Movin to Amrika
August 2, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I’m British, my wife’s American. We’re planning on moving to the States next year. Aside from the bureaucracy and deciding exactly where we’re going I’ve been thinking about my employability and wondering if there’s anything I could or should be doing over the next twelve months to make myself more attractive to American employers.

Some things that may or may not be relevant;

I’m 28 years old and I have an MSc in International Relations from a pretty good school.
Since leaving university I’ve been working as a prospect researcher at a few different charities ranging in size from citywide to national and across the educational, cultural and social welfare sectors.
I have a fair amount of experience of working in an office environment, specific and detailed experience of working in the non-profit sector and a background in retail and bar work from pre-graduation days.
I know MS Office and other standard office software and I’m pretty experienced working with relational databases and other prospect research specific resources and systems. (I also have some incredibly basic experience working with html and sql querying which I’m almost loathe to mention because it really is very, very basic)
I’m not dedicated to staying in prospect research or the charitable sector, in fact I’d like to do something different. Ideally I’d like to make a living doing something creative, writing or photography, but I’m also aware of my own limitations and that might be a longer term aspiration or remain something I do in the time I’m not working to pay the bills.
I’m also not above delivering pizzas or pouring coffee for a while
I’m pretty smart (or at least able to give that impression), inquisitive and quick to learn but also very easily bored and prone to laziness.
I’m tall and have a history of terrible haircuts.

So my question is whether you can think of anything I could be doing in in the time I have before we move that will improve my employability stateside?

I’m thinking about qualifications, experience or just things I could be reading to learn about the job market and working in America generally

Anonymous because I'm slightly paranoid about having this much personal information linked to my username. If for some reason you want to you can get a hold of me at
Thanking you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Prepare yourself for the shock of not having much holiday time. For a full-time position at an entry level job, two weeks vacation in the USA is pretty normal.

Have all your visas / working papers in order.

Your description of what you are looking for is pretty generic. Are you looking for a managerial position in a non-profit? If you could describe the kind of work you are looking for, that would be helpful.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:33 PM on August 2, 2011

Your degree from a uni that most people don't recognize will likely be problematic.

You are best off trying to network with your wife's family and friends to get you started on your first gig.
posted by k8t at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

US-based prospect researcher here.

Prospect research is a good field to be in; your skills are transferable, and you might even have an advantage because you're used to researching non-US individuals (at every prospect research conference I've been to there's been a session on how to do international research). If you have any experience with research analytics, that's a bonus as well.

I'd start by subscribing to Prospect-L to get an idea of what kind of questions people in research are asking and also where jobs are being posted. Jobs are also posted on APRA, and also on the regional prospect research sites, such as NEDRA and CARA.

Memail me if you want to discuss further.
posted by mogget at 4:15 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

What part of the states are you moving to? Is it narrowed down at all ... actually, it doesn't matter so much, though some states (I'm specifically thinking of the north east) might be an easier cultural transition.

As one expat to a future-other, be prepared for the worst culture shock of your life. I've heard it said, and I believe it, that the UK->US culture shock is one of the worst possible. You may *think* it'll be easy because you already speak the language. But, it won't and you don't.
posted by devbrain at 4:23 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband just did this.

Get lots of reference letters that are SPECIFIC to your area and your skills. Get personal reference letters. That's the hardest thing we found in the whole process. Get OFFICIAL transcripts from your degree(s) and pay to get them certified in the US when you get here. Get your medical file in order - vaccines, illnesses, etc. Get a copy or five.

Hell, memail me and I'll give you our whole story. You sound a lot like my husband.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:26 PM on August 2, 2011

"I’m also not above delivering pizzas or pouring coffee for a while"

I thought this when I moved to the States. The BEST minimum wage in the country is like $8.50/hour. In some, it's as low as $2. The reality of working 10 hours and not even earning $100 was too much for me to actually go through with it.

I don't think the culture shock is "one of the worst possible" (I came from Aus, but similar) -- I think Saudi Arabia or Somalia would be a teensy bit more difficult -- but it's true that you expect things to be similar because you speak the same language (and possibly look the same). People think I'm angry or hate them because I don't smile all the time and talk about my feelings, which can be very difficult in the workplace. Also get used to spelling things incorrectly -- make sure your CV and cover letters have American spelling.
posted by retrograde at 4:52 PM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hey, the culture shock can't be TOO horrible. He married one of us. I'm assuming that the OP has at least been to the States before, no?

And as a Yank who lived in the UK off and on for two years, the culture shock was definitely there, but not as difficult as saying moving to Asia or a more strictly regulated culture.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2011

Also get used to spelling things incorrectly -- make sure your CV and cover letters have American spelling.

This. After a while you'll probably find yourself shifting fairly easily between US spelling for work and UK spelling for emails home etc; but the initial transition to US spelling is a tough one.

(Also the bizarre "trailing punctuation goes inside the quotation marks" rule breaks my mind; but it's easier to get away with than spelling color with a u.)

