Career in your suitcase - interview with the authors!


Early in May I wrote about the GloLo career, with its many challenges and opportunities, and referred to a helpful resource on the subject, a book called Career in Your Suitcase. This month I was lucky enough to have an interview with the book authors Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath-Smith. Both authors have been toting their careers around the globe. Here’s what they have to say about having a portable career …

Career in Your Suitcase has been described as the expat career bible to help “create a career that moves with you, wherever you are in the world”. A “portable career” sounds like something that would be interesting for multicultural couples. Please tell us more about the concept of a portable career.

JP: In a nutshell, a “portable career” is meaningful work that not only moves with you when you relocate but continues to grow over time. Some careers are marvellously portable, such as website development, artistic pursuits, teaching, coaching and writing. Others require a little tweaking.

CR-S: Alongside its portability from location to location, a portable career is also flexible. It can morph into different forms as personal circumstances and changing economic conditions require. In today’s globalised world, more and more people are making regional, national and international moves for a variety of reasons, including work. Some people want a portable career so that they can choose where to live. Some people want the flexibility to continue their career no matter where they live.

You both have experience living and working internationally. Can you describe your own portable careers.

JP: One fundamental of a career in a suitcase is that it is based on what you most love to do. I most love to write, so my shifting portfolio of portable careers (a career in a suitcase has to be flexible too) has included journalism, teaching, writing, writing copy and CVs and being an author and blogger. For the last decade, I have focused on helping expat writers to write and publish books and since 2008 I have built Summertime Publishing, an imprint for my authors. Currently, we have 75 books in print.

CR-S: In 2005 I made an international move from Canada to the Netherlands, seeing it as the ultimate challenge to apply the career development principles I have been teaching others since 1997 as a self-employed career consultant. Within two years, I had achieved my first goal and was again delivering career development training, only this time in Dutch! Since then I have continued to evolve my career into something that continues to engage my Canadian network, incorporates my Dutch network, and is expanding to a worldwide network.

Is there a skill set or personality type that helps people adapt better to a portable career? Do you need to be good with IT and social media, for example, or do you need to be someone who enjoys working alone?

JP: Funnily enough, research shows that those people cut out for the expat life are perfect portable careerists. So, above all you need to be self-motivated, flexible, proactive and positive. Of course, these days, sustaining and growing a business has never been easier thanks to social media and the Internet.

CR-S: In the 90’s, the Internet and email arrived and some people thought it wasn’t necessary. They really had to play catch-up when they realised that these new ways of sharing information and communicating with each other had become mainstream communication tools. I believe the same is happening with social media. A person who can embrace change and uncertainty and find their way through what seems to be a bit chaotic will do well with a portable career.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a portable career?

JP: The advantage is that you can keep reinventing yourself with every move. If something has not worked so well, you can ditch that idea and try something new. The disadvantage is that, I believe, a local network is vital to the happiness of the extrovert. When you move on to a new location, you lose your local support group, cheerleaders and clients and that hurts.

CR-S: Like Jo says, a key advantage is that you can keep morphing and adapting your career as locations change and you learn and change too. Learning the skills to develop and sustain a portable career will help you land on (and find) your feet again and again. It helps you to become resilient and self-reliant. I have a hard time thinking of disadvantages associated with a portable career!

Readers often ask me if men or women are better at moving internationally and being the so-called ‘love immigrant’. Do you see a gender difference with portable careers – do men or women find an easier path?

JP: Tough one. Not thought of it in those terms, Wendy. I think women are more prepared to have a fluctuating degree of success and to grow slowly, while men have higher expectations.

CR-S: I agree with Jo. Women are more often willing to be the ones to follow another’s career. There’s also more often a willingness to shoulder complete responsibility for the financial affairs of the family from the male half. So while there are definitely some gender differences, I think personality and attitude play bigger roles in how ‘easy’ the path is.

Can you tell us a bit about the practical side of a portable career –things like taxes and pension funds.

JP: Well, I like to ensure I do not do anything illegal but despite my best intentions I have had some hairy moments. I currently live in the Netherlands and my business is registered here and I pay tax and VAT. It’s all in Dutch and so it costs me a fortune for additional help because I can’t understand the documents.

CR-S: Getting the business set up right from the beginning is essential so that you don’t end up in trouble later on. Get the expert advice you will need early and don’t rely on yourself to be able to figure out the complex tax systems in another country (and in another language). Legalese is difficult enough in your mother tongue!

Finally, what is the secret to success for a portable career?

JP: I believe my secret is twofold: I do something I love, which means I am always happy to start again in a new place; my husband has the lead career and has fully supported me in all my endeavours.

CR-S: My success has come from building connections and partnerships where I am now and being flexible to follow the leads where they have taken me. Knowing what brings me joy and what kind of difference I want to make in the world provide the GPS that keeps me on course while navigating the many changes and fluctuations I experience.

Thank you to Jo and Colleen for sharing their experience and insight.

Good luck, GloLo careerists, with the career in your suitcase!

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