Oscar Wilde had once famously said, “You can never be overdressed or over-educated!” Many of us, during the course of pursuing our careers and living our busy lives, have thought about getting back to education. The urge to learn something new is motivating, keeps our minds active and helps us reevaluate our lives. A major life event, such as a move to a new country, often provides the best conditions and incentives for making this switch from the boardroom back to the classroom. But add this to the turmoil of the move, and it can be a very daunting task!
I wanted to share some tips which helped me make the transition as well as some which I wish I had known earlier!
- Learn about the job market: I moved to Washington DC in 2008 and almost immediately there were many factors that hindered my job search; the most important one being the financial recession. Jobs were scarce, the outlook was bleak and being a public relations professional I did not have access to the one big resource I needed in my field- a network of contacts. I did what everyone mostly does- attacked the jobsites and sent out as many applications in a day as I could, thinking, “If I send many applications out, I will surely land a job!” It is very easy to get disheartened when you don’t get any responses and it can lead to a downward spiral in terms of confidence and outlook. Without knowing the job market, you don’t know who you are targeting and how you should go about it. Each place also has a specific job applying culture. This is where networking plays an important role!
- The ubiquitous ‘N’ word: I absolutely detested the word ‘networking’ when I started my job search. Everyone told me how important it was if I ever dreamt of landing a job in DC; a thought I resisted initially but soon found to be true. However, it had never been such a formal process in India and I found it extremely disconcerting! Someone very wisely asked me to look at it as making new friends and suggested that instead of going headlong into networking sessions (where I would mostly slink in the margins anyway) I should start meeting people with whom I had something in common, say an alumni connection. This made me look at networking in a different light. I started meeting people one-on-one and over informational interviews. I was amazed to see how receptive and welcoming people were to share their experiences. It worked! Networking ultimately led me to the jobs I decided to take up in DC. But how does one start networking and meeting people?
- Technology to the rescue: Moving to a new place is not easy, even if we know the language and are comfortable with the culture. We often underestimate the toll it takes on our physical and emotional well being. Connecting with people is a very effective antidote to handling these pressures. We are lucky to have social media at our fingertips where we can rekindle relationships lost ages ago. School friends, neighborhood buddies, inspirational teachers- nearly everyone is on some social media platform and everyone has their own networks. So even if they can’t assist you directly, they will know someone you can connect with who can help you personally or professionally. But what if the job search is still elusive?
- Have a backup plan: Sometimes dogged perseverance cannot take you where you want to go. Have a plan B to fall back on. Look around you for innovative options; it could be anything- volunteering, entrepreneurship or maybe even taking a break! For me, it was the option to study and get an additional Masters degree. During my informational interviews I was told that a degree from the US would definitely enhance my job prospects and open up a whole wide network. I had also heard about the merits of the higher education system in the US and this break in my career gave me the time and opportunity to reassess and reinvent myself. But remember, there is a whole lot to learn before taking the plunge into studying!
- Do your homework: If you decide to go the educational route, then DC is one of the best places to be in. It is spoiled for choice in terms of educational institutions. However, it is a big commitment- both in terms of finances and time- to think about going back to studies and that’s where you need to do your research. Which program do you want to pursue, what do you want to achieve, what is the flexibility you require, financial support options etc. Speak to people, connect with alumni and I especially recommend going and visiting the departments in the various schools you have shortlisted. I wanted to pursue International Development and had shortlisted two schools in the DC Metro Area. One was more ‘popular’ than the other especially in terms of international recognition, but the program director barely even glanced at me when I went to speak to him and did not seem very welcoming. At the other school, I had the opposite experience. The program director was warm and showed an interest in my background and what I was looking to achieve. These factors can be very important in helping you choose the environment you want to invest your time and energies in.
I was amazed at the flexibility and options available within the educational system. I had not been exposed to tailoring my own course of study and mixing and matching classes according to my interests. There are also flexible options such as starting off as a non-degree student where you can take one-off classes not geared towards getting a degree and later transfer those credits if you decide to convert to a degree program! Another advantage is the access to teachers and staff. This helps in knowing about scholarship opportunities and other procedures which are difficult to figure out when one applies as an international student.
Have other tips you can add? Please comment below or feel free to email me.