Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jobs vs. Careers

Many of you directed your comments yesterday about my perception of being an Emasculated Form of a Man (EFM) to a grander view of self worth and employment, which is fine because that is where I was headed today anyway. The two are definitely linked; I was just highlighting my opinion that I think it might be especially hard on men given social norms and some of the data.

I also need to give a special Clairvoyancy Award to the authors of I'll take go, please! for using the actual phrasing of jobs and careers, because that is exactly what I was planning on covering today.

(A quick aside: Thank you to all who included overly generous, flattering remarks in your comments.)

The instructors at Free Studies Inside (FSI; by the way, three courses, eight or so instructors, and all have been women...OK, OK, I'll let it go now) were kind enough to us on Friday to no sugarcoat the facts. Even those of us fortunate enough to have portable careers are going to arrive at a post where we will be unemployed.

According to their November 2009 data, 2,470 (25%) EFMs worked inside the mission (which is somewhat Christian-speak for the U.S. government building at post); 1,295 (13%) worked outside the mission; and 5,978 (62%) were unemployed. Within that last group, about half would've liked to been employed.

Here is some more interesting data regarding employment that I couldn't really find a place for, so I will unceremoniously throw it at you now. The State Department breaks the world into regions: Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP), Europe (EUR), Near East Asia (NEA), South Central Asia (SCA) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA).

Childcare is so expensive in Europe and the Western Hemisphere that many EFMs opt for unemployment because it makes more sense financially, and so those to regions have higher unemployed EFM rates at 66% and 65%, respectively. Also at the bottom (66%) is East Asia Pacific due to the fact that it is illegal for EFMs to work in several of those countries including China, Thailand, and more. Near East Asia and South Central Asia both are higher than average (53% and 47% unemployed, respectively) because both of those regions have many unaccompanied tours, so unless the EFM is working at the mission/post, they aren't coming anyway. Finally, Africa with 48% unemployment gets mad props for doing the most to provide work for interested EFMs, and have a better unemployment rate to show for it.

But what kind of work are EFMs finding?

The FSI instructors admitted that most of the mission work is clerical, so unless your previous career was a secretary/office manager/or whatever the going PC term is these days, you are working a job and not necessarily furthering your career.

But there are some career paths that offer some hope, especially for those who work in the local economy, which is foreign service speak for working outside the mission/post. For example, about 400 EFMs were able to find work teaching, which represents about a third of EFMS working outside the mission.

I fall into the next largest group, which is freelancing (189 EFMs also found this kind of work), though I also overlap a bit into telecommuting (84 EFMs did this) because I'm freelancing for an American company. There are freelancing jobs in the local economies.

Lawyers and medical workers also find employment, though the problem here is that American certification does not always transfer to the post.

Throw in some military jobs, non-government organizations and international organizations that pretty much is all that is available in the local economies.

What, your career is not represented in that group?

For the creative and entrepreneurial type, you can create your own business; 141 EFMs took this route last year. Lest we forget, there were 9,743 EFMs last year in all, so this apparently is a difficult undertaking. But, in my opinion (and was shared by one of the instructors), this seems to be the most secured way to have a career no matter where you are posted.

And finally, there is the volunteering option. But this comes with an often overlooked caveat. While volunteering can be personally rewarding, our instructors suggested that we should be more selective in these endeavors that Americans usually tend to be. In other words, search for volunteering options that you can use to further your career for when you return to the States.

That's right, we will be coming back to the States, and there is no reason we should be putting ourselves at competitive disadvantages because we were accommodating to our Federally-employed Significant Others (FSOs) and not looking out for our own interests, too.

I don't think this can be stressed enough. There will be tours in Washington, D.C., and many of us will not be able to afford this city on one government salary. Or perhaps after doing a few tours, your family decides to either take a break or leave the foreign service life altogether. Then what? You just spent the past 10 years or whatever making yourself less marketable.

It is imperative upon us to keep our own career goals on task because we will not be getting much, if any, help from anyone else.

That ends this rant, and as a reward for your patience, I'll update the Official Unofficial Chart of Acronyms in the coming days to cover all of the new gems I picked up from my FSI courses.


  1. Just wanted to leave you a courtesy link and let you know that I mentioned you guys on my blog today:


    Also, I've heard that it can be very difficult for law and medical types sometimes to find employment overseas because it's sometimes difficult to get work permits there, etc., or it's not safe or recommended that you work in the local environment.

    I know of doctors, nurses, and lawyers overseas who are traveling spouses and who are not employed. :(

  2. I'm a teacher and I'm currently not employed, partly due to choice and partly do to the demand and low pay. it's like they told us at the beginning of the "spouse orientation" you will need to reinvent yourself over and over and over....

    Good luck!

  3. It's about time. I've been expecting that special Clairvoyancy Award for days....

  4. I lucked out in Iceland and became the first EFM to obtain a work permit (ever). It was a grueling process, but worth it (for me) in the end. The irony is that if we had not been diplomats, I would not have worked there. Very, very strict working conditions, and U.S. citizens (expats living there temporarily) could not just apply for a job. Well, could apply, would likely not be eligible, though without an Icelandic connection (read: spouse).

    I realize it is not always the case, but I was very, very glad to be an EFM at that point. The HR person at the Embassy was incredible, and I had a great half year teaching. Which, even though it may not be your goal, having a teaching certificate in hand is a wonderful idea.

    BTW, put a link to you on our site, hope you don't mind.

  5. My husband's been hinting that he would love it if we could be a two income family again. I wonder how that will work in places like India or EAP. It'll be an interesting 20 years for me as I figure it out.

  6. Just a quick courtesy note to tell you that I mentioned you today:


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  8. Hi David,

    I haven't done my research yet and the answer may be obvious but why is it illegal for EFMs to work in places such as those found in East Asia Pacific?


  9. Nicole, I wish I had an answer for that, but alas, I don't recall the FSI instructors going into any details. They might have alluded to China being communist, but that could just be my own interpretation of what I heard. One of the FSI instructors did say, however, that in at least one case, she knew of a spouse who ran a business out of a building in China that they were renting out for that business. So while it is illegal, some are able to get away with it because either the Chinese government was looking the other way, or just wasn't looking.

  10. David- Can I interview you? I love your candidness about this problem. I am an EFM myself, currently posted in Manila. My focus is on creating passion-based businesses for expats choosing a this non-conventional lifestyle.

    I think I could learn a lot from your perspective. Can I get 30 minutes of your time? I can call you via our VOIP line. We are 12 hours ahead of DC, so the beginning or end of day works best. Maybe 8 or 9 AM or PM?

    If you can see my email, please contact me!

  11. Since you mentioned Livelines in the past and were curious about working in China, you may want to do a search of the archives. Recent discussions may not include it, but I know I received valuable information in the past. You might just try searching work and China. Perhaps you could find contacts there who might be able to explain the current situation?

    Thought that might be of some assistance to you.