Taking Your Career Abroad
By Apurva Purandare, AIA
Global travel and immigration was thriving before the pandemic threw a wrench in it. The world has re-emerged and as countries ease their travel laws, the US is expected to have back its pre-pandemic inflow of foreign talent looking to acquire an education in one of its universities, join the labor force or tap into the various other economic opportunities this country has to offer. I was one of them. I took my career abroad eight years back and learnt lessons along the way. Here are 6 things that helped me grow.
Draw on past experiences
When I first moved to the US for my Masters degree, I had worked for about two years as an Architect in India after completing a five year undergraduate degree in Architecture. So, once I graduated from UCLA and started looking for jobs, I expected to stand out. I quickly learnt that this was not the case. Most Architecture firms in the US won’t give full credit to industry experience acquired abroad when making a decision on hiring, position and salary. There are good reasons for that - the construction techniques, practices and work culture are all vastly different. Yet you should not make the mistake of unintentionally undervaluing your past experience. It is crucial to recognize and look for ways to use it to your advantage.
Utilize Soft Skills
In addition to the work, you may have acquired some soft skills. Be sure to tap into it and utilize it to help navigate the workplace. For instance, effective time management, courteous communication, and connecting with your co-workers and peers on a personal level will always help regardless of where you work. Approaching problems with a sound mind and treating your co-workers with respect says that you have worked well in teams in the past and value collaboration. I had found success in my office back in India by prioritizing person-to-person communication yet after landing a job in the US, I wasn’t sure if this was a good approach. But once I initiated conversations between my co-workers as opposed to emails, we found that several issues were resolved early on in the design process and we were able to work better as a team. I also felt like I was learning to overcome the language and cultural barriers.
Retain the value of education acquired abroad
The architecture profession is structured very differently based on country and jurisdiction. The same is true for Universities, their program offering and grading systems. Many professionals that move to the US have acquired a degree in architecture from their home countries which may not necessarily be recognized by NCARB. For this reason, it's important to have your degree, transcripts and certificates evaluated by a local agency. It is worth the investment. When faced with a situation where your educational qualifications from abroad become integral to a salary negotiation or a prerequisite to establish candidacy for licensure - you will be ready.
Develop a network
This is absolutely essential when trying to get your foot in the door. We are an increasingly globalized society and it is very likely that you may find common contacts in the area that you’re looking for jobs. Tap into your network. This will greatly increase your chances of getting that interview. There are many firms that I can think of, both in India and the US, that rely heavily on employee recommendations and referrals when selecting candidates for hire.
Don’t be afraid to propose new ideas
Do not be afraid to propose new ideas at your workplace. For example, if you have successfully used a certain program in the past to achieve a task faster, chances are your employer in the US will also be open to learning more about its benefits. However, it is important to demonstrate your idea in a brief and concise way. Offices in the US are very fast-paced and tend to give top priority to productivity, so it’s best to prepare in advance. I once conducted a lunch-and-learn in my previous firm to demonstrate the benefits of using InDesign to create quick and good quality client presentations or planning submittals for the City. This was well received and more so saved us time for future projects as we created a template that would get refined with time.
Show empathy to yourself
While taking your career abroad in the same profession is a lateral move, there may be times when you feel like you’re having to start from scratch. On these occasions, I had to remind myself to take it one step at a time. Keep your focus on the fact that this is an investment in your future life and to take you where you want to get. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and accept your failures as lessons learnt.