Carlie: Hey, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. So many workplaces have had to make drastic changes over the past year, which has affected how we do our jobs and, in some cases, if we even still have one. Whether you’re already abroad or looking to move internationally for work, it’s a daunting time to be searching for that next opportunity.
How has the pandemic affected your industry? Are there fewer jobs around? Have employer expectations changed? And what does the remote working trend mean for the traditional expat job posting? Will it even exist in the future? My guest, Gillian Cramb, an HR consultant based in the South of France, is joining me in this episode to share her insights and give you some job application tips.
Before we get started, a reminder that Expat Focus is not just a podcast, but a website, too. So, whether you’re looking for specific country guides, relocation, financial or expat health information, head to expatfocus.com, where we have loads of free resources to help you move abroad easily.
Gillian, tell me a bit about yourself and your own expat and career journey.
Gillian: Well, I’m originally from Scotland. And actually, I haven’t lived in Scotland for the past 11 years. I’m currently based in the south of France, where I have my own HR consultancy business, but I’ve lived in France, in Spain, the Czech Republic, the UAE … But I’ve also worked in places like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and so many more different countries.
Yes, I’ve had quite a journey. Although, before coming to France, I was in the Middle East for a good long time. So, yeah. So, it’s been a bit of a change of culture to come from the Middle East back to Europe.
Carlie: What inspired you to get into HR consultancy? Have you always worked in HR?
Gillian: No, is the answer. I actually started my career as a language teacher 20 years ago. When I went to Dubai, originally, I went there to set up a language school, which turned into a training department, which turned into something bigger and something bigger. It was quite a shock for me to start working in the corporate world, but I found that I really loved what I was doing.
I had to work just a little bit harder, and I knew that I had to do something different, if I wanted to really make a mark. So, I went back to university, and I did my MBA. I did some work on people and organisational development and just absolutely fell in love with it.
So, I had gone from language teaching to training and development, to recruitment and mobilisation, which included all of the training of employees and whatnot. And for me, it’s all about people.
Carlie: And with such rich experiences in so many different countries, I can imagine you’ve got some really deep insights into how people and organisations operate and interact, and in so many different cultural contexts as well.
Gillian: It’s so interesting working somewhere like Dubai, because you have such a huge range of nationalities, and you have access to lots of different parts of businesses that you probably wouldn’t have access to anywhere else in the world. So, it kind of accelerates your career 10x faster than it might have been anywhere else in the world.
Carlie: One of the reasons I went abroad was to accelerate, reinvent my career, to be able to have that international experience box ticked on my CV. Do you find that’s really the motivation for a lot of people in the Middle East?
Gillian: Yeah, I think so. I think there are lots of different reasons. And it’s very attractive to employers, if you have that kind of cultural experience on your CV. For a lot of people, it has a lot to do with money, and being able to get a job that can really fund your children’s education and all of the other things that you really want to do in life. I think that’s one of the reasons why people go to the Middle East.
But in terms of being an expat internationally, I think it’s such a rich and rewarding experience, and it looks so good on your CV – that you have taken the time to really understand all of the different cultures that you’re working with.
Carlie: Even myself, as an Australian, moving to the UK, which culturally you could argue is not that different, really, I found so many small differences in workplace culture, and in the way I should behave, for example, compared to how I would interact with colleagues and bosses in a workplace back in Australia.
Gillian: It’s that sense of a little bit more formality in the workplace in the UK still. I think that’s one of the big changes that I can see coming in the future in actual fact. Younger people coming into the workforce nowadays have a very different perspective on how we should conduct business. That sense of formality and playing the game is, I think, something that’s going to eventually start to die out. And there’s this huge conflict in some workplaces now between the two mindsets.
Carlie: I’m actually really relieved to hear that, from someone who’s used to being pretty authentic. I’m not good at sucking up to people – that’s basically my problem.
Gillian: I can understand.
Carlie: I’m actually really curious. You mentioned how things are changing, and in the past 12 months, of course, we’ve had this unprecedented pandemic that has really thrown a lot of people’s plans out the window. We’ve had expats, foreigners, who have been on missions abroad who have had to go back to their passport countries. We’ve had people that were meant to move for a job suddenly not be able to do that.
