Tag Archives: dual career couples

 

We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder expat spouses from finding a job in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinion and experience. There a number of studies dedicated to the topic though. Mainly Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to host employment. Let me know if you think I forgot an important topic.

Why is it so difficult for expat spouses to find a job in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.

Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Work permit restrictions are a significant barrier to expat spouse employment. Not every country issues a work permit to the married spouse. Let alone the diversity of life partners mentioned earlier.

Lack of Host Language Skills

Even though the expat might work for a global company most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country.

Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

Lawyers, tax consultants, and even HR Professionals are often experts in their country, but the knowledge is often limited to the country and not transferrable. Even moving from Canada to Australia can be tricky if you are a lawyer.

Lack of Professional Networks

Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.

Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de- facto relationships.

Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations but GM Leaders need to update their policies

We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. Global Mobility Leaders should update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.

Intercultural bias of our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand résumés from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.

Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.

Unconscious bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it becomes very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent.

This is probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.

Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual Career Programs

In 2012 ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. While this research probably focused on scientists it is hardly known. We assume that companies working with support programs for their dual career population seem to have higher retention rates but we lack scientific evidence. I am highly encouraging students and lecturers to address this issue.

To sum it up there is still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual career couples in the expatriation process.

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

 

References:

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl” 

Weinberger, A. (2016): “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2015): „Interkulturell denken bringt Vorteile“ Persorama Summer 2015.

 

Guest post by Martijn Roseboom

Let me start off with introducing myself, I am Martijn Roseboom, 39 years old, married to ‘Bee’, father of a 6 year old girl and 4 year old boy. Since moving to Switzerland I have been a full time stay-at-home dad.

These days most people meet and get married within their social circles. This is the case for us. We met during University where I was studying business economics and my Bee was studying Medicine. I recall discussing for the first time, who would be the breadwinner, as students having some drinks in a bar. When I found out what a doctor is expected to earn and compared this to my own financial prospects, I asked Bee what she planned to do with all of her money. It seemed an awful lot for shopping. The underlying and never questioned assumption underneath was that I would be the breadwinner of the family and take care of all the bills. Bee thought that this was absolutely ridiculous. For me this was one of the core beliefs of what was expected as being a man, and never had imagined otherwise. That was the start of an interesting evening full of (alcohol fueled) heated discussions.

Since leaving University and starting work, we always have been competitive (me mostly) about who would earn the most. In practice we agreed that we would both bring in 50% of the income. When moving abroad for our first international assignment, I had to give up my job and we agreed to combine all our income together. As the ‘trailing spouse’ in Singapore, without a job, I could not do anything without my wife’s signature. This led to the practical situation where I ‘adopted’ my wife’s last name and this was also clearly stated on my credit card and all other bills. This was the ultimate reversal of the concept that I had as a man and being the breadwinner. All of this changed again back to ‘normal’ when I found a job in Singapore. However now that we have moved to Switzerland, I find myself in the same situation, except that this time I at least can use my own last name and can prove this with my credit card.

Whilst it is more common to see that nowadays there are more female breadwinners out there, it is something that remains frowned upon. Whilst on a family level, this is clearly the best way forward for all of us, it is still sometimes challenging. The biggest challenge is the stereotype I have that the man needs to be the breadwinner of the house. This leads to not always appreciating the opportunities it brings. The best thing is being an integral part and see the kids growing up. The only thing I miss is more men in the same situation. It remains socially frowned upon for a married man to ask another woman out for a drink. Even if it is coffee and there are kids running around all over the place. Let’s hope this will be a normal way for dad’s to spend their mornings in the future.

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Martijn Roseboom, President Partner Committee International Dual Career Network (IDCN)

LinkedIn: Martijn Roseboom

By now you have noticed a change happening. You realize it’s not about you any longer. It’s about HR as a whole. What has been preached to us over the last 20 years is entirely wrong. We cannot be strategic business partners unless we re in a strategic function.

Where are these strategic functions?

They have to do with the talent life cycle, with recruiting, with moving talents into the right places at the right time and with developing our current and future leaders so that they are able to deal with the complexity of dealing with today’s world.

We are in the centre of this change but only a few of us have seen it coming.

So what now you might be asking yourself while slurping on your Sunday cappuccino. Should I leave Global Mobility or take on the challenge?

