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Following Your Spouse Abroad? Reinvent Yourself

In a recent article, Global Expat Quenby Wilcox described trailing spouses as “the unsung heroes of an international relocation”. I agree! Finding the right job in a new context requires time, perseverance, self-esteem, and patience. What is very difficult is to remain resilient and to remember that trailing spouses have acquired real valuable skills that can be transferred to many markets.

Having given up a lucrative career in executive finance recruitment to follow my husband to Switzerland 22 years ago, I now consult, support, and coach trailing spouses to adapt, reinvent, and review their story so far. Sometime it is recommended to identify the exact kind of skills needed to work in a new country, and to acquire them, if necessary.

The Path to Your "New" Self — One Step at a Time

One of the first things I recommend even prior to market research, targeting posts, and approaching the job market is to do a professional and personal assessment. By this I mean writing down and examining your aptitudes, ideals and attitudes about your move and where you would like to be.

CV Facelift

Make your CV specific to your context. I advise clients to always revamp their resume according to their new or upcoming cultural context. The crucial factor to success is to make sure you present your skills and experience in the most effective and culturally appropriate manner. For example, in Switzerland recruiters do have like to see a photo on CVs - this is definitely not the case for the USA. It could be worth hiring a knowledgeable and experienced career coach to help you create a winning CV and one that is appropriate for the local market. 


Get all certificates, references, and recommendations up to date. This is a great opportunity for you to get in touch with old contacts, e.g. ex bosses, who can give you glowing references. I would really think long and hard about whom you wish to ask for a reference. Think strategically about whose recommendation or reference could help you in your new job market. Do not be afraid to ask! The worst thing they can say is “no”. Asking for what you want is a ‘best training’ in your new life. If it doesn’t work out the first time, keep moving onward and forward.

Your Online Presence

Make sure you are making it specific and particularly targeted to the national context. An example: LinkedIn summaries tend to change in length and content according to different markets and countries. If generalist management skills are in not in demand or not valued in the host country, make sure that your profile is focused on the market requirements and add more country specific skills. Ask a local colleague or friend to read it and see if it is suitable for the target local and national context. Be as authentic as possible. HR and recruiters want to know who you are and what you can bring to the organization. Everybody has a brand. What’s yours? Make sure that this is reflected in your LinkedIn summary.

Personal Branding

Also known as your career or professional brand, personal branding is the way you present yourself to your colleagues and your online and offline networks. You need to make sure that you are clear about your beliefs, values, and talents - i.e. your brand! I did this exercise and I have to say it was very enlightening and powerful. I established that there was a definite pattern to my beliefs, values, and talents that is based in the fact that I want to help people. As Tom Peters says in Brand You, “You're branded, branded, branded, branded. It's time for me and you to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that's true for anyone who's interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work.”

Create a Present and Future Statement

This should state what you are capable of and cover what you might say to anyone about what you do, what you have done, and where your interests lie. What are your core or key messages? Imagine you are explaining to a child what you do. What would you say? I know I would say “I help people to do better.” Developing consistent, impactful key messages is fundamental to how successful you will be in your new environment. Don’t forget that you must be sharp and confident not just in an interview, but in certain social situations as well.


Remember: initially, you are networking all the time. However, networking is about what you give, not what you get, so share helpful content on a regular basis. Invest in your network. Read more to gather topics to discuss and home in on subjects in which you are particularly interested. You won’t be able to join all the networking groups, so target some key events and read up on who is speaking and attending, and the purpose of the event. To quote the great Paul Coelho: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up & show up”.


Expectations don't always match reality. Try not to set your expectations too high, as this can lead to disappointment, frustration, anger or even depression. This is easier said than done, I know, but I have found that when we acknowledge that a move or relocation is going to be demanding we often cope better. You have to ask yourself whether your expectations are setting you up for disappointment. A client of mine who moved to a tiny Swiss German village told me, “I just got out there, maybe because I knew nothing I didn’t have any expectations. I just went out every day and chatted with people, asked questions, and engaged with them. I needed the interaction so I made sure I looked for it. I knew no one was going to come knocking on my door.”


Patience is a virtue. It does take time to find a job so cut yourself some slack (English slang for give yourself a break). Find a course, learn a new skill, and connect and integrate with globals and locals alike. This is your time, use it! Make the best of this rich and exciting opportunity! Take risks. Talk to local people. Integrate. Look at this time as a rich learning experience and have fun!

In a world where everything changes so fast and new ideas and skills develop constantly, it is never a bad idea to devote time to acquire new skills or to up-date old ones.

Recommended Reading:

  • “How to win from the Start" by David Royston-Lee
  • “Brand You” by John Purkiss and David Royston-Lee


With more than 20 years of experience in being an expat, Sunita Sehmi has a passion for helping her clients to maximize their potential and help professionals improve their Business Communication Skills. Sunita's strength lies in her ability to drive each and every client to perform his or her best.

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Further Reading

Relocating Spouses in Numbers

Various factors, including struggling to make local friends and not having enough opportunities for socializing and networking, negatively impact the happiness and general satisfaction with life abroad for relocating spouses. The Expat Insider Business Edition took a closer look at relocating spouses.