Working as a Career Professional in a Difficult Country

Working as a career professional in a difficult country, young woman holds up a peace sign during a public demonstration/protest

No two countries present the same opportunities or challenges for their citizens. Some are advanced in terms of infrastructure, public access to information, and societal welfare systems. Other countries do little to create an environment that supports economic prosperity and social stability. Working as a career professional in one of the latter countries adds an extra layer of challenge to the work we do. Let me describe what it’s like to work as a career professional in a difficult country.

What is a difficult country?

I define a country as “difficult” where there is no stability and no safety, for several reasons. The reasons are things such as war, economic collapse, electricity/medicine/petrol shortages, constant public unrest, violent riots, and rampant crime of all varieties. Online sources will list these reasons — and many more — in their classification of a country as unstable or difficult. As a disclaimer, my article reflects my own experience as a career practitioner who has lived and worked in a difficult country since 1992. Here’s what I’ve learned in such an environment:

1) You empathize with clients a little more

When you live in a difficult country for a long time, you connect immediately with the pain of your clients. The external circumstances affecting them are also affecting you daily. In some countries, it takes trips to 64 different pharmacies to find medicine or formula for a baby, two to four hours to fill a car with petrol, and massive organization to structure life around electricity cuts. Clients struggle with a local currency that is hyper-devaluated. You find yourself spending “unproductive” working time trying to figure things out for yourself and your family, simply for the sake of survival. You also have to think of ways to maintain your high service delivery standards while navigating these challenges.

2) You notice a pattern

During the initial discovery call with potential clients, you quickly notice that most of their goals revolve around the same desire: to find a job outside the country. The reasons for this desire are obvious; in difficult and unstable countries investments are scarce, companies go bankrupt, multinationals decide to relocate elsewhere, and half the population — or more — is unemployed. With fewer chances for finding employment, clients have no choice but to look abroad for opportunities. If you are interested in knowing more about how you can support international job seekers, you can read my previous article on the topic. This does not mean that no one wants to stay; you will also receive client inquiries from people who have no intention of leaving, but are looking for ways to be able to stay.

3) You must be exceptionally resourceful and strong

As a career professional in a difficult country, you are not only dealing with the employment goals of your clients but their  wellbeing, too. You may be fighting your own fights and possibly looking into relocation to secure access to a decent life. You need to find the strength to keep going while concurrently helping clients achieve their goals. It’s a fragile balance. Creating a solid support system by joining professional organizations like Career Professionals of Canada and finding trusted people to speak with becomes a priority. As a practitioner in a helping profession, feelings of guilt may become exacerbated as one wishes they could help every single person.

4) You are exposed to the world of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

In difficult countries, NGOs fill the gap created by the lack of publicly available government supports and programs. However, due diligence is required as many NGOs can be corrupt, only existing for self-serving purposes. You work with clients carrying intense feelings of guilt for leaving families behind, survival-guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. These debilitating feelings can occur following major explosions, shootings, or other violent situations encountered in endless wars. It is essential to be trauma informed. One must be prepared to refer clients suffering severe trauma to an appropriate professional.

5) You lack access to labour market information

With no up-to-date statistics and no information about extremely dynamic market changes, it is difficult to provide resources to clients to help them make informed decisions. As a career professional, you keep yourself informed by following both political and economic daily news to understand and predict how the future might unfold. Major events may cause an employed client to lose employment overnight, so being able to see the signs as early as possible can help clients create a contingency plan. You also create a network with local and international recruiters to further understand how labour market needs are shifting.

6) You must clarify the difference between networking and nepotism

Difficult countries are often known for high levels of corruption. Unfortunately, corruption can be deeply ingrained in a society and clients may have a misguided understanding of what networking means. They may confuse it with nepotism. This cultural mindset starts at a very young age and it is your responsibility to educate and clearly show the difference between the two concepts. This is a difficult task because, if the client believes that nepotism is the “normal” way to secure employment, it entails guiding the individual to make a drastic mind-shift.

7) You avoid using the word “resilience”

Although one can endure years of living in an unstable country, no one ever gets accustomed to the harsh living conditions. People know they lack access to the bare minimums necessary for a fulfilling life and know they deserve better. Being constantly alert is draining, being unable to plan for the next day is exhausting, and being unable to secure a better future is scary. Hearing the word “resilience” is infuriating. Telling people that if they don’t like it, they can leave, is not realistic. People have multiple complex challenges to address, including their career goals. Career professionals must be hope-centred in our approach.

8) You celebrate every single win

Although it is true that career professionals celebrate all wins no matter which country they are in, it feels a little different for the ones residing in a difficult country. Given that the dual pressures of stress and danger consume a considerable portion of daily life, one feels relieved when a client achieves, as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, even their basic physiological and safety needs in the complete absence of any governmental support.

In Summary

Being part of a helping profession in a difficult country means having to constantly look for solutions to sometimes overwhelmingly challenging dilemmas. It’s the same for other professions, too. It’s not surprising to observe a massive exodus of the population to safer places. People of all ages leave every day in quest of a better job and better living conditions. But, I also see others who are adamant in their resolve to make their lives work, in spite of what is occurring in the country.

As you can appreciate, the situation in my country adds an additional layer of challenge to my practice! But, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the many successes — large and small — that my clients experience. I remind myself daily that gratitude is an important quality to nurture. Even in difficult times and terrible situations, gratitude helps me recognize the good things around me.

Call to Action

No matter what country you live in, enrol in CPC’s Work-Life Coaching program. Present it as a gift to yourself — you won’t regret it. Your clients will thank you, too. You will learn about trauma informed care and hope-centred career development, among many other fascinating topics.

Rita Kamel is a Career & Employment Consultant and founder of DossierPro. Her mission is to empower international job seekers by providing tools and information to help them generate career opportunities. She earned the Career Development Practitioner (CDP), Certified Career Strategist (CCS), Certified Employment Strategist (CES), Certified Resume Strategist (CRS), Certified Interview Strategist (CIS), and Certified Work-Life Strategist (CWS) designations through Career Professionals of Canada. Rita holds a master’s degree in marketing and has extensive experience in recruitment. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

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Thank you!

This is an excellent and well written guide. I have saved it and sent to many of my colleagues. I would love to help in any way that I can – and this has concrete steps for me to start using now.

This outstanding article helps us in Canada to get just a tiny bit of insight. Thank you to the career professionals who manage the many challenges that happen in difficult, unstable countries.

Thank you Sharon, this means a lot! I hope more and more career professionals in difficult countries know that they are appreciated for their important work

Your article is incredible. I am amazed at how you keep a “delicate balance” as a career professional working in a difficult country when you and your clients are experiencing “overwhelmingly challenging dilemmas”. You paint a picture of gratitude for the small wins but it must be incredibly challenging and I feel for you. 

Thank you for your comment Barb! It really is. Thank you for all the support. I feel stronger knowing that there is a group of loving, supportive people I can lean on when in need.

Really informative and helpful article, Rita – thanks for sharing your experience and insights.

Thank you Neil! I appreciate your support very much!

Thank you for this article Rita. It is a reminder of the many severe challenges that so many people around the world face when it comes to seeking a better job and better living conditions.

Thank you for your comment Jude! I believe different perspectives & experiences can only bring new ideas to the table.