Take on the challenge.

Because you are not alone.

Because we know what will get you there.

Because we can help you.

Change in the assignee population

Many assignees have been burnt by the experiences of expat around the world. They heard horror stories of lack of social security, lower standards of living, marital breakdowns, children being traumatized and not able to study…and worst of all: No one promoted them when they repatriated. The stories are online. Ten years ago there was hardly any communication outside of the traditional “expat clubs”.

Now, experiences are shared. Companies have lost the trust of their employees. Employees of all ages and colors (especially the younger generations) are seeking transparency for their international careers, benefits and working hours.

More Dual Career Couples

Dual Career couples and their issues did not really raise any eyebrows twenty years ago. “Expat wife” was a career aspiration. Now women take the lead and are becoming a major assignee population. Trailing husbands form support groups. Did you read our latest post on dual career issues in international assignments?

And you as the GM Professional?

You still work with tools that are basically excel sheets. You still need to fill hundreds of forms, you still need to seek approval for every minor exception to the policy and you still stay up all night when an expat is in a dangerous country.

What should change for you?

We think your profile (and with that your salary) needs to be raised. We think you need to be a trendsetter, we think you need to be more up to speed on social media, have better tools and you need to be a self-guided learner.

In short: We think you need to be globally competent.

Why don’t you stop filling that visa form right now and start to think about the five most important projects you have to have accomplished until the end of the year so that you can start the year 2015 with more energy?

 

PS: If you missed the context of this post read this one too.

Even if you’re super excited about the new position or company, moving or relocating is still complicated. Potential obstacles to international assignment success are almost innumerable: tax complications, cultural incompatibility, economic crises, security concerns and political unrest. With all of this, what remains the biggest threat to assignment success? It comes not from external forces, but from within. Study after study shows that family concerns are the leading cause of failure among expatriate employees.

So here you are, settled in Switzerland and ready to start looking for a job. Your spouse, whose international assignment led you here, in the first place, is trying to adjust to his/her new job. The children are feeling comfortable in their new school and your house finally feels like home. Eager to re-establish your professional self, you prep your résumé, send it out and wait for the interview invitations to roll in. After all, you’ve been working in your field for 15 years in a well-known company. So what’s with all the rejection emails you’re getting?
When a dual-career family accepts an international assignment, it’s likely that the trailing spouse will be left with the challenge of finding a new professional identity. In many cases the visa issued to the non-working partner limits the kind of contracted employment they can accept, the type of work that existed back home doesn’t necessarily exist in Switzerland or requires speaking the local language plus one of the other three official languages, and sometimes it’s a simple matter of adapting your résumé to Swiss standards. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable and expected to include your picture, birth date, marital status, citizenship and visa type in your résumé.0010044439P-849x565
An experienced international career consultant can be an essential ingredient to the success of an overseas assignment, helping the accompanying partner to avoid the pitfalls of an interrupted career, even if employment is not an available option. If an organization wants to protect and capitalize on its investment in global assignments, it needs to address the needs of the whole family in its international relocation policy. And in today’s world, this includes offering assistance that addresses the career aspirations of the accompanying partner.
Expat spouses who are in search of new employment, is a common theme for many coaching sessions. Giving up your career for the sake of your partner’s means you’ve lost an important part of yourself and often feel lost. While the assigned partner starts a new career and receives career coaching from his/her company, the non-working partner is on his/her own, feeling alone and depressed. This inevitably leads to frustrations in the relationship.

What can you do, when you are in such a situation?
1. Gather as much information about your host labour market as possible.
2. Take time to get to know your new environment before you decide to get employed.
3. Find professional advice on how to adapt your résumé to the local market.
4. Define your transferrable and global skills.
5. Discuss freelancing with your former employer before you quit.
6. Get a “return ticket” to your former employer.
7. Choose volunteer services that would enhance your resume.
8. If not employed immediately, use the time to further your education or diploma.
9. Discuss with your spouse how your career, not just theirs, will benefit from the move.
10. Agree on a long-term vision of both of your careers and how they will fit in your life plan.

Relocation itself could be one of the most stressful changes in life but these tips and advices will not only help during your time in Switzerland, but also prepare you for the next time you move to a new place.

Tell us about challenges that you’ve faced during your transition!

