Moving to Europe doesn't have to kill your career

Businesswoman addressing colleagues at a corporate business meeting
Businesswoman addressing colleagues at a corporate business meeting

Moving to Europe doesn't have to kill your career

by Jaime Chapman
Stripes Europe

If you are a spouse of a servicemember or DOD employee, moving to an overseas location is commonly thought to mean certain death for your career prospects upon arriving. This grim assumption does not have to be true. Here are a few tips to ease your career transition when you move to Europe.


The sure-fire way to find a job in your new location is to leverage your number one asset—people. Despite the modern 100% online application processes used by most corporations, the “good ole boy system” is the truly most effective way to transition into a new role for one reason: hiring managers would rather hire a familiar stranger than a total stranger.

Attend career fairs, coffees, local events and start volunteering in your area. You will not make any new connections if you sit at home and apply for jobs on the internet. Applying online is tempting—but online applications without a “warm lead” result in as little as 4% success rates for candidate hires. Get active on LinkedIn an add everyone you know, starting with your neighbors, friends, family, colleagues and utilize the “add all” prompt at login. Be sure to make a habit of sending daily notes to “check in” with your contacts. Also, scroll to the oldest message in your text/messenger archives. The ultimate goal is to be the first person that pops into someone’s mind when a new opportunity presents itself.

Focus on your accomplishments.

Hiring managers want to see your awards, accomplishments and signs of upward mobility on your resume and LinkedIn profile. It is easy for an experienced recruiter or hiring manager to distinguish a high-performer from a “clock puncher” on paper. When applying for jobs, people see a piece of paper that represents you. Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile represent your unique talents and accomplishments, otherwise your piece of paper looks like a clone of everyone else’s.

Enumerate everything.

The best and easiest achievements to highlight include: making money, saving money, meeting an organizational goal, alleviating a burden and saving time. Below are some sample achievements. 

  • Saved 250+ man-hours by creating an efficient process to alleviate redundancy. 
  • Earned $100K+ for the annual philanthropic fundraiser.
  • Increased profits by 20% in 2019 quarter one.
  • Surpassed $250K annual sales goal by 15%.
  • Saved $150K annually by creating a “green initiative” focusing on paper waste and energy consumption.

Tap into the hidden job market.

There is a pool of jobs that are never publicly announced and it is estimated that over 80% of vacancies are never posted online. The traditional hiring process is costly and time consuming for companies. Most organizations would rather avoid this expense and hire an internally qualified employee, or a vetted recommendation that was passed along from a trusted source. Whether applying internally at your current organization or externally at other companies, leverage your network and opportunities will reveal themselves to you. Conduct research on local industry-specific events, charitable events or conferences and ask your boss if you can represent your company at these events. For example, “There is a Relay for Life event coming up, I’d love to set up a table and lead a team to represent our company.”

Articulate your value. 

Create on an “elevator pitch” and a “punch line” to clearly communicate what you do and why you’re good at it. A well-crafted elevator pitch and punch line are a honing device—quickly cutting through the “noise” of irrelevant connections and engaging the right people. An elevator pitch is a 30-second career summary including top highlights and what problems that you are passionate about solving— preferably the problems parallel those faced by the company. A punch line is a single summarizing sentence that answers the question: “So, what do you do?”

Establish yourself as an expert.

Get in front of people and start making your name known. Reach out to event coordinators in your area to land speaking engagements at conferences or sit on a panel. Write and publish articles or even a book. Teach local classes, a webinar or appear as a guest on a podcast. There are limitless opportunities to put yourself out there. Establishing expertise and creating a positive reputation within your industry will create a demand for you.

Brush up on your interview skills.

Inevitably when applying for positions there will be interviews. Interviewing is like art and styles vary with each person and personality type. To conduct a good interview, study the current events at the company, craft relevant answer and then practice answers out loud and in front of a mirror. The best practice is with people who will provide unadulterated feedback. Ask a group of peers to conduct a mock interview, it will help alleviate jitters and offer a glimpse of areas of improvement so that you can master your interview. A surprising amount of people do not adequately prepare for interviews and opt to “wing it” instead. “Over” preparing for interviews presents a clear advantage and the potential to negotiate salary upon receiving an offer.

Patience is key.

Relocating to Europe has its perks including convenient travel— but it is a competitive job market for those who do not speak the local language. For native English-speaking dependents, government installations are often the only source of employment. Anyone who has ever applied via understands the frustrations of federal hiring and the lengthy nature of the manual screening process. In an effort to quickly secure employment, many dependents apply for federal positions that fall well below their skill set upon arriving in Europe. Avoid the temptation to apply for jobs you are overqualified for—unless worst comes to worst. The federal pay system is rigid, it can take years to ascend to the appropriate level if you begin civil service at an entry-level “rank” that is inappropriate for your level of expertise.

Rather than settling on unsuitable employment, consider “agile” employment to fill the gaps. Agile work includes contracting, consulting, freelancing, temporary work and more. Randstad USA’s Workplace 2025 study states that in 2019, up to 50% of the workforce will be agile. There are a host of resources to help military spouses obtain 100% virtual employment whether full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary. It’s time to embrace the future workplace and the viability of agile work as a long-term employment option. Many people never consider agile work because traditional employment (working in the office from 9:00—5:00) is comfortable and working remotely seem foreign. Agile employment is a growing phenomenon and it is easier than ever to obtain work, with a 10-second commute, from the comfort of your home. 

There’s an old adage: “applying for jobs is a full-time job.” 

Remember to allow for mistakes and failures. Rejection is a normal part of the process and bouncing back quickly will increase your resilience and confidence. Moving to Europe doesn’t have to kill your career— with an open mind and tenacity, it could lead to the career discovery of a lifetime.

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