Hints for finding a job as an expat spouse in HK

Last month I shared that I had started looking for a job to return to work properly, after five and a half years out of the work force. Good news, folks: I got offered a job! I am really excited about the new position and even more excited as the job is with a great UK law firm (no, I am not a lawyer, it is managing a few teams if their support staff). Although I was prepared to do whatever it takes to get back into the workforce, including taking an entry level job and working my way back up, my professional ego is so happy that I have found an employer who recognises that a few years out to raise your kids doesn’t negate the ten years of experience I have. 

It isn’t an easy task to return to work after a few (or many!) years out for your family. I know this post is a little off-topic for a design and DIY blog, but I have had to go through the job search process a few times as a “trailing spouse” and I have some hints and tips for others that might be useful. No point in someone else having to reinvent the wheel! I am going to intersperse some of my photos of our recent trip to the Da Nang area of Vietnam just to add some prettiness! So for what it’s worth, here are a few things I learnt along the way when looking for a job as an expat spouse:

1. Decide (roughly) what you want to do. Sounds simple but this was the hardest part for me. I have an unusual and eclectic work history so there was no clear cut “next step” for me. For others, after a few years out, perhaps you are no longer enthused about your previous work. So have a good long think about what sort of job and what industry you want to look at. I found it helpful to look at job descriptions to see what roles are out there. This is also the time to decide if you need to refresh your skills. It is worth checking out EdX.org for free courses, or distance education options. This is also the time to consider the practical side of your new job- Childcare, full-time vs. part-time, etc. And don’t forget to think about your long term family plans. If you plan to stay living in the world’s financial capitals then think about your new career path being something that is aligned with the financial industry. You don’t want to have to go through the whole “looking for work” process every time you move for your spouse’s career. 

2. Once you have narrowed it down to a few options for the type of job you want it’s time to start looking. Some people will tell you “you will never find a job just applying for things online these days. The only way to get a job is to know someone.”  This is bullshit. Yes, you may indeed know someone and get fast tracked to a position (yay!), and yes, sometimes jobs listed on websites are not really available as there is already a preferred internal candidate. But not always. Those jobs are often listed for a very good reason: the company needs someone to do the job and they don’t know someone who has the right skill set. All three jobs that I got to the interview stage in my most recent search were positions advertised online with the company’s website. 

Also keep an eye out for Return To Work programs that are run by companies and aimed specifically at mums returning to the work force after a break. I know that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg and HKExchange all have programs they run, some of them annually, some of them every few years. 

3. Shout it from the rooftops! Although websites are good, you also want everyone you know or meet to know you are looking for a job. Tell all your friends, your acquaintances and all the people you meet. You never know who works at the ideal company for you or who might have an opening that you are interested in. It is important to also have your “elevator pitch” sorted out. This is the one to two sentences that you can tell people what you did, and what you want to do.  It is important to think about this and practice it, as all those people you know and meet will be hearing these sentences! So, you will meet someone and they will ask if you work or what you have been up to lately and you will say that you are looking for a job. You will then trot out out your practiced lines. It might be, “Yes, after a few years out with the kids, I am so excited to return to work. I am looking to go back into xxxx since I have 7 years experience in the yyyy industry.”  Or, if you are doing a career change you might highlight the transferable skills from your previous years of work and say you want to find something in xxxx industry in a yyyy role. 

4. Think about your network. People always say, finding a job is about networking. But if, like me, you are an expat spouse in a new country where you have never worked, you won’t have a “work network” to draw on. But. You actually DO have a network! Use that expat network! In my case, I thought of all the husband’s of my mummy friends. They are all mid to senior level managers at good companies. Bingo! Target the websites of the companies your friends’ spouses work at so that when you find a job that is a match for you, you can ask them to do an internal referral for you. This will usually get your resume more than a cursory look by HR. Also, think of the people you know (if any) that work in the industry you want to be in. Ask them if they know any good recruiters for that field that they can introduce you to. 

Additionally, look for HK-based chapters of industry groups so you can see what events they have on. Attend whatever you can – this is a double whammy as not only can you obviously meet people in the industry who are based in HK, you can also refresh your industry knowledge. If you are switching industries then this is also important to see what the current key issues are for your chosen industry. Take notes as when you get to interview stage you want to help dispel any thoughts that you are out of touch with what’s going on in your industry.  

5. Check your expectations. I have done the full job search, start to finish, twice,  and started job searches twice (pregnancy and the move to HK interrupted job plans), so this is not my first rodeo. It’s important to be realistic about how much job searching sucks. It is soul-sucking misery at times. You will go through periods of feeling like the most unemployable person in the entire planet. It will annoy the crap out of you when people tell stories of the incompetency of work colleagues as you question how that person got a job and you can’t! It will seem unfair. It will BE unfair. You will be asked awful questions about what your family plans are for the future, how will you manage your work-life balance (and no, they don’t ask blokes or single people that- just mothers returning to work!). You have to be determined and REALLY want it if you’re going to keep yourself motivated. In my experience, six months is roughly how long it takes to find a job. Obviously, others might have an easier time of it than me – especially if you had a clear career trajectory before. I have a weird and wonderful mix of jobs in my background, which makes it hard for HR people to “tick the boxes” when assess g me as a candidate. This means I usually get shuffled straight to the “too hard” basket. I had to work hard to find my job but if I did it, I honestly believe anyone can!  
Disclaimer: these hints are all based on my own experiences finding a job. It is based on my willingness to go back to work full time, rather than part time and looking for a job that is the next step in my career. Your experience may be completely different! 


2 thoughts on “Hints for finding a job as an expat spouse in HK

  1. Dee. This is a really useful, informative blog. Congrats on the new role and thanks for the motivation. Even though I am no longer an expat (I guess I was expattyish in the UK) even trying to get a new job in the Australian market where I assumed I was employable is sucking at the moment! I will keep with it and see what happens.

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