While this is my fourth major move as an ‘expat,’ I have to admit there are some things that may seem basic to others, but that I’m still learning with each new move. I’ve gotten much better at negotiating, getting what I deserve (and want), and making sure I’m valued for what I’m worth. Having said that, maybe it’s social conditioning or it could be biological… but I’m well aware that I, like many women, still have the tendency of being ‘too nice’ or not being aggressive enough in communicating my demands and making sure they are met. Here are a few things I’ve learned in a career of 15 years (so far):
When you get the offer…
1. Do not settle for the first offer. It’s their job to negotiate. Don’t feel guilty (ladies!) for asking for what you’re worth. Many men do it all the time.
It’s their job, remember that. They’ve done this a thousand times. Their goal is to get you to agree to the lowest possible figure (a win for their bottom line), and your goal is to get what you deserve—an amount that will make you feel valued, happy to do your job, and bring out your best.
2. If they won’t budge on salary, negotiate other benefits. Believe me, they DO have room to manoeuvre.
When I understood it was the highest they could go (I later found out why, and it’s a legitimate business reason), I decided to negotiate in other areas. Longer stay in the temporary flat. Higher budget for moving fees. Ticket to go home every month. A company phone (duh! But they’ll try to get out of this…). Better health insurance coverage. Shared payment of public transportation subscriptions. The list goes on. When you present your needs in a logical, reasonable manner, they’ll give it to you. Make sure you do your research especially when it comes to cost of living. Food might be cheap, but transport costs might burn a hole in your pocket. Do your RESEARCH!
3. Remember, the person you’re talking to is usually a trained negotiator. Don’t fall for the ‘lines’.
It makes me chuckle now, but I admit some of the lines made me feel ‘special’ but then my journalistic BS detector always kicked in, thank goodness. When they say, “We’re doing this especially for you,” rest assured you’re neither the first person, nor the only person who has heard this line. Again, it’s part of their job, so they’re not doing anything wrong. And it’s part of your job to negotiate the terms of your employment. You will, after all, commit to this job and give it your all. Right? For me, I know myself, I go way above and beyond my duties. So in the spirit of fairness, it’s okay to make them understand why they should accommodate our requests.
So you got the job… Now what?
4. It’s time to prep your move. Here’s a checklist of the things I needed to find out and (re)negotiate or confirm:
✓ What do you need to get done in your current city? Give notice to your employer, landlord, municipality, healthcare provider? Cancel internet, electricity, gas, phone lines, etc.? Do you need to tell your doctor to send a copy of your medical files to a new doctor in your new city? Do you need to talk to your bank?
✓ Are they partially or fully covering your move?
✓ How long are they giving you to find a flat? See part 1 above on negotiating contracts. Make sure you plan your search way ahead of that deadline.
✓ Are they providing you with a company phone? (For certain professions, this is a given.) Take note that in countries like France, you cant do anything significant without a local number—opening a bank account, getting real estate agents to get back to you, getting a social security number, even a gym membership. Get a temporary card from the tabac if necessary.
✓ Beware of the catch-22s. You need a local phone number to get a bank account. You need a long-term phone subscription to get a bank account. Eh??? So, some of my colleagues have gotten an online-only bank account. There are more and more choices these day, so start scouting for those.
✓ Understand the healthcare system. While the healthcare system is generally very good in countries like France, the bureaucracy of getting an actual social security card can trigger nervous breakdowns. Sigh. This is probably why people living here appreciate that glass of wine at the end of each day much more.
✓ Have a list of ALL emergency numbers. PLUS an English-speaking friend/colleague who can come to your rescue when your local language skills fail you.
✓ In terms of flat hunting, I’m flexible about whether the place is furnished or unfurnished, BUT I need the kitchen to be equipped. I normally choose a place based on access to transportation (as much as possible, only direct journeys to and from work), and a safe district. I would pay a bit more for a more secure place.
Time to start work!
5. When it comes to work, it’s simple for me:
✓ do my job well;
✓ always be willing to help colleagues and look out for the common good; make people understand that I’m there to contribute to the whole, and not to compete at the expense of others;
✓ be proactive and positive; be constructive and inclusive;
✓ always ask for help when needed and appreciate the skills colleagues share with you; likewise, be generous in sharing ideas and skills;
✓ avoid office politics at all cost;
✓ avoid getting sucked into speaking about others; avoid complaining—if there’s a real problem, raise it to the right person so it can be solved;
✓ keep sharing of personal life to a minimum unless the person is becoming a friend;
✓ avoid discussing salary, benefits.
And now, time to explore and make friends.
6. Make an effort! 🙂
There are many evening when I’d rather go home and curl up in bed, but sometimes, a drink with colleagues is necessary to start making friends. Explore the city. Invite people to do things together. Even when you don’t feel like it, make an effort to join social occasions.