intelligence.com, ‘the smart woman’s online career resource’.

Armed with these tools of self discovery:

Make a future career plan for yourself
Really try to pry the lid off that box and get outside it. There are many paths, and you just might discover a brand new you (or a new brand you, see chapter 6). Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often your partner’s company will offer some form of career counselling assistance, and the internet is an excellent source of career and study information. Barbara Sher, best-selling author of I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What it Was advises "failure to achieve our career ambitions does not result from a lousy attitude; rather from isolation." You can’t be expected to have all the answers at your fingertips. Go out and find them.

Take advantage of local opportunities
Through networks, the internet, friends and professional associations keep yourself informed of upcoming conferences, workshops, seminars and professional development possibilities. These gatherings also offer superb opportunities for making new contacts, both for present and future use. Try to assess the merits of women-only versus more general events: there is a great deal to be said for both.

What are additional new skills that you are going to need?
There are specific personality traits that are considered highly desirable in adapting to working and living overseas. These include:

  • empathy: also emotional intelligence
  • respect: the ability to value difference
  • interest in local culture
  • background: language skills, having lived abroad before
  • tolerance (or perhaps "tolerance for ambiguity")
  • flexibility: do you see the big picture or live strictly by the rules?
  • initiative: achievement-oriented and independent
  • attitude: open mindedness to be exposed to other cultures, race and religion
  • sociability
  • positive self-image
  • team spirit: being able to work with and fit in the culture of the local team

Using this list as a guideline, what do you need to work on? Language skills? Knowledge of the local culture, market, economy, political situation? Personal development skills such as the ability to coach, mentor, work successfully in teams? Your sense of self (see chapter 3)?

Now you’ve identified the need: where do you go to fill it? Check out local colleges and universities, community organisations or women’s groups, distance learning opportunities and offer to trade skills with your contacts, acquaintances, friends and neighbours. In the words of one experienced expat partner "as an expatriate spouse you have been given the gift of time - how you use it is up to you".

Dare to say ‘no’
You’re so desperate for work and terrified you’ll be bored AND end up with a Grand Canyon-sized gap in your CV that you have to say ‘yes’ to everything that comes your way. Wrong. Your job is a big part of your life, and your time is valuable. Remember, truly successful people are passionate about their work. Spend some time in analysing what you are looking for in an activity or career:

  • You’ve identified your skills. Which of these are you comfortable using on a daily basis, in a work situation?
  • How can you apply these skills to a career?
  • What kind of people do you like to work with? What type of person can you absolutely not work with?
  • What sort of atmosphere do you want to work in? Fun? Professional? Driven? Result-oriented?
  • Do the values of the organisation match your own? If not, why not?
  • How much structure do you want, or not want, in your career or job?
  • How many hours per day, or week, would you like to work?
  • What is your definition of ‘balance’? Draw up a schedule of how many hours per day you expect to spend on professional, personal and family activities.
  • Are you looking for a management position? One with responsibility over others?
  • How much decision-making authority do you need or want?
  • What kind of financial package attracts you (salary and benefits)?
  • How much challenge or change to you want (or not) in your work environment?
  • Are you a team player or a lone wolf?

Undertake this situational analysis for every new career opportunity that comes your way (including all activities undertaken on a volunteer basis). If it is clear the fit is not optimal, ‘just say no’.

A Brand New Day
It's becoming apparent that female insights such as connection, introspection, intuition and complexity of relationship are more appropriate concepts to describe what we now know about reality. - Summer Savon

Sweeping changes in the way business is done worldwide could mean significant opportunities for you. As the world shifts to a truly global economy, new kinds of leadership are required. Experts agree that women’s focus on relationships, comfort with direct communication and diversity, refusal to compartmentalise skills, talents and lives, innate scepticism of hierarchy and, most importantly, desire to lead from the middle (not from the top) are all key attributes required by tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s lean organisations require high morale, and increasing consumer choice means a real understanding of customers’ needs is essential.