I didn't find the UK->US culture shock too bad. It helps a lot, I think, if you embrace the new culture rather than clinging to the old. There are "British shops" that cater to the expat community by selling Hob-Nobs and Branston pickle at horrendous prices; but why bother when there's so much exciting new stuff to explore in the supermarket aisles?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:35 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

make sure your CV....

Resume! Resume! You don't even have to bother with the accent.
posted by Monday at 5:42 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I’m pretty smart (or at least able to give that impression), inquisitive and quick to learn but also very easily bored.

That's me and I'm in the same field, also with a Masters from a good program, office experience, etc. I'm American myself, and have been more or less out of luck for my extended job search, and so have most of my friends. Honestly, if your main goal is to seek employment to pay the bills, I would start with creating automated email notifications in and and go with a wide search criteria. The International Relations/Affairs/Development fields have taken a huge beating from this economy.
posted by msk1985 at 9:48 PM on August 2, 2011

I have lots off topic to say about your situation in general, please feel free to mail me. I did the same thing almost eight years ago, and my wife and I are coming back to the UK (which I honestly don't love) next year with our baby. It might tell you something that my wife calls it "escaping".

You are right and smart to start reading any journals or blogs you can find for your field, and getting used to the language people use. I don't know your field, but unless it's very specific, confidence and an appropriate approach to applications will do so much more than any extra training, especially anything available outside the US. Get used to US style resumes and cover letters obviously (and have your wife read for tone and phrasing, not just spelling) but also never be self-deprecating or use understatement in a work context, it does not read as confidence the way it can do in the UK.

I agree with just about all the little cultural things mentioned, and I'll add one - you may have to explain to people that you finished your degree and that it is a full, real, actual, degree, because BAs and BSs here take four years plus. There is a two year degree here, and it's an Associate's degree, which is "less" than a Bachelor's.

I also agree that you should try hard to stay out of minimum wage jobs, the implications of having (almost always) no benefits or rights are pretty broad, and you'll have to think about how to deal with that time on your resume when you apply for a job you really want.

Generally you'll probably be almost as fine as any average USian, which is to say, not very! Again, please feel free to send me a message.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:03 PM on August 2, 2011

I've made the opposite move in the past. I also used to work with foreigners getting professional jobs in the US a lot. A few things to keep in mind - sorry (in advance) to be depressing.

- Your degree will be a problem: many US employers don't understand the UK system, and will be loath to accept a 3-year UK degree or (if this is you) a UK 1-year taught masters as an equivalent to US 4- or 2-year qualifications. This is despite the fact that your education no doubt compares very well to most US equivalents.

- International Relations is a tough, competitive subject in the UK. In the US, it is (often, not always) a soft option for people planning to go on to law or business school or planning a part-time job "saving the world". You need to beef up the education section on your RESUME to emphasise 'hard skills' learned in your degree, playing up statistics and foreign language skills if you have them. Not only does this show the degree to be a good one, it also shows that you've got what employers in the US look for in a humanities grad - the ability to show up on time and do routine tasks accurately. You may want to consider listing your A-levels in the education section, with the clarification that they are roughly equivalent to AP exams.

- A background in what the UK calls the 'charity sector', especially after a humanities degree in a nebulous subject, is going to be a tough sell in the US. A UK employer will see you (accurately, I might add) as a person who did a tough subject at a good university and then went on to a sought-after job in a competitive field. A US employer is likely to read you (incorrectly) as somone who did an easy degree in an ill-defined subject that attracts idealists, and then went on to an idealist hobby-job and a too-short decorative masters instead of law or business school. You will need to put a lot of numbers and specifics on your US resume to prove you've actually been doing work and learning things. Any reports you've written, fundraising successes, budget responsibilities, etc. need to go on there - otherwise people will picture party-planning and data-entry while you wait for a chance to save the world.

- Do interview practice and a resume review - with a good "professional coach" if you can afford it - the apologetic/ self-depricating way Brits present themselves will not work in the US.

- Remember that many US employers view "Europeans" as lazy and over-demanding. Be prepared to emphasise in interviews that you will not expect more than 10 days of vacation or ask for special benefits. Expect to be grilled about the NHS: if an employer offers health insurence they may expect that you will overuse/abuse it because you are used to "getting everything for free." If they don't, they may expect that you will take frequent sick days since you are "used to going straight to the doctor at the drop of a hat."

- DON'T take that minimum wage job unless you are really in financial dire straits. Seeing it as the first US job on your resume will cement the impression that, while your degrees and job had value in the "soft, European" system back at home, they are only good for making coffee in the "tougher" US.

Just to be clear - I think all of the above is crap, but it's all crap I've heard form actual employers. In my opinion, having lived in both places, the average UK degree is more valuable than the US equivalent.
posted by Wylla at 6:19 AM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of people in the US will assume you're a genius if you have a British accent. You can reinforce it by using British spelling by convenient accident, talking about lifts and tea a lot, and in general maintaining an aristocratic demeanor. This may work particularly well when courting wealthy donors.

(You may think I'm joking, but I swear I know people who have built entire careers on these principles.)
posted by miyabo at 11:05 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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