Career transition advice in context of move to .be, .nl, .de, or .fi?
August 7, 2013 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Hello folks. I am looking for a sense of some appropriate approaches to preparing for a move and likely related career transition. Referrals to career counselors with experience in this area in one of our likely host countries are appreciated as well. Context below.

My spouse is starting a job hunt in January, and we have plans to emigrate. We are both 34, and currently employed American citizens.

He is a software engineer with strong people skills who is finishing his Masters in computer science consulting, primarily working on big data and web-related projects, and appears very likely to have success finding a position.

He is a unilingual anglophone. I have studied several languages, and have limited working proficiency in French (with a strong Québec accent) and Spanish (I have forgotten how to speak it, but could pick it up again easily, as I studied it for six years). I have taken an introduction to German and am beginning to learn Dutch, but am not really sure what to do because I do not yet know where we will land and what I can do when I get there.

Our contacts are clustered in Belgium, Germany, and Finland. We are also considering the DAFT program in the Netherlands; if need be, he could start up his own small consulting operation.

We are likely to apply for citizenship after the statutory five years (or equivalent; the time period tends to be similar between the countries we are considering).

I am an academic administrator with experience as an administrative assistant, copyeditor, event organizer, editor, and project manager/web media producer (with QA experience). I already have a Masters degree in Publishing and Writing, and will soon finish a certificate program in Financial Management for Nonprofits. My tech skills are somewhat out of date; I worked on digital ancillaries (primarily learning management system content and webpages) for two academic publishers and a small specialist firm, but have been doing administrative work since 2008. The sorts of technical projects I used to work on are now often outsourced to contractors in India. I've spent my life in academia, whether I've been the child of academics, in school myself, working at a college or university, or working in the college division at an educational publisher.

I am not sure how to handle the likely career transition (as I don't yet have the language skills for most academic support positions in any of our our probable host countries). I've thought of trying to start up a freelance copyediting business emphasizing my experience working across cultures both at my current job and in my volunteer work, but that is challenging even in the US. EFL teachers are not in demand in any of our likely host countries as most people speak excellent English.

I am currently enrolled in an undergraduate night class in starting and managing businesses for the fall through the continuing education program at local university, with the thought that it would be applicable to any consulting or freelancing venture I might need to start. But I'm not sure if this is what I should be doing. My suspicion is that my strengths-- organizing, writing, editing, and administrative support--are likely not applicable in an environment where my limited language skills are a liability.

I tremendously enjoyed my time working in technology, and organize technologically related events now, but am not sure whether I have the cognitive qualities to excel as a programmer. I find myself eyeing this program, which I found in an earlier thread about novice programmers here on Metafilter:

The university which offers the business course I am presently enrolled in also offers courses (and indeed, an entire program) in project management.

I suspect I am likely better suited to be an effective project manager than I would be to transition into a career as a programmer, but in Europe it is my sense that those positions require excellent language skills in multiple languages, and more experience in the field than working with (or even writing documentation for) learning management systems and simple HTML websites.

Given multiple potential trajectories, either moving back into tech or trying to capitalize on my skill in English, I need to narrow down my decision based not only on my experience and personal qualities, but based on what is most likely to situate me for success after we move.

Based on the context I have given and what you know of the job market in the countries I list above and experiences of other anglophones with limited language skills in central Europe and the Baltic states, what can you recommend?

Thank you.
posted by mijn_valieske to Work & Money (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would you be interested in Technical Writing? It sounds like you'd be great at it and there are a lot of companies that target the English-speaking market and hire native speakers who don't necessarily need to speak the language of the countries they're based in. I don't know what the job market is like at the moment but in 2005 for example I was offered a tech writer job in Amsterdam and I spoke no Dutch.

From your question, though, and reading between the lines it sounds like your biggest problem, I'm sorry to say, is lack of EU citizenship rather than lack of jobs you'd be qualified for.
posted by hazyjane at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a uni-lingual technical writer working in the Netherlands, and I work with project managers, analysts, accountants, salespeople, marketing people, event planners, etc. who don't speak Dutch. You don't need to be fluent in multiple languages to qualify for high-skill jobs here. Multilingualism is more important for jobs like customer service rep, call center staff, etc.

The job market for non-Dutch speakers is obviously more limited than for Dutch speakers, but I've applied to many jobs here and have never been turned down because I only speak English, even from companies with very Dutch-heavy working environments.

There is a chance that Dutch universities hire non-Dutch speakers for academic support positions, simply because all of the big Dutch schools have classes in English. So don't write that option off.

Unfortunately, the market for freelance copywriters and editors in the Netherlands is not great. From what I understand, most freelancers have to combine those services with others: translation, technical writing, information architecture, etc.

The job market for technical writers here is limited, but it exists. This isn't a great time to look for jobs because everything slows down during the summer holiday period; hiring tends to pick back up in the fall.

The fact that you're a native English speaker is a plus in the Netherlands. Companies that need technical writers, copywriters, and editors do tend to favor native speakers.

In my experience in the software industry, many companies need very little, if any, text written in Dutch. It's a small country, so even small tech companies may have customers all over the world.

As hazyjane said, your lack of EU citizenship will always be a hurdle. Every country handles this differently. Do you know about the knowledge migrant programme in the Netherlands? I wrote about it here.

Speaking as an expat, I encourage you to keep your minds open to the idea of moving more than once. There are significant cultural differences among the countries you've listed here, and you may not want to end up as citizens of the first one you land in.
posted by neushoorn at 4:27 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you hazyjane and neushoorn!

I will investigate the knowledge migrant programme. I could also potentially seek contracting work if I start my own contracting business under DAFT, I imagine. Either would work for my spouse, although I imagine he would be happy to learn of the knowledge migrant programme.

I had considered Technical Writing but am not sure what qualifications are needed or how to break into the field; I'll do some internet research. My kneejerk response is to try and find a class, but I am not sure if that is productive. I know one technical writer, in Montréal, who got a degree in the field and then went right into the same job she is in now many years later. My sense is that the process usually isn't so straightforward.

I hope there are jobs in the south if we end up in .nl; my sense from our friends who live nearby and who did live there (one of whom is of Dutch citizenship and Turkish heritage, so he has an especially tempered view of the experience) is that it is far more pleasant than living in the politically conservative and tightly packed north. Also, Amsterdam sounds very expensive, ulp.

We're definitely open to moving and not sure where we will end up applying for citizenship; we're not sure where we want to end up permanently yet. Part of the reason we're considering such a range of areas is that we'll need to go where we can network into work opportunities; part of it is also that we need to figure out how we want to live. But I did want to stress that this isn't just a lark; coming to terms with the idea that this is a permanent transition, painful as it is, is part of the process. Anywhere we stay or settle, whether it would be where we are now, or in Québec, or in Europe, will have its tradeoffs, and I'm trying to keep that in mind.

But this makes me much less nervous about finding a niche than I was, and I am thankful.
posted by mijn_valieske at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2013

I hope there are jobs in the south if we end up in .nl

The south is lovely, and there are jobs there! For example, Philips' Research branch has a huge presence in Eindhoven, and I know for a fact that they hire non-Dutch speakers. Also, there are strong university environments in Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Maastricht.

Also, Amsterdam sounds very expensive, ulp.

Cost of living is high all over the Netherlands. But you're right, rents/mortgages in Amsterdam are crazy. If you end up working there, I recommend looking at nearby cities for housing.
posted by neushoorn at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2013

« Older What's "in" for 6th-8th graders this year?   |   Applying to some kind of math grad program with no... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.