Of course, many companies are restructuring, downsizing, considering where they want to place employees, where they may not have before. What trends are you seeing in expat job searches at the moment?
Gillian: Yeah, you’re right. And I have a huge number of friends who have had to repatriate unexpectedly very quickly. And it’s a huge shock to the system. And there’s all of this movement at a time when we have furlough schemes in place. We have these redundancies happening left, right and centre. The labour market is in absolute turmoil.
Having said that, there are jobs out there, and there are some good jobs out there, if you know where to look, but competition is tough. It’s probably never been tougher. Obviously, I do a lot of work with career coaching, mentoring and CV writing. And over the past year, I’ve done quite a lot of pro bono work, in terms of CV writing.
One of the biggest things I have probably noticed, however, is that there is a huge shift in people’s mentality to what they expect from the workplace. So even though they may have been made redundant, or they may be in a situation where they need to find work, they are a bit more picky about the kind of lifestyle that they want to have in the future.
The ability to have a more flexible routine, being able to work from home potentially – maybe not always, but at least some of the time – and having the ability to work for a company where they can really concentrate on having a work-life balance. That’s definitely something that I’m seeing, and there have been more and more requests coming in to me for information on remote working.
This has been traditionally reserved for positions like tech positions, creative, graphic design … But now, people are asking more and more where they can find these remote working jobs. I guess it comes as no surprise that people are looking for much greater flexibility, but they want to take on new and exciting roles, which really have no location boundaries, if that makes sense.
Carlie: I have seen a really heartening trend on LinkedIn jobs, for example, and other job boards, of roles being described as in X location, or remote, partial remote possible, remote within this one country … That’s really fantastic to see, and I think it opens the doors for more applicants to be able to apply. But I wonder what you think this means for the traditional expat job posting, if more jobs can be done from more locations?
Gillian: I’m a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to this kind of a thing. And although I believe that there are going to be more and more remote positions available, and I do believe that companies are coming around to the idea of flexible working terms, I don’t believe that it’s going to happen particularly quickly.
I also have the feeling that, as much as companies want to do it, as soon as the pandemic starts to loosen up a little bit, their natural instinct will be to revert back to type. So, I still think that there will be loads of opportunities for international travel and expat working.
Carlie: We touched on redundancy before, and, for a lot of people around the world, this has been the reality over the last 12 months. And in my mind, I feel like it’s almost the most acceptable time to be made redundant, because it is so common at the moment. It’s almost removed the stigma around it.
The first thing I thought about redundancy, before the Covid-19 reality, was that it’s such a negative thing and such a difficult thing to talk about as an applicant in a job interview. Do you think employers have different views on redundancy than they may have had in the past?
Gillian: Having worked in organisational development for quite some time, it’s not unusual for me to have undertaken restructuring initiatives myself. This stigma might exist more in places like the UK. It certainly isn’t a massive issue in the Middle East, because it’s actually probably more commonplace there, I would say, than anywhere else, because it’s grown so fast.
A lot of businesses grew exponentially and then had to go back and then sort of relook at their structures. It’s everywhere at the moment. And I think that we probably have to be more open-minded about people who have been made redundant and try not to have negative feelings towards what they’ve got on their CVs. For me, personally, I don’t ever see it as a negative thing, but I can understand that some people might.
Carlie: And what do you advise your clients, your job applicants, if they do have a redundancy, a termination, that they may need to explain in a job interview.
Gillian: It’s all about wording. A termination is obviously quite different. And I think there has to be some aspect of honesty in there. You have to be very open about the situation. But at the same time, explain what you’ve done since that point in time.
And I always say to people, no matter what the situation is, if you’re applying for a job that you really want, but you know that perhaps you’re not qualified enough – or perhaps you have had that career gap or a bit of a blip in your CV – then you must focus on skills. So, really think about what you can bring to the table, which isn’t about experience, which isn’t about qualifications. What have you done since then to really up your game?
So, have you done some voluntary work, for example? Have you done some courses online? What have you done to get the skills that you need to be the best that you can be in this position?
