Posted On 16th April 2011

One of my grandparents was Irish and he came to England, as many of his countrymen did, to work.  That was in the early part of the last century and what few skills he had I am sure he just explained at a factory gate or on a building site.  Forking out 4s 8d for a professionally written and typed CV would have been a waste of warm beer.

Emigration has been a recurring theme in Irish life.  It was a major social phenomenon, and a cause of much distress, up until the 1960s.  It stopped for while, returned in the 1980s when the economy was in turmoil again, actually went into reverse during the “Celtic Tiger” when Ireland started importing labour from Eastern Europe, and now, alas is back in a very big way.

The Irish Government is actually banking on 40,000 of its citizens leaving next year.  The jobs market they find will be very different from the one Jim Welsh entered 90 years ago.  Most of those emigrants will have loads of skills, certificates, educational and professional qualifications, work histories and other things to say.

The trouble is all of them would have been earned and gathered in one very particular context.  Recruiting officers in Canada, Australia, and even the UK will struggle to understand a lot of it.  Companies that are household names in Ireland will be unknown on the other side of the world.  The school systems are different, even much of university education too.  The relevance to some bored and often not particularly diligent HR officer of a life lived somewhere else will not be obvious and could be very easily discarded.  This is part of the reason why immigrants so often have to trade down their careers when they move.

There is clearly a lesson here for emigrants.  Get ready to explain your skills, both in a CV, in an interview and in other ways that a total stranger can understand.  I don’t think everyone is capable of that degree of detachment from their own culture and circumstances, so find someone that is.

This lesson is, however, too powerful to be left just for emigrants.  We are all trying to introduce ourselves to other cultures, companies, and people in other industries who don’t know what we’ve done and who we are.  We use jargon without knowing it and assume knowledge that can’t possibly be there.  We waste chances because of this blindness.

So stop assuming.

David Welsh

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