Endless Possibilities for Professional Development
A few months after moving to Doha, I came across the term “trailing spouse”. Though I have travelled a lot in my personal and professional life, I was never an expat before moving to Doha, and the concept of trailing spouses was rather alien to me.
It’s not just personal; I am a professional woman and, while I might have temporarily put my career on hold as many wives and mothers do, I don’t like to think of myself as a "ball and chain". More importantly, though trailing spouses by definition follow their other half, they have their own skills and experience that should not be overlooked.
The truth is that Doha is a transient city for most expats. Employment contracts usually (though not always) come with an end date, so families move to Qatar knowing that they will spend a limited time here. That leaves trailing spouses a small window to job hunt and then build a professional position, which they may not want to do if they know they have to leave in a year or two.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Luckily, Doha is a sea of professional development opportunities. You may not necessarily want a full-time job here, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t keep your skills up-to-date, or even add new ones to your CV.
Learn a new language
If you have a few hours to spare, you could invest them in learning a new language. Though the official business language in Doha is English, Arabic is an advantage to anyone looking for a job in the Middle East. If you are not currently looking for a job but you plan to go back to work in the future, using your career gap in Doha to learn a new language will look great on your CV. Whichever way you look at it, you have nothing to lose. Arabic is the obvious choice, but it doesn’t have to be. Doha is a truly diverse city and a great place to learn about and embrace different cultures.
Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center, commonly known as FANAR Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, offers interactive Arabic courses divided into five levels, from a basic introduction to advanced lessons for proficient speakers. Details, fees and application forms can be requested at FANAR. The Translation and Interpreting Institute Language Center (part of Hamad bin Khalifa University) also offers Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish and Portuguese courses, and it expects to add German and Italian to its curriculum in 2017. Details are available online at tii.qa.
If you are on a budget, ask friends and acquaintances, and check the Facebook pages for the many residential compounds in Doha. It’s quite likely that other expats may want to learn your mother tongue and would be interested in swapping lessons. It may not be as professional as a certified course, but it will probably be as effective if you put enough effort into it.
Fill the career gap
If you have the time and the budget, Education City is a goldmine of professional development courses. Most universities organise regular workshops and courses that are open to the community. Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar runs an extensive community education programme, with courses that cover a broad range of subjects. Georgetown University in Qatar also runs an executive and professional education programme that includes a course on Leadership and Management in the Gulf.
There are also myriad courses, as well as certification and training programmes, that are available online. Gulftalent.com dedicates a large portion of its website to listing online and offline professional courses by field. While taking a course in the comfort of your living room has its obvious advantages, be aware of the importance of socialising and networking.
Volunteering is also a great way of investing your time in Doha. Some organisations run specific volunteer programmes for trailing spouses, but regardless, there is no harm in enquiring with your partner’s HR department. They may be willing to assign you a small project in line with your skills and experience. Alternatively, there are numerous charities and not-for-profit associations in Doha that rely on volunteer work and that offer great opportunities for personal and professional development. Groups such as Qatar Professional Women’s Network and How Women Work are great organisations to start with. There are also numerous welfare charities, such as Paws Rescue Qatar and Reach Out to Asia which are constantly on the lookout for new volunteers. You can start by committing to small tasks (such as walking a dog once a week) or reach out to more than one association to diversify your involvement. Volunteering is a great way to keep busy, make new contacts and fill that time gap in your CV or LinkedIn profile. If you leave Doha or find a job here, make sure you ask the company, charity or association you are helping to write a reference letter for you. It will make a difference later on in your professional life.
Create a network of contacts
Whether you are new to Qatar or simply need to get out of the house and have a conversation about something other than your children and pets, creating a network of contacts is a simple, free and effective starting point. There are some truly remarkable people in Doha with lots of advice and experience to share. Most positions will not be advertised online in Doha so if you are looking for a job you have more chances of finding one through networking than by uploading your CV to an online recruitment platform. “Expanding your contacts can open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement, personal growth or simply new knowledge,” said Ben Ewbank, operating director at Michael Page Middle East. “Active networking helps to keep you ahead of the rest when opportunities such as job openings arise and increases your likelihood of receiving introductions to potentially relevant people or even a referral.”
The Qatar Professional Women’s Network organises free monthly networking meetings that are a great way to make new professional contacts. “QPWN’s mission is to promote and facilitate the professional development and advancement of women in Qatar. Networking and facilitating cross-cultural sharing among our members is a key step towards achieving that mission,” said Emma Morrell, QPWN events leader. “We organise monthly networking meetings that are open to all women, whether they are currently working or not, and regardless of whether they are QPWN members. We usually assign a topic to the meeting and invite one or more speakers to share their expertise with the attendees, which will give them something to talk about."
- Keep up with the news and stay in touch with old professional connections. This may sound like stating the obvious, but as expats we sometimes tend to live in a bubble. Stay abreast of worldwide news, and use platforms such as LinkedIn to keep up with developments and remain in touch with colleagues in your professional field.
- Turn a passion into a profession. If hitting the gym is your favourite pastime, for example, you could consider taking a personal training or fitness instructor course from the International Fitness Alliance in Doha. Courses start from QR 1300. If you take the courses intending to starting a career in fitness in Doha—by the way, this is a very ripe industry that offers plenty of job opportunities—bear in mind that more than one course or certification may be required and that you will need to keep those up-to-date.
- Whether or not you are actively looking for a job, keep your CV tidy and up-to-date: you never know when you will need it. Also, if you attend social gatherings and networking events, do bring a hard copy of your CV with you; you would be surprised by how frequently people will ask you for one! Michael Page provides a very useful guide on writing a CV for the Middle East on the career centre section of their website. If you are looking for CV writing support that includes, among other things, the option of creating an Arabic version of your CV (prices start at USD 99), then check out Bayt.com.