One good thing about working for a major oil and gas company is they have offices all over the world. Occasionally, there are opportunities for expat assignments if you have the right skills and experience for the job. Shortly after my husband and I were hired by a major oil and gas company, we learned about their expat programs and we knew it was something we wanted to do. I had done very little travel outside of the US (and all of it was after college), and my husband and I had both lived in one state our whole lives, so we were ready to go out and explore the world.
At the time we were hired, our company offered a pretty cool opportunity for early career professionals. If you had at least two years experience, you could apply for a one year international placement. This sounded ideal for us, we could live internationally while we were young, childless, and mobile, and have the opportunity to travel and experience a new country and culture. Even better, it wasn’t a long-term commitment, so if we didn’t enjoy living abroad it was only for one year and then we’d come back to our previous job. Obviously, this program was popular and to get selected you had to be a top performer and also your skills and expertise had to match with up with an available position.
Since we had this goal in mind from day one, my husband and I sought to be the best at our jobs so we could be selected. We would tell anyone who would listen that we were interested, so that no opportunities would pass us by. We had an early career development manager who we would meet with every quarter or so and when we met with him we always would discuss our interest in the program. We were advised that it would be best to apply after we’d had at least one to two years experience in our final placements (following 1.5 years of rotational assignments).
A couple of years into our final placements my husband and I had both been receiving top performance ratings. We were ready to apply for the international program and were hopeful that we had a good chance to be selected. Unfortunately, around that same time the oil and gas prices collapsed. As a result, our company started cutting costs, and one of the first things to be cut was the international rotation program. We were so close we could almost taste it, and then the opportunity was gone.
Our company started talking about the possibility of layoffs and many experienced workers started looking for new opportunities. Another engineering couple we knew, each with about five more years experience than us, were recruited to work for another company in Australia. Australia’s energy industry was booming at the time due to untapped abundance of natural resources. There weren’t enough skilled workers in Australia, so they were bringing in expats. Shortly after our friends moved to Australia, our former early career development manager followed. Before he quit our company he asked my husband and I if we were still interested in working internationally. We said yes, although it seemed unlikely.
A few months after our former manager left he contacted us to say there were jobs available in his team in Australia that would be good fits for us, and would we want to apply? All of a sudden our dream to be expats had the chance to become real, but were we really ready to take a huge leap and move abroad?
We decided to go ahead and apply, we weren’t committing to anything yet, so let’s just see if we even get the jobs first. We had to do video conference interviews because our interviewers were in Australia. We also had to take the time zone difference into consideration. We interviewed from home in the evening, which was the morning the next day for our interviewers in Australia. I wore my suit jacket and sat in front of my computer screen at home for the interview, this was so much different from any of my previous interviews!
My interview went really well. This interview was more informal, mostly talking through my resume and explaining highlights of my work experience and using a few big projects to elaborate on my experience and skills. There were also a few behavioral questions, but they seemed easier to answer than they had when I was in college and interviewing for the first time, because now I was able to use my work experience over the past few years and my interactions with co-workers as examples to answer the questions.
I was excited about the job I was interviewing for too. It was for a reservoir engineering position, which would be a big change from my current role as a plant engineer, but I was a change I wanted. I was ready to be office based after more than three years mostly working in the field and plants. The role was offered as a junior reservoir engineer and I would be working directly with a more experienced senior reservoir engineer, which I was excited about since my only previous experience in reservoir engineering was my three-month rotation in my first year.
My husband’s interview went well too. He would be doing similar work to his current role, which he was already gaining expertise in, so he would be starting out in a higher level position due to his experience.
We were offered a four-year contract on local (Australian) terms, with housing paid for, flights home included once per year, and our household items would be shipped. Since we were new hires to the company they were hiring us as “Australian locals” instead of expats from the US to save money. We weren’t offered the full expat package that we would have gotten if we moved internationally with our current company (which usually also includes vehicle, cost of living adjustments, tax equalization, and several other additional benefits), but we were being offered housing which was a huge cost savings. Now, it was time to be honest with ourselves and make a big decision.
We had grown to really respect and admire the company we worked for. They had treated us well in the three and a half years we had worked there, and until the Australia offer came in, we had fully planned on working for that company for the rest of our careers. The only reason we even considered this opportunity with a different company was because it was something that our current company couldn’t offer us. It was a once in a lifetime chance to work internationally in an exciting city, and to get that opportunity before we had children, and so early in our careers was pretty exciting.
Besides the loyalty to our company weighing on our decision, we also had to take into consideration that we owned our home that we’d bought at the peak of the market. To sell now would mean taking a loss. And in the last year, we both had finally upgraded our old college cars to new vehicles that we thought would serve us into our years of starting a family and beyond. We’d have to sell our less than one year old vehicles for a huge loss.
Most importantly, our families weighed on our decision. We were really close with both our families and living just two and a half hours away had often seemed too far. We couldn’t imagine living on the other side of the world from them! I wouldn’t be able to just pick up the phone and call my mom for recipe help as I cooked dinner, or call my sister to vent after a bad day at work, because it’d be the middle of the night for them. I couldn’t be by their side quickly in an emergency, we’d be at least an 18 hour flight away. And we’d probably miss some big life events; we wouldn’t be able to come back for every wedding, birth and graduation. Were we willing and ready to possibly miss out on so much?
So once again we tried to make our decision the engineering way – we made a spreadsheet. We compared salaries, bonuses, benefits, cost of living, taxes, and also loss due to selling house, furniture, and vehicles. But this time the numbers were leaning towards staying. It was also dependent on the exchange rate, which at that time wasn’t in our favor.
But we wanted this opportunity for so long and didn’t know when or if another chance would come along. My husband and I went for a long walk together every evening for two weeks to take away distractions and just talk about the decision. In the end, we threw caution to the wind, took a risk, and accepted the jobs in Australia.
We made the decision without telling any of our family or coworkers until after we’d already accepted. Our families were shocked, but extremely supportive. They were all excited to have the opportunity to visit us in Australia. Similar to how I felt quitting my first job, I was nervous to tell my supervisor I was quitting because he had been so supportive of me and my career. I told him I wanted a meeting because I had something personal to discuss, so he suggested we meet at Starbucks (since his office wasn’t at the plant like mine was), but I had already drank three cups of coffee at home that morning, so I didn’t order anything. Looking back I can see how he got the wrong idea – I had something “personal” to discuss and wasn’t drinking coffee, and he knows I am normally a coffee drinker. When I told him the news that we had accepted jobs in Australia, the first thing he said, “Wow, I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant and wanted to discuss part-time work options.” Haha, I definitely set myself up for that one.
Our co-workers, supervisors and managers were all very supportive of our choice. They knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t get with our company and possibly ever, so they were happy for us. It was a great feeling knowing we didn’t burn any bridges by leaving a job we really loved. We planned our final day at our current jobs to be a month before our start date in Australia, so we could spend time with our families before we moved to Australia.
Have you ever wanted to work internationally? Would you rather have the opportunity early in your career too?
My next post will be about leaving everything behind and starting again in a new country.