Megan Fitzgerald is an Expat Career & Personal Branding Coach and founder & CEO of Career By Choice
Megan, can you tell us a bit about your background prior to founding Career by Choice? What made you decide to start your own business and what services do you offer?
Ever since I was in high school I had a passion for exploring other countries and cultures. That passion translated into a bachelors degree in International Relations, living, studying and working in Paris, and a job designing professional and business training programs for entrepreneurs from developing and transitional countries on 4 continents. My career in international education and training continued for many years until I returned to school get my Masters Degree in Multimedia Communications. While pursuing this degree I worked for the university career center running their local and international job fairs and their recruiting and employer relations programs. This is what gave me my first taste of formal career development methodology. After my degree I continued to work for international organizations doing professional and organizational development work. Upon moving to London I continued doing professional, organizational and business development work on a consulting basis. I have been fortunate that my work before and after my Masters degree has allowed me to work with professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations in many countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
It was when my husband and I decided to move to Rome that I realized I would have some real hurdles to overcome professionally. I did not speak Italian, had no network in Italy to speak of, and I was sure that securing a work visa in Italy was not going to be easy. It was then that I decided I wanted to start my own portable business.Career and business coaching seemed like the perfect choice. All of my previous education and professional experience had prepared me for just such a line of work. In fact I’d been helping professionals, leaders and organizations grow and improve their performance for years – I just didn’t know it was called coaching. It was also aligned with all of my values – freedom, empowerment, growth and development and being of service – and allowed me to support other people like myself who wanted a satisfying career that would also support a life overseas. So I pursued several certifications in career coaching, executive coaching, and personal branding and Career By Choice was born.
Today Career by Choice offers career, personal branding and business coaching services to expats looking to build a career that fits who they are and their international lifestyle. Specifically I help expats create a clear vision for their life and career abroad, understand their unique value and what they offer and communicate that value in a compelling and differentiating way on and offline. I also teach them how to leverage online networking and social media to build their brand and reach and apply the right tools and strategies to reach their goals. By applying their new skills and taking ongoing strategic action these expats will be set up for long-term career or business success.
What are the main challenges faced by expat professionals trying to build a career abroad? How do you encourage your clients to meet those challenges?
There are many challenges expats face when building a career abroad. First and foremost, many expats lack clarity around which career fits who they are and a life abroad. Even if they have a sense of what they’d like to do, many are not sure what they have to offer or what makes them unique and stand out. Without a clear vision for a desired life and career abroad or understanding what you have to offer that others don’t, it’s pretty hard to get started building a satisfying professional life.
Not knowing how to market or promote themselves to employers, network effectively online or how to conduct a job search abroad in their target country are also big challenges expats face. These challenges can have serious consequences when you consider that 75% of jobs are never advertised so being proactive is no longer optional when it comes to building and managing your career.
Lack of language skills, a work permit or credentials not being recognized in the local market are also issues that can hold expats back. However given today’s technology getting started building a portable business can simply require a phone line, a computer with the right software and an internet connection. The portable business allows you work from wherever you are and with whomever you want – including those who speak your language, recognize your credentials and do not require a permit to work with them. What the portable business can do today with low to no cost technology is simply amazing. I’ve worked with clients from over 20 countries from the comfort of my own home (and sometimes in my pajamas!).
I’ve developed my programs for expat professionals and entrepreneurs specifically to address these challenges mentioned above. Ultimately my programs give expats clarity, direction, and confidence that comes from understanding what they want, what they offer, how they are unique and with whom they are meant to work. My programs also help them increase their visibility and strengthen their network on and offline using the right communication tools and strategies. These things are critical to overcoming many of the typical challenges that keep expats from finding career success abroad. But most importantly having clear goals, the right tools and strategies and a strategic plan in place keeps expats moving towards their to their professional or business goals everyday. This is what gives them the professional freedom, flexibility and satisfaction that all of us are after.
You're known as a keen proponent of social media. How can services like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. help to build an expat's personal "brand"?