The talents, experiences, attitudes and skills that women bring with them are precisely those needed in the evolving post-industrial economy, according to author Sally Helgesen. Helgesen feels that this confluence of abilities and required leadership capacities is creating unprecedented opportunities for women to play a vital role in leading transformational change in organisations and communities. Women are better at seeing the human side, quicker to cut through competitive distinctions of hierarchy and ranking, impatient with cumbersome protocols.

Best-selling author Esther Wachs Book defines ‘new paradigm leaders’ as those who combine many of the managerial talents traditionally attributed to men with many of the stereotypically ‘weaker’ female skills. In detailed interviews with 14 of the top women managers in the U.S.A., Book concluded that new paradigm leaders achieve for three main reasons:

  • self-assurance compels them to stay motivated and take risks;
  • an obsession with customer service helps them anticipate market changes, and
  • these leaders use ‘feminine’ traits to their advantage.

Book suggests the following tips to becoming a ‘new paradigm leader’:

  • Be confident and take risks
    o Try something unexpected, challenging, offbeat
  • Anticipate changes in the marketplace
    o You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines
  • Use traditional feminine qualities like empathy, collaboration, and cooperation
    o You already have a natural advantage
  • Sell your own vision
    o Articulate your vision in a compelling way
  • Reinvent the rules
    o Re-write your own mission statement
  • Stay focused on achieving your goals
    o Navigate uncharted territory with a clear focus on achievement
  • Maximize high touch in an area of high tech
    o Develop an ability not only to produce good work, but to connect with people. Put time and energy into building relationships.
  • Turn challenge into opportunity
    o Take action, be strong, don’t falter
  • Obsess about customer preferences
    o Know your market and customers well enough to think like them
  • Fight back with courage under fire
    o Stand up to your opponents. Learn to overcome resistance.

As famed U.S. broadcaster Cokie Roberts told a gathering of women leaders in San Francisco recently: ‘Bottom line is you have to be smarter and work harder than the guys – but the good news is it’s not that hard’.

That Path Less Traveled

Work on your resume
‘success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’
Keeping your CV or resume polished and current means you are ready to seize opportunity when it presents itself. Whether work experience has been paid or on an unpaid (volunteer) basis is of no consequence: it can always be written up in a positive fashion that portrays your skills as desirable. Remember, you are never asked what you earned in a previous position (or you certainly shouldn’t be!).

Keep an accurate and up-to-date summary of courses followed, events organised, skills mastered. Remember, careers consultants agree: "The resume must get past the gatekeeper whose job it is to screen paper out, not in. A resume is not intended to get you a job; it’s to get you a phone call inviting you in. Once that happens, you can rip the resume up; the resume has done its job." Always tailor your CV to meet the parameters of the position you are trying for.

Volunteering is Good for the Soul
There are many different forms of payment, as countless expatriate partners have discovered. Volunteer work can offer satisfaction and rewards that are at least as valuable as monetary compensation. Besides the moral benefit in helping others, volunteerism in foreign countries offers another bonus. It can be excellent cultural adjustment therapy.

"Service work, like volunteering a few hours a week at a children’s hospital or just helping someone in need, is much more important to our mental health than we think," reports Dr. Kirsten Thogersen, a psychotherapist based in Beijing, who is presently writing a book about expatriate psychotherapy. "One of the reasons expatriates often suffer when they move is because they feel disconnected from their surroundings," says Dr. Thogersen. "To be connected with someone else by giving them some of your time and energy is the best possible protection against depression and other psychological reactions experienced by expatriates." Says the net’s expatriate spouse expert, Robin Pascoe, "Many expatriate women’s organisations in foreign countries organise welfare committees to allow members to channel energy, money and resources into local causes in a way that won’t overwhelm them. Frontline volunteering is not for everyone."

You are also likely to make lasting friendships with host country nationals through volunteer work, in a way that is unlikely in paid employment, and are much more likely to have to use the local language in your work.

