Coming Home: Career Development Tips for Returning Expats


Read on if:

  • You’ve ever contemplated going overseas for work (you might find the advice here useful)
  • You are currently working overseas but are pining for home (I feel for you!)
  • You’re back home after being overseas but are being challenged by what to do next

As a consultancy that helps people achieve their career aspirations, we come across plenty of people who are either yearning for the expat life, living it now, or have just left it and want to develop their career at home. Returning expats are a great untapped resource. At least, they are in Australia. While some people manage to land on their feet again in a job that’s a logical next step in their career, many take years to regain the career momentum they had when they left, and find their experience is just not recognised like it should be.

For some, the returning expat speed-humps aren’t a problem – you might be returning to a role in the same company but in a different place. Or you could be coming back from somewhere that is very similar to home. If not though, you’ll need to manage this transition so you can extract maximum career value from your time overseas.

Start early

If you are currently working overseas and now looking to return, start preparing now. Amidst all the work that needs to be done with packing up and selling/shipping your possessions, arranging flights, cancelling utilities, doing that last road trip, saying goodbye, most people forget something absolutely critical – you might think of it as your career development insurance. It’s not applying for a job – that can be a hard, but by no means impossible, task from overseas. And by all means apply for jobs! But I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

It’s setting yourself up so that you don’t look like a newly returned expat with no idea of how things work around here.

Look for lots of opportunities to localise your experience while you’re still away. How? Think carefully about the sorts of roles you would be going for next. What ways can you show an employer that you’ll be seamless fit back into your old home country? You could volunteer to write something for relevant industry publications for people in your sector at home. Network with people in your sector and let them know you are about to turn up again – let them fill you in on what’s happening. Read up on what is happening in your sector. Join groups specific to the area you are returning to and contribute to discussions.  You can do all these things remotely and – at least – it will help you adjust to the working world back at home.

Be humble

“Overseas” experience does not equal better experience. I occasionally come across expats wondering, “Why won’t people recognise me?” That’s like saying “I’m going out of business because my customers have no idea”. It’s not them, it’s you. What you present to people must be precisely relevant to the work you’ll be doing, so the more you can tailor and position your work history for the local market, the better. The language you use is so important – a cover letter and a resume must be written for an audience – the people you’re writing for will simply ignore or discount anything they can’t readily understand. Don’t make it hard for them! Make it easy by being concise, relevant and using the style, tone and language for the local environment in which the role is based.

Finally, I’ve met some wonderful people recently who are making Australia their home. They initially struggled with where they fit in terms of the Australian job market and quickly realised that their incredible expertise is marked down because it just didn’t resonate locally (i.e. people haven’t heard of the companies they’ve worked for). What they work on constantly is eerily similar to my advice to returning expats – think local and make it relevant, relevant, relevant. They work hard at that and are getting great results.

I think there’s a big lesson there for people trying to make it back home as well!

Get in touch! Floreat Consulting Australia helps people discover their own way to an outstanding career. We offer Career Development for individuals and Consulting services to organisations.

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