Research tells us over 75% of employers in North America and Europe use information about candidates they find online in their hiring decisions. Colleagues and clients also use information online to make assessments about a person’s credibility. Hence your online identity or online brand – what people find out about you when they google your name – is critical to career and business success wherever you are in the world. Part of building a strong online brand is leveraging the power of online networks and social media to insure that the information online will be in support of you being seen as the candidate or provider of choice.
Blogs are an incredibly powerful tool in building your personal brand online, as are sites like Linkedin where you are able to feature a tremendous amount of information about who you are, your distinguishing qualities, skills and accomplishments. Twitter is also useful in that you can generate a great deal of very “on-brand” messaging quickly. Facebook fan pages (not profiles) are indexed so they also affect your search results. They say google results change as fast as the weather so maintaining an strong online brand is on ongoing process. This is why an online identity strategy is a part of every client’s career or business plan.
In addition to your online identity, your network is also another critical part of your personal brand that online networks and social media can help you develop.
Expat professionals and businesses often do not have the luxury of networking locally in all the markets they are targeting or serve. Securing a new job or new business ultimately comes down to having meaningful conversations that are generally facilitated through strategic and effective networking. Hence leveraging online networks and social media are critical to building global networks to support an expat’s goals.
The way and the type of people you engage with on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, blogs and other networks may be different, but they are all very powerful vehicles for growing your network and accessing people and information you would not have access to otherwise. Since your network and your knowledge both contribute to your personal brand or professional reputation, not using online networks and social media is putting yourself a significant disadvantage in a competitive global marketplace.
What is a typical day in your working life like?
I love that no two days are alike for me. I have days filled with appointments with clients from around the world using VoIP or in person if they are located in Rome. I have client-free days where I can work on my own business, with colleagues or on my writing or research. There are days when I am traveling to a client site to work with executives or international MBA students. And then there are days when there is a mix of client appointments and business or network focused activities. There is generally always some time where I am networking online via social media or various networks.
Since I work across multiple time zones my schedule is anything but 9-5. The lunch hour and evenings are peak times for client appointments so my work day tends to start around 10.30 or 11.00. I love having leisurely mornings and slowly easing into my day. This type of schedule also allows for a break in the afternoon or for those longer lunches for which Italians are known.
Ultimately my schedule is my own. The amount of hours and days I work depends on my current workload which I can adjust as needed. What I make a point to do is set clear lines around work time and non-work time so that I’m not straddling those two worlds and hence never really “leaving the office”. I think this is the biggest challenge of running your own business.
Tell us more about life in Rome! Is it as exciting and romantic as it sounds?
Rome definitely does something for me that no other city in the world does. There is a kind of richness and beauty in everything that continues to inspire me even after being here for many years. There is a reverence for relationships, food, aesthetics, and enjoying the present moment that can keep one’s quality of life quite good.
That said, we all get up every morning have to take care of the business of living wherever we are in the world. The lack of reverence for organization and efficiency can make getting simple things done surprisingly complicated. If you are able to treat it all as an adventure then it’s just another aspect of life in Italy. But even for the most adventuresome the sometimes impenetrable bureaucracy can make living in Rome much less romantic than people imagine.
What are your plans for the future?
Professionally speaking I’m always searching out new and fun ways to help people find more professional success abroad while continue to grow myself personally and professionally. I’m a voracious learner so there’s always a topic about which I’m consuming everything I can get my hands on. Last year three members of my family had breast cancer so my current area of focus is health and how critical it is to the quality of your personal and professional life.
Personally speaking I’m still enjoying exploring Rome and cities throughout Italy. My husband and I are planning several bigger trips this year – a walking holiday in Scotland and visits to Morocco and Turkey – about which we’re quite excited.
What do you do to relax?
I love film, espresso, art, food and travel so you can generally find me engaged with one of those things when not at work. Spending leisurely mornings with my caffè macchiato on our terrace overlooking Rome is one of my favorite things to do. I’m spoiled by my husband’s amazing cooking (his Italian blood comes from his mother who is an amazing cook), but our love of trying new flavors keeps us going out to try new restaurants with friends. Since Rome is a outdoor museum I just need to leave the flat to get a daily dose of art or amazing architecture. I’d say when not plotting out the next trip you’d probably find me enjoying a film or chatting with a friend on skype.
Expat Career & Personal Branding Coach
Career By Choice