Many Kiwi repatriates believe that the experience they gained living and working overseas gives them something ‘extra’ they can offer to NZ Inc. But, they also report some challenges in translating what they have learned abroad in such a way that NZ employers see the additional benefits they can bring to a role.
In this post, I’m going to describe what I call the Globility Quotient (GQ), to try and create a shared understanding of some of these benefits through the language of HR competency-speak. To me, GQ is best thought of as an additional form of intelligence (like IQ, or EQ) – one that’s developed, primarily, via the experience of living and working abroad.
Core GQ Competencies
The first three competencies that repatriates offer relate to the fact that, almost without exception, no one’s overseas experience goes according to plan. Returners recite a range of reasons for this; visa problems, arriving in a country just as it’s going into a recession, being laid off and having to take a minimum wage job, a partner being relocated just as they were establishing their career in that location, relationships breaking up, being offered a job in another country, running out of money and so on and so on.
Now, faced with any one of these unexpected challenges, a small minority will turn tail and head home but the majority don’t. They dig in and find a way to make it work using a combination of three core competencies – all of which are listed as critical to modern work.
Resilience: in order to survive and thrive when living in another country a person has to be fairly hardy and able to bounce back from the inevitable challenges that they face along the way. Often their new existence is characterised by uncertainty – everything is different to the point they don’t really know what to expect, and ambiguity – cultural differences, in particular, making it hard to interpret what is happening or, anticipate what will happen next.
Adaptability: when things inevitably don’t go according to plan, expats and migrants have to try something new. To fit in with the host culture, they have to learn how things are done around there – both in relation to work and social norms. Those who are good at this – in HR speak, those who have high learning agility – start to develop a different mind-set, broader perspectives and a wider range of responses to dealing with the challenges they face.
Resourcefulness: for some the sudden experience of being ‘cast adrift’ from the safety net of personal and professional networks in NZ, can feel like a liberation – a chance to figure out who they actually want to be. For others, it’s a terrifying time – suddenly having to prove their worth as an individual because no-one knows them in the new place. Either way, this experience leads most expats and migrants to become extremely proactive and self-reliant – learning early on that nothing will happen in this new country if they don’t initiate it themselves.
Bonus GQ Competencies
Arguably (and trust me, many have argued with me on this!) the skills that underpin Resilience, Adaptability & Resourcefulness can be developed through a multitude of experiences, not all of which require decamping to another country. But there are two more – I’ll call them ‘bonus competencies’ – which I think can only be developed via a stint or two of living overseas.
Inter-Cultural Agility: full immersion in another country is the best way to experience yourself as ‘foreign’ and see yourself, perhaps for the first time, as a cultural being. For example, the first time you encounter an untranslatable word and realise that there are entire concepts in the world that don’t even exist in your home culture!
On a practical level, you have to adapt. Changing both the way you think and behave to better ‘fit in’ with the host culture, whether that be something relatively ‘simple’ like adopting a different dinner time or, more complex shifts like the way you think about time itself – how late is acceptably late for example?
For those living in expat hubs, mingling with people from all different cultures on a daily basis, the shifts required are even more profound. Not simply a case of figuring out one dominant host culture and adapting to fit, but a constant negotiating of norms and finding ways to connect with people who, at first glance, might appear unfathomably different from yourself.
Global Mindset: anyone who has experienced living in a different country and working in an international team will have developed, to some extent, a more global way of thinking about the world. Some may even find that they lose their attachment to identifying with a particular country or culture and start to think in more multi-cultural, globally inclined ways – able to access a broad range of experiences and perspectives that combine to give them a unique take on any situation.
The benefit of this relates to the value of diverse thinking. Accepting that your long established norms are not necessarily all that ‘normal’, can open your mind up to considering a literal world of possibilities resulting in more creative responses to complex problems.
In more practical terms, the experience of navigating multiple markets or working remotely with colleagues in different parts of the world helps develop the new set of skills needed to be effective when working at a global scale.