First, Learn the Language
Culture and language are inseparable. The key to understanding most cultures, in fact, lies in the languages spoken there. The standard greeting in most Asian countries is ‘have you eaten rice yet?’. What does this tell you about the importance of food in these cultures? Yet strangely many expats will decide learning the local language is unnecessary, too much work, impossible or all three and not attempt it. This author has lived and worked in six different countries, and speaks the languages of all of them. No, I’m not gifted linguistically, but I am both motivated and stubborn. And as a media addict, I could not conceive of living happily in a place where I couldn’t even read the local newspaper. I am also convinced that forcing everyone in your vicinity to speak your language raises an insurmountable barrier between you and your new neighbours, colleagues, etc., and you will never truly feel at home. And a final motivator: cultural experts have proven that being surrounded by an unfamiliar language for a long period of time almost always leads to alienation, paranoia and culture shock. Yes, perhaps you are the topic of conversation in the market when everyone suddenly bursts into riotous laughter, but wouldn’t you rather know for certain? And wouldn’t you rather be able to laugh along with them?

Not everyone learns the same way, so perhaps the first step in learning a language (or anything else, for that matter) is determining which type of learner you are. This can also be a very valuable tool in helping to decide which career path to follow. Harvard professor Dr. Howard Gardner has identified eight distinct learning styles (which he recommends should replace standard IQ testing, since they have such impact on how we gather & retain knowledge). An online test is available from the University of Toronto at http://snow.utoronto.ca/courses/mitest.html

Linguistic Learners:

  • Hear words in their heads before speaking or reading them
  • Love to read and discuss what they’ve read
  • Have a good memory for names, places, dates and/or trivia
  • Have an extensive vocabulary
  • Write easily and well and are good spellers
  • Are highly verbal and communicative

Possible career interests:
Poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, translator

Logical-Mathematical Learners:

  • Are curious about how things work
  • Mentally compute measurements and formulas
  • Enjoy logic puzzles, brainteasers and games of strategy, like chess
  • Look for rational explanations, think logically and seek logical answers
  • Like to experiment using higher order cognitive thinking processes
  • Have a good sense of cause and effect

Possible career paths:
Scientists, engineers, computer programmers, researchers, accountants, mathematicians

Visual-Spatial Learners:

  • Draw or doodle
  • Read charts, maps, and diagrams more easily than text
  • Are artistic and have a strong sense of colour
  • See clear visual images and have good spatial perception
  • Prefer reading material that is heavily illustrated
  • Often have vivid dreams at night

Possible career interests:
Navigators, sculptors, visual artists, inventors, architects, interior designers, mechanics, engineers

Bodily-Kinaesthetic Learners:

  • Are well-coordinated, physically active and enjoy the outdoors
  • Excel at one or more sports/athletic pursuits
  • Find it difficult to sit still for long periods
  • Like working with their hands and need to learn by touching and doing
  • Enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together
  • Need to practice skills by doing them rather than simply reading/hearing about them

Possible career paths:
Athletes, physical education teachers, dancers, actors, firefighters, artisans

Musical Learners:

  • Sometimes hum, sing, or make tapping sounds while working
  • Enjoy listening to music
  • Can tell if a musical note is off key
  • May play a musical instrument or sing well
  • Know the tunes to many different songs
  • Have a rhythmic way of speaking or moving

Possible career paths:
Musician, disc jockey, singer, composer

Interpersonal Learners:

  • Enjoy socializing with others and are active members in clubs, etc.
  • Enjoy group games and sports
  • Prefer to talk over problems with others, rather than solving them alone
  • Others often ask them for advice and counsel
  • Often coach and help others to learn new skills
  • Show leadership and organisational ability

Possible Career Paths:
Counselor, salesperson, politician, businessperson

Intra-personal Learners:

  • Are strong willed and independent
  • Are self-directed and prefer working alone
  • Are interested in learning more about themselves and have a rich inner life
  • At times may say or do things that others have difficulty understanding
  • Have strong opinions about things
  • Have high self-esteem

Possible Career Paths:
Researchers, theorists, philosophers

Naturalist Learners:

  • Are aware of nature and can recognise and categorise plants and animals
  • Have keen sense of observation
  • Love to be outdoors and enjoy hobbies such as bird watching
  • Are drawn to animals and have natural rapport with most animal life
  • Take care not to hurt or damage anything living
  • Love to pick up on subtle differences in meaning
  • Often do not perform well in a classroom environment and love field trips