Carlie: I like that you describe it as a blip and then, ‘Okay, that was then. Let’s move on. What have I done since?’ What have you done to not necessarily better yourself – because redundancy doesn’t mean you’re bad – but to actively show that you’re, you know, upscaling and getting ready for your next role?’
Gillian: That’s probably the key thing to take from this. No matter the kind of situation that you find yourself in … People can be made redundant or can be terminated for so many different reasons that may not necessarily be linked to performance.
I think it’s about how you deal with the situation and how you come out of that, really looking at what you can do to bolster your CV, whilst you’re looking for the next position. That will determine how well you do in the future.
Carlie: So, I’m really interested in being able to provide our Expat Focus listeners with some practical advice. If we can start with CV writing, for example. Obviously, every country is very different in what they expect in a CV, but what would you say broadly are some must-dos on a CV, and what are some common mistakes that you see?
Gillian: You just touched on one of the key areas – knowing your audience,
knowing the kind of cultural requirements of the country in which you’re applying. If, for example, your language in that area isn’t quite up to standard, think about what you can do in advance.
So if, for example, English is not your first language and you’re going to work in the UK, then think about doing your IELTS examination, because that will stand you in really good stead practically, but also will look fantastic on your CV. But if you go into the US, for example, then you should look at doing the TOEIC exam instead, just because that’s the cultural fit for that country.
The same goes with the length of your CV. If you’re writing a French CV, for example, for us here, it would be a one-page document. Whereas an English language CV would be a 2-page document. And that is probably one of the biggest mistakes I do see: absolutely huge CV documents.
And we have to remember that we live in a world where people have very short attention spans. They’re not used to reading documents. They’re more used to graphics and images. So, keeping anybody’s attention for that length of time is practically impossible these days. When you submit your CV and a human being actually reads your CV, you have six seconds in which to captivate your reader.
In that time, they need to know absolutely 100% who you are and what you do. And if I can’t determine that within the first few seconds, the chances are, I’m not going to read the rest of your CV. One of the other big no-nos that I see so often in the CV is that, under your work experience section, it’s very tempting to list your responsibilities in that job.
Remember that an HR person in the company that you’re applying to, or the recruitment agent, they do this all the time. So, they know what you do in that role. And you don’t need to tell them again, but what they don’t know is why you were amazing at your job. And so, this is your chance to show them.
So, under your work experience, don’t list your responsibilities, but do list your key achievements. Why did you excel in that position? What are you most proud of? Did you form part of a project team and save lots of money? Things like that are the things that sell you as a person.
And one more thing possibly to think about: it’s not really a mistake, per se, but in your qualifications and training section, try to have something that is quite recent. If you’ve got a bit of a gap, it could potentially be a little off-putting for some recruiters, because there are so many courses out there nowadays. There are so many things that you can do online. It’s really good just to show that you have a commitment to investing in yourself.
So, there you go. There are some of my top tips for your CV writing.
Carlie: That’s actually a really good point: the education, the ongoing skills demonstration in your CV. I think I’m so used to listing my university years and the fact that I completed high school, but I’ve never really thought about what I have done since. It is probably not relevant to list the online hula hooping course that I did during lockdown.
And it’s not just online universities now, is it? I mean, are there particular course websites? Like, I know there’s Coursera, there’s Skillshare, there’s Udemi … Are there some that look more credible on a CV than others?
Gillian: It really depends on the position that you’re applying for. One of the things that I tell everybody is that you have to tailor your CV every time you apply for a job. Nowadays, I do quite a lot of CVs for project managers, change managers, and that kind of thing. They have great qualifications, but they might not have something super specific to those roles.
What we have to remember is that, nowadays, it’s super important to understand that it might not be a human being that reads your CV. It could be what they call an ATS system, which is an automated tracking system. We will feed in the job description into the system, and then I’m going to feed in your CV, and we can merge them and see what kind of a match we get. And if it comes back as a 40% match, then you won’t go through to the next stage.
Carlie: I’m guessing this is where keywords really are important.
Gillian: Exactly. So, for the project managers, I am looking for, in the qualification section, project management courses. The top two for project management, for example, are Prince2 and PMP. Because they are recognised qualifications, it doesn’t really matter who the provider is, as long as you have gained the recognised qualification.