Leveraging your GQ back in NZ
For many repats, the challenge of returning to work in NZ starts when they try to explain to a local employer how their international experience is of value in NZ. Some tips to try if you’re struggling with this:
Focus on the skills gained, not the experience itself
For the most part, employers are interested in whether or not you can do the job. What they want to hear is whether you have the skills needed to help solve their problems, grow their business or add value in some other way. Whether these skills were developed in Levin or London matters little in practical terms.
So, ask questions to understand what particular skills they are looking for in relation to the job you have applied for and then mine your experience to find examples of when you’ve developed and applied these skills in some other way. Make your experience relevant to the problems the organisation faces and leave out examples that don’t relate.
Show that you’re a good learner
Many repats report being turned down for local jobs because the employer is concerned they don’t have enough local experience – despite having grown up in NZ. This is where you need to be able to demonstrate that you’re a good learner and that you’ve got a track record of having developed local knowledge quickly enough to thrive in jobs overseas – despite not having grown up locally – which is much harder to do!
One way to practically demonstrate your willingness and ability to learn is to do some research on the job you’ve applied for ahead of time. Showing that you have some understanding of competitors, organisational challenges or, changes looming in the operating environment might go some way to reassuring a potential employer that you’ll be quick off the mark when it comes to learning what you’ll need to know to do the job.
Think different, not wrong
For those of us who have been out of the country for a long time, the return to working in NZ can be experienced as a bit of a ‘culture shock’. The best way to deal with this is to see the repatriation process as a way to keep developing your inter-cultural agility. Adopt the same open mind-set and sense of curiosity about what makes NZ organisations tick, as you did when learning about other work cultures abroad.
Let’s be clear. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find any of the cultural norms any less frustrating or challenging to adapt (back) to, but taking this approach should at least provide some kind of psychological distance through which you can interpret the Kiwi way of doing things as different to what you’re (most recently) used to, rather than just wrong. Recognise that you are going through a process of cultural adjustment and that your initial resistance to doing things the Kiwi way might simply be due to the unfamiliarity of the approach.
Keep looking out
If you want to maintain your GQ edge, you will need to work to maintain the skills you developed abroad. In some cases you may be lucky enough to find yourself as part of an international team, continuing to navigate different perspectives and constantly being challenged on your assumptions which will help with both intercultural agility and the global mindset.
If that’s not the case, you’ll have to work a bit harder. One approach might be to maintain contact with people you’ve worked with overseas, seeking some coaching on how to approach the challenges you’re managing in your NZ job. In other cases, it might be developing a practice of responding to each challenge with the question ‘who is the best in the world at this?’ as a way to stop yourself defaulting to the local norm, or your own habitual response.
Persist, don’t resist
For many repats, the process of finding a first job back in NZ can be a disheartening experience. They come back excited to share their skills and experience with NZ employers, only to find that they don’t experience the kind of warm reception they envisaged getting when they made the decision to come back home.
It’s at this point that the core GQ competencies you have developed overseas really come into play. Utilise your resilience to keep persisting even in the face of set-backs. Adapt to local expectations rather than clinging to your old norms. Remember just how resourceful you can be and, just as you did when you were overseas, if plan A isn’t working out, have a go at plan B.
While you’re here. Are you a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident who has lived abroad and already returned to live in NZ? I’m trying to build up a picture the NZ Repatriate Community and have created a short survey to help with this. So, if you haven’t already, click through to read the introductory blog and find the link to the survey. It should take about 5-10 minutes to do both. Thanks! https://howtohaveahappyhomecoming.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/what-kind-of-repat-are-you/
About me & the blog
Originally from NZ, I spent 12 years living and working in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In 2017, I returned to live in Auckland with my lovely husband and crazy cat. Inspired by the stories I had heard from those who had made the move before me, I started the blog to tell the stories of a diverse group of Kiwis who have lived abroad and returned to NZ. It’s a mix of interviews and insights, exploring the reasons so many Kiwis head off to see the world, their expectations and experiences and, ultimately, what brings them back.
Through these stories, I also explore the themes around what makes coming ‘home’ a really mixed bag of emotions and, pull out the key insights and tips on how to make this as happy an experience as it can be.
By sharing our stories we hope to help those Kiwis living abroad but thinking about moving back and those who have recently arrived. If you’ve got a question, a comment or a story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.
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