Possible Career Paths:
Zoologist, botanist, veterinarian, pet shop owner

Author and child development specialist Diane Schilling matches your preferred style of learning with studying a foreign language:

  • If you’re word smart, try concentrating on vocabulary, using books and audio tapes;
  • Number smart learners might put more emphasis on rules, grammar, etc.;
  • Picture smart people would respond well to illustrations and photos;
  • If you’re body smart, you may enrol in a total immersion course abroad;
  • Music smart types would benefit from playing background music and learning songs and poems in the foreign tongue;
  • People smart learners might seek a highly interactive classroom situation;
  • Self smart people might work alone with audio tapes or CDs.
  • Nature smart learners would do well to work in small groups in an informal setting, and break their study down into categories

Whichever course of study suits your style, don’t be dissuaded by the inevitable nay-sayers around you. Imagine how you would feel if you had been living in a foreign country for five years and were still unable to speak the language, only to see Jane-Just-Come (that’s you) blithely master the tongue in months? Pity them, for they know not what they miss.

Starting on your own
As carefully outlined in chapter 7, working for yourself is an excellent alternative to the rough-and-tumble of the international job market. But do you have what it takes? According to Inc. magazine, you first have to evaluate the viability of your business ideas and strategy. That’s right, it’s self-analysis time again. Ask yourself, and answer honestly:

  • Can you clearly articulate your idea (in 50 words or less)?
  • Where did the idea come from?
  • Do you really know the industry?
  • Have you seen the idea used elsewhere?
  • What will you do better than your competitors?
  • Has your idea passed the time test? In other words, will you still love it tomorrow? Next month? Next year?
  • Are you ready to commit yourself to the idea for the next five years or more?
  • Do you know the difference between a product and a business? Having a good product is only one part of business ownership.
  • Is this an idea for you, or would it be better for someone else? Do you really have the skills and desire to make it work?
  • What are the potential rewards – monetary and otherwise?
  • Are you plugged into the right networks to pursue your idea?

Also, women with their own businesses will tell you that the self-discipline and self-confidence required to successfully be your own boss is not for everyone. The hours are long and the rewards are few (at least initially) but there will be one undeniable, and immediate, benefit: you’ll finally have a boss you can respect!

The International Career

Watch your back, sister: Glass Borders
So there you are: skilled, talented, eager, available and with a killer CV. So why don’t you have the job?

Worldwide, women hold a very low percentage of all international management positions. This circumstance not only hinders the business success of multinational firms abroad but it also limits opportunities for women to succeed at home. After all, a multinational company would naturally prefer that its most senior staff have abundant overseas experience. Excluded from that experience, women are excluded from promotions and power.

Noted cultural anthropologist Nancy Adler attributes the shortage of women managers overseas to three main factors:

  • The assumption that women simply do not want to be international managers because of work/family conflicts.
  • The outright refusal of some companies to send women abroad, owing to fears about their competence or their physical safety.
  • The belief that many foreigners are prejudiced against women expatriate managers.

This means that you are unlikely to encounter expatriate women managers overseas, but it also means you are ideally situated to do some groundbreaking work yourself. The company that may not be prepared to send a woman executive overseas may want to improve their overall track record by hiring you in the local office. Furthermore, the experience you chalk up while you are abroad will stand you in very good stead indeed upon your return, giving you a head start over your male and female co-workers who will not have your international know-how.

The Career Action Plan

Don’t rest on your laurels just yet: you may find that your career efforts have only just begun once you cross the corporate threshold or establish your business. You need a firm plan of action for advancing your career once you’ve got your foot firmly wedged in the international business or entrepreneurial door:

  1. Go back to your SWOT analysis: does this decision, or this position, fit into your overall plan, and does it reflect who you are? If it does, move on to step 2. If it doesn’t, try to figure out what you’re doing there!