To answer your original question, I think that nowadays it’s more important that you undertake things that are relevant to the position that you’re applying for. The course provider is less important.
Carlie: So, it’s really about the course itself, as opposed to who’s delivering it for you.
Gillian: Yeah. And as long as the ATS system can pick out those keywords – because in the job description 100% they’re going to ask for Prince2 or PMP – as long as you can match that, you’re doing excellently well.
Carlie: That’s a nice little tip for anyone applying for project manager roles.
Gillian: Yeah. I was just using that as an example, but having said that, I think that a lot of roles nowadays involve some degree of project management. So, it’s quite an attractive thing to have on your CV, regardless of the kind of position that you’re applying for.
And Lean Six Sigma is another. And something to do with coaching and mentoring is also something which is quite attractive on a CV these days.
Carlie: Is Lean Six Sigma, the one where you get a black belt or something like that? I’ve heard of this before in the context of someone doing some sort of management training, and they’re a black belt in something corporate. And I’m like, ‘What?’
Gillian: Yeah, I’m a green belt. I’m a Lean Six Sigma green belt.
Carlie: Oh, you’re getting there. Green is below black, right?
Carlie: I’m really curious, because when I was in the UK, I was told, when it came to my resume, my CV, that I needed to do a bit of keyword stuffing, in terms of putting the keywords in clear white text, like in the footnote of my CV, so that they couldn’t be seen, but they would still be scanned by these systems. Is that something that people still do or should do?
Gillian: I’ve heard of it also. And I think that the modern ETS systems are very wise to this. They also have a very simple format, in terms of what it will read in a CV and what it won’t read. I’ve heard of people doing it in the spaces between lines in white, so that you can’t see it perceptibly, but the system can pick it up. But actually, the system won’t pick it up if the format is like that. So yeah, I definitely don’t recommend doing that.
Carlie: Okay. Busting that myth. I won’t try that one again. If you’re applying as an expat, you may have international experience already, or you may not, but you want to highlight the qualities you can bring as a foreigner, I guess. How do you best do that in your CV, and where do you do that? Would that be in your personal statement, at the top of your CV, or would you leave it for the cover letter?
Gillian: Yeah. I would definitely have a little bit in the personal profile at the top, because I do think it’s a very important part. It creates a part of your personality. It’s such a formative thing. So, definitely in the personal profile. You also have an area at the bottom of your CV, which covers your key skills – ability to speak different languages, cultural awareness, and those kinds of things can go in there.
For me, the cover letter is super important, and actually probably more so in France than anywhere else. The cover letter is an extension of your CV. So, this is your chance to verbally communicate what you think you bring to the table. Definitely, cultural experience and international awareness is something that you should put in there.
But going back to something we spoke about earlier, in terms of career gaps, etc., this is an ideal time to put a little something in there, because a little explanation can go a long way, and it’ll stop people from making an automatic judgment based purely on your CV.
I had one lady recently who had failed her probation for one reason or another. And she kept saying to me, ‘I’ve just been telling people that I was sacked.’ And I said, ‘Don’t say that you were sacked. Quite simply, you didn’t pass your probation. Unfortunately, you didn’t pass your probationary period during the time of the pandemic. It was a difficult time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t kept on by the business. And so, that’s one of the reasons why I’m applying for this position.’ Just to give you some idea of how you try to word it in a positive manner.
Carlie: I was really impressed with a friend of mine who started a new role early in the pandemic. And within six months, she knew she didn’t want to stay. And when the employer asked her why she was leaving, and when recruiters asked her why she left so quickly, she said, ‘It just wasn’t a good fit. We just weren’t compatible. It wasn’t the right role for me.’
I found that very impressive as an explanation, because I’ve always thought – and I’m sure it’s a common perception out there – that something must have gone wrong if you leave a job so quickly. It looks weird, but it can be the case that it’s just not a good fit.
Gillian: Exactly. I think it’s exactly the right thing to do. I think what job seekers sometimes fail to do is realise that they are also, to a certain extent, in control. So, when you go to interview, it’s not just about the interviewer speaking to the job seeker and understanding whether or not they’re the right fit for the role, but the job seeker also should be interviewing, to a certain extent, to understand whether or not they really do want to work there.
