What do we mean by ‘expat partner’?
Expat partner, accompanying partner, trailing spouse.
These are all terms used for a person who moves with their partner to another country for their partner’s work contract.
But who are these people, and what do they do all day?
There is a common misconception that expat partners are generally women who spend their days shopping and drinking coffee (or Champagne!) while their spouses work.
Children, houses and dogs are taken care of by helpers and any intentions to rejoin the labour market have long since been abandoned, never to be found again.
Is this us? We, the women and men who have moved with our partners (and quite often children) across the globe, several times.
Nah, not really. Like most people, our days are filled with admin, household chores, helping with homework, walking the dog and making sure that life runs smoothly for our family – except that it’s in a country where we may not speak the language, or be familiar with the school system, where using public transport is an unwanted adventure or where grocery shopping could take hours just to locate cheese.
Who are we and how did we get here?
There are many reasons why expat partners have chosen the life they have but lack of skills, education or employment in the ‘home land’ are rarely part of the equation.
Most of the women and men I have met who have taken their families across the globe are well-educated, highly skilled individuals who had stable jobs before they decided to move. They didn’t really plan on becoming an accompanying partner; instead, a job opportunity came up for their spouse, they took a decision together, resulting in multiple moves and corporate career climbing.
For many of us, it is a welcome ‘break’ – being able to spend more time with our children, learn new languages, plan adventures in places we normally wouldn’t be able to go to, and generally broaden our horizons.
But as one spouse's career takes off, the accompanying partner can also be left feeling vulnerable, a little aimless and lost.
Can I get a job again?
What, then, happens when the accompanying partner actually wants to get back into the labour market, apply for a job in the country they are in?
Expat partners often find obtaining employment challenging.
How do you confront a gaping hole in your CV? What skills have you obtained while moving around?
Though many of us do not have a consistent job history, we do have specialised skills (often gained by living in different countries) that are beneficial to the workplace. They are usually referred to as soft skills and recruiters are interested in these skills to add diversity, creativity and innovation in their teams.
What type of soft skills?
Adaptability: you've been able to adapt to a new culture, a new environment, a new language.
Creativity: you've invented a new way of life for your family abroad, and found solutions to feel at home.
Courage: you've left your job, your country, your friends and family to move to a place you don't know - you are clearly not afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
Cultural intelligence: you've interacted and made friends with people from different countries, trying to understand your differences and adapted yourself accordingly.
Expat partners who wish to return to work can often improve a patchy CV by focusing on these highly valuable skills.
If you are a Paris-based expat partner wanting to work in France, or a recruiter looking for someone with that extra experience, come join Absolutely Talented on the 16th of September 2021.
Learn how companies and expat partners have tackled the recruitment process; how to convince future employers and business partners that, as an expat partner, your professional development has actually progressed;
gain insight into different forms of French work contracts;
understanding IKIGAI tests ; and much more.
Article written by Caroline Holmqvist