  2. Take a good look around and choose a powerful sponsor or mentor. This may require overcoming your own natural reluctance and shyness. Believe in yourself – when you feel you’re worth it, others will, too.

  3. If your position is corporate, are you aligned to core business activities? Very often women sabotage their future career prospects by remaining in marginal, line positions.

  4. Quickly prove your worth to the organisation. This requires becoming your own most powerful advocate. Don’t wait for others to recognise your skills and push you forward, remember ‘she who hesitates gets cleat marks on her back’.

  5. Find out about effective networking, and put it into effect. Join as many groups and activities as possible and attend seminars and workshops frequently, both inside and outside your company.

  6. In the words of a famous Slovenian proverb: ‘always speak the truth but leave immediately afterwards’. You may not necessarily have to flee the building but set out to establish a reputation for integrity and honesty, and don’t let the occasional confrontation this may bring sway you from your course.

  7. Kahlil Gibran tells us that work is love made visible. Feel the passion. For from caring comes courage (Lao Tse), and if you are going to be speaking the truth, you will need the courage!

  8. Don’t forget that box you built, and the need to think outside it.
    In the words of the immortal Robert Frost:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
    I took the one less travelled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Which road did you take?

  9. Re-evaluate and revise your career plan on a regular basis. Don’t be shy about your ambitions; share them with others who can help you.

  10. Remember to work it. Finding and landing the ideal career is only the beginning. What you do subsequently with your opportunities is an ongoing process.

Criteria for Success

On a final note, how are you defining ‘success’ in establishing your success strategies? Women are often excessively self-critical, and it could be you are setting unrealistic expectations for yourself (from within that box!). There are some steps you can take to help you keep things real. Frankly ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does being successful mean to you?
    - a feeling of self-worth
    - material gain or possessions
    - high financial reward
    - status
    - respect from your colleagues
    - respect from your partner, family, friends
    - satisfying personal relationships
    - your own definition
  • Do others around you define success in the same terms you do?
  • Are you under pressure to perform in some way you unconsciously don’t agree with? For example, does everyone tell you that you are such a wonderful writer, you should write a book: but this isn’t what you want?
  • Remember the SWOT: are you being realistic in your assessment of your own skills and talents?
  • Don’t let your success criteria remain static: reassess them from time to time, to incorporate changed circumstances, skills set, market demands, etc.
  • Acknowledge your success: when you’ve reached a career milestone, celebrate!

Suggested Reading:

Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Female Qualities of Leadership, Esther Wachs Book, 2000, ISBN 006-661986-6, Harper Collins Business

The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, 1995, Sally Helgesen, ISBN 038-541911-2, Doubleday

When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenges of Strategy, Management and Careers in the 1990s, 1989, R.M. Kanter, Routledge, London and New York, NY.

50 Activities for Teaching Emotional Intelligence (Grades 6 to 8), 1999, D. Schilling and S. Palomares, ISBN 1564990370, Innerchoice Publishing, Spring Valley, CA

What Every Successful Woman Knows: 12 Breakthrough Strategies to Get the Power & Ignite Your Career, 2002, Janice Reals Ellig and William J. Morin, McGraw-Hill, New York.

I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What it Was, 1994, Barbara Sher, ISBN 0-440-50500-3, Delacorte Press

Women Managing for the Millennium, 1998, Sally Garratt, ISBN 0-00-638677-6, Harper Collins Business

How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis: Secrets and strategies for the working woman, 1996, Karen Salmansohn, ISBN 0-609-80141-4, Random House

Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, 2000, Gail Evans, ISBN 0-7679-0462-1, Broadway Books

Women Who Run With the Wolves, 1995, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, ISBN 0-345-40987-6, Ballantine Books

See Jane Win: The RIMM Report on how 1000 girls became successful women, 1999, Sylvia Rimm, ISBN 0-517-70666-0, Crown

America’s Competitive Secret: Utilizing Women as a Management Strategy, 1995, Judith Rosener, Oxford University Press, London

The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, 1997, Harriet Rubin, Doubleday, New York.

The Confident Woman: Learn the Rules of the Game, 2000, Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, Crown/Random House, New York.