One of the things I do with some of my mentees – especially if they’re in a position where they’re not currently working, or if they are working, but they’re looking to make the next step in their careers – is to sit back and really think about the kind of values that you want to have in the next company that you want to work with.
And a lot of these values could be around corporate social responsibility, things like mental health initiatives, and things that are really in the media at the moment, things that are super important to people.
Carlie: I’m wondering, what are the expectations these days, when it comes to moving abroad for a job, and what you should expect your employer to assist you with, and what you should be expected to sort out yourself?
Gillian: What I’ve seen in the recent past is that less companies are offering some mobilisation packages. It used to be commonplace that they would help you with funding towards shipping your furniture, etc. out there. I think it very much varies from company to company, and the more corporate the business, the more likely they are to be able to help with your mobilisation.
The Middle East is particularly good at this, in that you will be offered, as part of your package as standard, medical health insurance. Quite often, children’s education is part of your package. You will be given one annual leave flight ticket back home per year, at least. And those kinds of things are as standard.
But they might not necessarily, nowadays, help you to find somewhere to stay when you get there. And they might not help you to ship your belongings all over. I have to say, I think there’s still quite an old-fashioned view of companies that, if you’re not currently in the country, they might not necessarily consider you for a position, which is a shame.
So, it kind of means that, sometimes, if you know where you want to work, you have to be in the country to approach directly. I’d like to see that change more over the coming years, but I can’t really see it happening, if that’s my honest truth.
Carlie: And finally, I just want to touch on interviews. I think most job interviews over the past 12 months have moved online, onto video interviews. Have you seen much of an evolution in the way that interviews are conducted, and the way candidates need to project themselves in these interviews? Has it become easier for either party, in that regard?
Gillian: Yes and no. For some people, this kind of thing is a dream come true, but for others, it’s equally as nerve wracking. One of the things that we started to see, even before the pandemic, was the rise of the video job description and the video job application.
Carlie: Was this like the elevator pitch, where you have two minutes to sell yourself in a recorded video, or something?
Gillian: More or less exactly that. You usually have a limit on what you can applaud. And it usually is literally maximum two minutes – it really is your elevator pitch. And this is a big thing. I, myself, have had to do one, and I actually wrote a blog about it recently, because it is such a big thing.
The key thing I would say is that, in doing it this way, this is all about personality. It’s all about showing who you are. So, take away the tedious CV-writing, the cover letters, and all of the hard work that the recruiters have to do. This makes it easy for them. They see who you are and how personable you are. They see all of the things that you’re putting across very quickly, and they make a judgment on that.
Now, obviously that has its positives, and it has its negatives. At the moment, it usually is accompanied by the CV, etc., so you have all the documentation there as well as the video diary. But it’s definitely making for an interesting experience. I think that if you get through those stages, and you get to interview, I think it’s definitely a lot less formal than it ever was before.
I have had several meetings online with companies, tendering for consultancy work, for example, and I’ve definitely been less worried about the situation, because I’m in the comfort of my own home, but everybody has a preference. Some people, especially recruiters, are finding this kind of difficult.
Carlie: Gillian, what’s the best way for people to connect with you, if they want to discuss further their own strategies towards finding their next opportunity and whether they’re going about it the right way?
Gillian: Well, I would absolutely love to chat to anybody who’s thinking about making a move, who is thinking about a career change. For example, it could be students who are thinking about what subjects to pick for their futures. And I always say to just get in touch, and we’ll have a chat. And once we get talking, then, if there’s something that I can recommend for you that we can do together, we will. If not, I can recommend lots of other fantastic people who might be able to help.
I have a website candehrconsultancy.com. You can also find me on Instagram, or you can just pop me over an email, if you like. The three main areas that I work in are France or Europe more widely, the UK and the UAE. But I also work with some different contacts in places like India, for example. So, lots of ideas and lots of recruitment agents that I work with that can potentially help internationally.
Carlie: That’s it for today. If you want to share some expat job search tips of your own, join the conversation in our Facebook groups. You can also contact us via Instagram or Twitter; we are ‘Expat Focus.’ Don’t forget to follow us, or subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss an episode. And I’ll catch you next time.