Taking Your Career Abroad - 6 Lessons Learnt
By Apurva Purandare
Global travel and immigration was thriving before the pandemic threw a wrench in it. The world is gradually emerging to adopt a new way of living. 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 or to join the labor force or tap into the various other economic opportunities this country has to offer.
When I first moved to the US for my Masters degree, I had worked for nearly two years as a junior Architect in India. I also had a five year undergraduate degree in Architecture. So, once I graduated from UCLA and started looking for jobs, I expected to stand out for the education and experience that I had from India. I was mistaken! Architecture firms in the US prefer to not rely on industry experiences acquired abroad. There are good reasons for that, the construction techniques, practices and work culture differs vastly. Yet, in the process of developing a resume / portfolio for getting hired at US firms, immigrants may unintentionally undervalue their past experiences. It is beneficial to recognize the value of your past experiences even though it may have been in a different country and to look for ways to utilize them to your advantage. It may not help you get a job but would help you excel once you have the opportunity. Here are some lessons that I learnt along the way:
Draw on your past experiences
In addition to architecture itself, there are some soft skills that you may have acquired in your past. It is in fact what sets you apart and even though it may not directly get you a job here, it would surely help you navigate the workplace. For example, 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 just emails, we found out that several problems were caught early on in the design phases just through informal discussion. I also felt like I was learning to overcome the language and cultural barriers much faster by doing so. So, while you're busy studying for the AREs, or acquiring new skills do not forget to learn and draw from your past experiences.
Retain the value of your education abroad
In many ways we give up what we know and what’s familiar for something that we’ve never experienced before. The way the profession is practiced differs from country and jurisdiction. Get your degree, transcripts and certificate translated into english, if they aren’t already. You could also have a local agency verify it. Doing this may be worth the investment so when faced with a situation where your educational qualifications from abroad become integral to a salary negotiation you will be ready with proof. In some States this is also a prerequisite to being eligible for NCARB membership and licensure.
Build on those soft skills
Soft skills like effective time management, team work, courteous communication, connecting with your co-workers and peers. Practicing kindness and empathy towards each other are some universal behavioral aspects expected at a workplace. 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.
Tap into your 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 contact in the area that you’re looking for jobs. 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 also be prepared 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 kept getting refined with time.
Show empathy to yourself
While taking your career abroad in the same profession is technically a lateral move but there may be times when you feel like you’re having to start from scratch. On these occasions, remind yourself to focus on the bigger picture of how this is an investment in your future life and a step to get where you want to be. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and accept your failures as lessons learnt.