How to reinvent yourself in Switzerland When professional aspirations are hard to realize

Soon after moving to Switzerland, Bern-based Gretel Gambarelli, with Italian roots and an international career in her backpack, realized that her professional aspirations were hard to realize. Here she explains how she helped herself out of a long frustrating period, by starting something completely different. Something that can help other expat women as well.

It has been a year or more since you moved to Switzerland. You look back and remember what your professional expectations were, before relocating to this country with high living standards, beautiful mountains, and low unemployment rates. You compare your past expectations with today's reality and you feel discouraged.


Your partner had been offered a good job in Switzerland and you thought that you, too, could find something soon. After a few months – necessary to organize your new house, enrol your kids on good schools (very expensive, but "give me a few months and we will have two salaries instead of one"), attend a basic German (or French, or Italian) course – you felt ready to start looking for a job. You read some tips on where to look for openings, how to apply according to Swiss standards, how to network effectively. You felt positive. You sent your first ten applications and waited. Nothing happened. You did a second round and gained one interview. Wow! You were self-confident: good education, outstanding professional background, perfect English, decent knowledge of one or two Swiss languages. You thought you had performed well during the interview, but you got a "We are sorry to inform you" email. You tried again and the same happened, over and over again.


So, now you feel discouraged, definitely. You realize that your degree from a top foreign school does not make it much easier (a Swiss degree would be certainly preferable). You are coming to the conclusion that, although your experience and skill set are well matching most of the positions you are applying to, you are lacking other assets that are deemed essential by most Swiss employers. Some examples: "Perfect knowledge of one national language and good knowledge of a second one"; "Familiarity with the main actors in Switzerland in the field of interest"; "Capacity to integrate in a Swiss team"; and the like…


You start thinking "I will never get a good job here" and you may be right, unless you do something about it.


Ok, but what exactly should you do? I can possibly answer this question, because I have been there. Until just one year ago, I was a part-time unsatisfied and lonely consultant, an almost desperate housewife and mom, and a full-time job seeker. I had been sending out applications for more than 3 years; I worked with a job coach on my CV; I prepared endlessly for interviews with a German teacher; I accepted a temporary employment, wishing it would lead to a permanent job; I contacted firms and proposed them business development ideas that I could implement for them; I networked extensively, offering lunches to important people, hoping I could receive some help through their connections. Nothing worked.


Finally, I decided to do what my husband had been suggesting me for a long time: "start again, do something on your own". I lacked business experience whatsoever, I had no special talents or gifts, nor did I have a particularly creative or innovative mind. I only knew one thing: I wanted to help myself out of this situation and support other women, who were struggling like me. Hence, I created an initiative, a community, and a business. I named it Our Swiss Business (ourswissbusiness.com). Although it is still a baby, it is working and it is lending a hand to women like me… or, maybe, like you.


What is the idea behind it? Simple: we can help each other. Starting a business on your own is not easy, especially if you do not have the experience and the right connections. Being alone is definitely not helpful. So, let us team up. It is easy. First, you join the community on Our Swiss Business website by completing your profile (ourswissbusiness.com/register). Then, you can look up other members' profiles, find out who has the same interests as you have and get in touch. You may decide to simply invite someone for a coffee and see if there is potential for conceiving something together. Alternatively, you can join a brainstorming event, designed to help you come up with a solid business idea in your area of interest and, eventually, find a business partner, if you are looking for one (check upcoming events @ ourswissbusiness.com/planned-events).


What if you already have a business idea or even a running business? Right after going online, I received messages from many women, who were about to launch a business or had recently done it. I realized that these women need help, too. They have many questions, such as Swiss bureaucracy, taxes, financial planning, web-based marketing, communication strategies… you name it.

Hence, I decided I should help these people as well. I have established brainstorming events specifically tailored to women with a new business; I am building a network of trustworthy professionals, when possible women solopreneurs, who can support new entrepreneurs at special rates, when a specialist is needed; I am planning thematic workshops, whose topics are chosen by community members through surveys; and  I have recently started mastermind groups, to help women reach their objectives through mutual support and accountability. There is a lot going on, and I need help! Contact me if you are keen on devoting some time to make this initiative blossom (hello@ourswissbusiness.com).


Do you know what the best side of this experience is? I have never been so happy in my past professional life. Becoming an entrepreneur has been the best professional experience I have ever made. Now, I can thank all those, who sent me "We regret to inform you" emails. Thank you, I mean it!


What can my experience teach you?
1. Don't feel hopeless. You can regain your professional happiness. You can reinvent yourself. There are thousands of opportunities, and you simply need to find the most suitable for you.
2. Start from what you believe in, what you like doing, what you need.
3. Look for support from peers. You are not alone in this process.

I would like to leave you with my favourite quote, borrowed from The Holstee Manifesto:  "Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating".

 


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