Whether it's to the US, the UK, or any other country, being a foreigner and starting a new career can be difficult. In this guest post, Didi Zheleva tells her story of starting a new career after immigrating to the UK.
I was born in Bulgaria. As a child I’ve always dreamed of travelling, visiting exotic places, meeting people from all walks of life, and generally exploring what the world has to offer. Being a member of a loving but modest family however, meant that I never really got to travel beyond the borders of my country or even get on a plane. That was until 2009, when at the age of 19, I boarded my very first plane, waved my teary parents goodbye, and embarked on a journey.
I flew to the UK full of dreams and aspirations, and unlike a usual tearful story, I am actually proud to say that I’ve achieved most of the things I set to tick of my Lifetime To Do list. If anything, my dreams are now bigger.
I am not going to bore you with the details and I’m just going cut to the chase. As a foreigner, immigrant, alien if you wish, I would like to share with you, no matter if you’ve immigrated to the US, UK, or any other country, the 5 career lessons I’ve learned.
#1 Believe in yourself
Depending on who you ask, people close to me would describe me as either confident or cocky. I believe I am neither and both at the same time. In this world full of negativity, if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will.
I remember the last time I was readying to take an exam, my mom called me on Skype to wish me good luck. She asked, “What if you don’t pass? What happens if you fail?” I said, "That is not an option." But I knew it was. Failure is always an option and it is both healthy and recommended that you acknowledge this. However, I needed my attitude in that very moment to be one of positivity and confidence. I was able to put myself into the mindset of one outcome: success.
People love to ask "what if." What if you don’t get called for an interview? What if you don’t get the job? The answer should always be "it will happen." And as long as you keep telling yourself that, as long as you keep pushing yourself and believing in yourself, failure really isn’t an option. It is instead a learning curve, a journey, but never a failure. And this, my friends, is what kept me going during the months I was job hunting.
#2 Work twice as hard to get a start
Being a foreigner in a job search can be tough (violins, please). You don't have a local support system or the connections others have. Your contacts back home that you've worked hard to establish mean nothing. So, in order for me to find my way, I had to count solely on myself. It can be scary, but it also means that your effort alone is the maker of your outcome. You aren't necessarily subject to the whims of a pre-established trajectory.
Pretty early on, I realized that I needed to work twice as hard to keep up with others in the job market. I wasn't going to get a recommendation, so I had to find other ways to make myself a desirable candidate. I took on several internships and volunteering opportunities that were related to my business and marketing degree.
Guess what? It paid off! Other than the practical experience I got to add to my CV, I also got insight into different industries, made local contacts, and got acquianted with the UK workstyle. All ina ll, it took a lot of work, but it allowed me to level the playing field and even gain a competitive advantage over other candidates who didn't seem as proactive.
#3 Be different
Unlike what socially progressive trends might suggest, most people prefer to hire national citizens. After all, they have a better understanding of culture, language, and the process is easier to get to a hire. So a foreigner in any country looking for a skilled job does have the deck stacked against them.
So how did I fight back? After months of sending out CVs without any response, I decided to take a new approach. I promoted myself on LinkedIn. I joined local discussion groups, introduced myself with "My name is Didi. I am a graduate with experience in marketing and am looking for new opportunities." Quite a few people I didn't know commented letting me know they'd keep an eye out for me.
And, luckily enough, someone did get in touch no later than 2 days after one of my messages. I was recommended, invited for a chat , and a week later, I landed a dream job -- Content and Digital Marketing Executive for InTouch CRM (a software company specialising in offering CRM and marketing automation solutions to small and medium sized businesses).
Moral of the story -- don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Do something to get your name in front of others who have access and decision-making power.
#4 Landing the job is just the first step
After years of studying and months of job searching, I got where I dreamed I wanted to be -- now what?
I recognized quickly that I was now living in what I wanted. This was no longer an internship or an essay about an imaginary business scenario. I wanted to build off the success of capturing this opportunity, so I had to show that I was worth it.
Throw yourself in the deep end. Learn every day, whether your daily task requires it or not. Talk to others to find out what's going well and what isn't. In your first few months, put in a few extra hours just to get exposure to the rest of the business. Take this challenge head on and you'll truly build a career and a name for yourself in your new home.
#5 Take the time to appreciate
Searching for, applying, and even having a job can be exhausting. These are ongoing processes that never really cease throughout life. For me, to keep my sanity in check, I have discovered the importance of pausing. Stop and take a look around you in this fast paced world. Things move so fast, it's often hard to appreciate your own success, the good things happening around you, and the opportunities ahead of you.
I often think about the scared 19 year old I was who hadn't been in a foreign country before. I had to take classes, internships, had no friends -- look at me now, I have a job I love, I work with talented people, I have friends. I built a life for myself in a new country. Keep learning, keep working hard, and you will be just fine. So, what's your story?
The InTouch team (myself, second from the left).