Finding a Job Overseas

Finding a Job Overseas – Musings from an Expat in Hong Kong

Finding a Job Overseas

Life as an expat is not all fun and games and there does ultimately come a day when you find that the excitement of moving abroad has died down and your new life has lost a little of its shine. For some people this can happen very quickly, for others it takes years.

For me, it happened one year in, when I finished my MBA. Since our arrival in Hong Kong, I had been pretty busy learning how to spell words like synergy and macroeconomics and I hadn’t really had any spare moment to miss home or reminisce about my life back in England. However, when the MBA was done I suddenly found myself staring at the days ahead through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. I would arise from my bed at the crack of lunchtime and sit under a blanket watching television. My husband came to refer to this as “television hour” but it was actually more like television afternoon. I started to feel like an extra from the film Cocoon.

It was at this point that I realized I would have to go back to work… forget everything I said last week about rats, desperate times called for desperate measures. I began the job search. 300 applications later… nothing. No phone calls, no interviews and no job offers. Now I’m sure I am not the only expat in the world who has come across this problem. I had enjoyed a hugely successful career in my home country and now even had an MBA. I received regular phone calls from head hunters and recruiting managers back in the UK, but not one hiring company in Hong Kong was interested in talking to me… it was almost as though I had the words “Evil Diabolical Plan” as the headline on my resume.

Getting a Job as an Expat Spouse Isn’t Easy

I finally gave up. It seemed that when it came finding a job overseas for an expat in Hong Kong, things such as skills and experience, although interesting, were completely irrelevant.

So what was the problem? I have since been offered a couple of explanations for my situation. Firstly, there exists in Hong Kong something called guanxi. Guanxi is the foundation of business relationships in China and here you need a strong network to get your foot in the door at most organizations… it isn’t what you know, its who you schmooze. The second minor issue that I had slightly overlooked was language. Unfortunately, my lack of Cantonese speaking skills meant that not only did I fail to fully understand the Chinese culture, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about it even if I did… not great for someone who calls herself a marketeer. I had clearly been targeting the wrong profession.

Now it was at this point that everything could have fallen apart. I had no job, I didn’t seem to have any prospects of finding work that appealed to me anytime in the near future and not only had I seen all the programs on the expat TV channels before, but I was also now watching repeats of the repeats. Luckily for me, however, my loyal and patient husband stepped in and saved the day. Ever the brains of our marriage (sic), he called me up from work one day full of excitement.

“It’s just occurred to me”, he said, “I know the answer to your problems, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before!”

“What is it? What is it?” I replied, waiting on the edge of my seat for the news that was to transform me from grocery-getter to go-getter.

“Well I was thinking, you’re bored, you’re lonely, you need something to occupy your mind, you need a challenge…”


“I’m going to buy you a dog!”

David Tompkins
Author: David Tompkins