Recently I was in a negotiation for a new position. Usually I do not like to negotiate but I learnt that if you do not negotiate well you will later never be satisfied with your salary or other elements of the job especially if you constantly feel that you are undervalued. I believe that men are a lot better at negotiating the packages they feel they deserve than women which is one of the reasons why experienced and well qualified women are often lower paid than their male counterparts. There might also be an unconscious bias on the part of the person you are negotiating with. My major learning from the last years in Switzerland is though that you should not settle for a bad package. I learnt that compromising on salary and grade eventually lowers your motivation for a certain role even if you love what you do.

We tend to say „money is not everything“ which is basically a rationalization of our failure at reaching the salary and grade level we expect and deserve. I have also heard statements like „We do not care about titles here.“ or “How will your title make a change in how you perform on the job?”

I do not believe this statement especially if it comes from a person who already has achieved a grade which is very high and respected such as a “Director” or “Partner”.

Maybe we (women) have not learnt to negotiate well when we used to have a male breadwinner at home. In the past a women’s salary might have just been an “additional” income but today women like me contribute our share to the cost of living. In some cases we might not expect a man to pay for our home and want to be self-contained.

In my last two roles I worked as a Global Mobility Leader and often got involved in package negotiations of expatriates. These packages can be very comforting especially if the expat is really the only suitable person for the role. I observed that good negotiators do this:

1)   They know exactly what their market value is even if they go to a different host market.

2)   They never accept a lower net salary.

3)   They never accept a lower grade.

4)   They want to understand the details of the role and the package.

5)   They do not accept the first written offer but come back with suggestions.

6)   They have a back-up plan and don’t lay all their eggs in one basket.

7)   They have defined some limits where they are not willing to compromise.

8)   They actually read the whole contract and attachments and raise questions on misleading provisions.

9)   They do not take all risks involved in an international assignment (such as tax risk, social security and health coverage risks, immigration risks).

So once I understood the details of my new role, I was very committed to doing this job. There were some disadvantages in comparison to my former role. I might not be sleeping at home every night of the week in order to meet clients abroad. I was happy to be flexible because I saw a lot of learning opportunities and the company is a well-respected leader in my field.  I was also happy to start on a very short notice (less than two weeks) and shuffle all my personal commitments around.

I understood (as so many times before) that it was critical that I was on the job fast to take over from another person or to pick up the shambles of the predecessor, who had already left (which happened to me most of the times).

I was getting concerned when we started to negotiate my salary. I thought I had build up a good picture earlier of my salary, bonus and title expectations. Sometimes circumstances can change but my view is that if the interviewers think that you are the best candidate for the role should they not meet your expectations especially if there had been discussions on these earlier on the process? Suddenly it seemed that all my flexibility was taken for granted while some of the basic discussion package points (salary and title) were offered lower than expected.

I am usually a hard worker and my former managers were happy to have me on their teams because I know what I am doing and I can be left running on a long leech. Now, I was wondering that if my future manager starts reducing my value already before I start the job is this a good basis for cooperation?  When I put myself into the shoes of a hiring manager I understand that there might be budget constraints but should you not discuss these with your recruiters before they start their search? Should you not brief your recruiters on what is a must have and where you see this role in the organizational hierarchy?

In negotiations you get to know your counterpart well. I have had cases where because of a bonus figure assignees did not accept a job in the last minute and I have seen people resigning and leaving their employer because they got frustrated about the negotiation process for an international assignment. Also many talented staff resigns, when for the second or third time they expected a promotion and did not get it. At the end of the day we do not just want to deliver we also want to get compensated fairly.  In my case I turned down a great job because in the last minute I found out that the grade for the role was lower than originally communicated. Call me superficial but for me the status that comes with a title is important especially in an international context and when you build up your network from scratch. Once your client, superiors and peers know you, the title might not be important but in the beginning of a new role a title helps people to find orientation. When you start on a higher level than in your last role usually it is expected that you were headhunted for this role. You gain credit. If you accept a lower grade it takes at least one or two years until you have built up the credentials and supporters for a promotion. I was not willing to compromise on title. So once in a while you might have to decline an offer and tell yourself that the next negotiation you will start at an even higher level.

Should the “war for talents” become really serious companies might also have to learn to negotiate better with female candidates because at the end of the day women often have more of a choice to decline an offer and they listen to their gut feeling.