There are few things in life more stressful than moving to a new house; packing up everything you own and shifting it to another location. It’s not just the practicalities, but the emotional wrench of severing existing ties and setting off into the unknown.This is, of course, magnified if your move involves taking only a minimum of your possessions and heading off to a culture that is alien to you. This can be all the more stressful if you are combining the move with a new job.
Being the new starter at a business with a different working culture, a strange new language and a whole range of new issues to deal with is quite a challenge.
Many expats are sponsored by an employer to take on managerial positions or expert technical roles, arriving to lead teams they’ve never met.
So touching down, scrambled by jet lag and reeling from culture shock, expats stumble into the office like bamboozled rabbits caught in blazing headlights. There are a great many things that can go wrong in these early, hectic days, which could take a long time to fix.
However, don’t panic – here are simple steps that expats can take to help the process of starting a new job overseas.
Go for a visit
A wise idea for any expat: go see what you are getting yourself into. This is a chance to see the kind of lifestyle you’ll be leading and whether you will be happy with that.
Don’t just focus on the office, as important as it is, you also need to see your new home and the school your kids may be attending.
Ensure you get clear direction on your role
A role is more than just a job title. If a company is willing to help you move around the world, they probably have a plan in mind for what they want you to achieve when you arrive.
Make sure you get these expectations explained in detail and that you understand when your targets need to be hit. This means you will have an appreciation for the stress or excitement of your new role as well as a chance to manage the expectations of your new employer.
Start learning the language
Even if your colleagues speak your mother tongue fluently, it can be a massive boost to learn a few words of theirs. Even getting familiar with the accent can help you avoid confusion that could have embarrassing repercussions.
It’s not just about dusting off the school textbook and learning the basics, you need to become familiar with the workplace language and technical terms unique to your industry.
Understand the workplace culture
In every culture, the nine-to-five adds up to a big chunk of our work-life balance. The average working week varies greatly around the world, with some businesses in Europe enforcing rules against answering emails outside of working hours. Other countries frown on employees taking all of their holiday allowance.
Even if you are transferring to a different role within your existing company, the way the office runs may be completely different.
Use a recognised management system
Business techniques can be used all over the globe. Although everyone needs their own management style, there are tools, tips and techniques that translate to every language around the world.
Even if your team aren’t currently working to any recognised formula, introducing one may provide a structure that is familiar to everyone. Festooning the office with sticky notes, as in Scrum development, is a simple way of tracking who is working on what.
Know your remuneration package
If the typical job contract is complicated enough, an expat contract can labyrinthine. Get to grips with what you will get for your hard work.
It isn’t all about the money either; there may be extra days of leave, funding for flights home or accommodation thrown into the deal. Read your contract well before visiting your destination so you can check out all the options available to you.
Know your visa
Your visa is a ticket into the country but also the rulebook by which you must play. There might be restrictions that make life difficult for you and your partner.
Some visas may limit the amount of time that you can spend out of the country. If you have to travel for work, there may not be enough allowance left for visits home.
Your visa may entitle you to bring a partner and children, but they may not be allowed to work or study. Make sure you are not asking them to sacrifice too much.
Only fools rush in
Once you’ve seen the place, considered your remuneration and got an understanding of what you are getting yourself into, take a break. Take the time to consider everything; are you ready for moving away from home, taking on a new role and setting up overseas?
Discuss your plans with friends, family and colleagues and share your doubts and hopes. It’s well worth getting a reality check to know that you’re making the right decision.
Get a handover
Starting a new job shouldn’t be like joining the game from the subs’ bench. A quick high-five with the person you are replacing is just not enough to step into their role.
Negotiate a proper handover time with enough overlap for you to get familiar with the business, your role and your colleagues before being handed the reins.
Get a mentor
There is nothing more valuable than learning from the mistakes of others. Find a trusted mentor who can be a guiding hand, steering you around the common pitfalls and helping you hit the ground running.
Ideally, you’d be able contact the last person to do your job, meaning you will have access to their opinion on works well and what needs improving. It would be a bonus if they were also an expat who could talk you through that side of things.
Your employer may be able to put you in contact with someone who can help you get on your feet, but there are other experts out there. Join the expat forums early and reach out to people in similar positions or the same industry, find out what works for them and the frustrations they all share. You might not be able to solve these issues, but at least you will be forewarned.
Networking is always a boon in business. Even if you aren’t looking to make a big sale, talking to people is a great way to dispel that imposter syndrome that might be niggling at you.
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