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Business Ideas: Business Idea: Megan Fitzgerald

Career By Choice

Megan Fitzgerald

Megan Fitzgerald is an expat career and personal branding coach and the founder of Career By Choice. She helps expats and international development professionals worldwide use their personal brand to build a career or business that 'fits' who they are and their international lifestyle.

Expat Women's Interview with Megan

Expat Women: Megan, congratulations on your four–page feature this month in Fortune Small Business Magazine Magazine (read online on CNN Money). What is it about what you are doing that motivated a reporter to travel to Rome to meet you?

Megan: Thanks Andrea. Given the current recession in the U.S., many Americans are looking outside of their own borders for jobs and business opportunities. Fortune Small Business Magazine contacted me because I was an American who had built a successful business to support my life in another country.
Expat Women: You were one of the first 35 certified online identity strategists and one of the first 100 certified personal branding strategists by Reach. What exactly are online identity strategists and personal branding strategists?
Megan:  A certified personal branding strategist is trained to help their client clarify their unique value and communicate it in a compelling way to the right audience so that they may reach their professional or business goals. They use a collection of assessments and exercises to unearth a person's unique skills, strengths and qualities and then work with the client to create an authentic message of value. That message of value is then used to develop communication tools like resumes, CVs, bios, profiles and/or marketing materials, both on and offline. Armed with an understanding of their unique value and the right communication tools, the client is equipped to make choices and create opportunities that then allow them to leverage their own natural abilities and strengths to achieve their goals.

A certified online identity strategist is trained to help their client understand their current online reputation and strategically build a strong online presence that will support their professional or business goals. After understanding the client's baseline online identity, the strategist will work with the client to clean up any "digital dirt" or unsupportive information that may exist, clarify their target audience and their message of value. Then they will help the client select the right tools, implement the right strategies and put monitoring systems into place so that the client is set up to communicate their message of value to the right people, in the right places, and manage issues that may distract from their message of value along the way.
Expat Women: Why are personal branding and online identity important?
Megan: Personal branding is important because today there are so many qualified candidates and so many products and services on offer, that you must stand out if you want to not only survive, but thrive in the global marketplace. By understanding what you offer in a way that no one else does, you have the key to defining and realizing success on your own terms. By being able to communicate that unique value or your personal brand in a compelling way to the right audience, you can differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace and optimize your chances for being selected for the job or business opportunity that fits who you are and what you have to offer. What I love about the process of personal branding is that it is rooted in the idea that a person's success is based on who they are, not what they should be. Defining success on your own terms that is driven by your unique value gives you power and freedom to start taking action immediately towards building the professional life you want for yourself.

Online identity is important because people depend on the Internet for information to help them make choices – hiring, purchasing or otherwise. Google is not only a primary source of information, but also a universal reference check of sorts. The latest research tells us that 85% of recruiters and hiring managers use the information they find online in making candidate selection and hiring decisions. So whether you are an expat professional or an expat entrepreneur, insuring that there is information online about you, and that that information not only accurately communicates what you offer, but inspires people to choose you as a solution over others is incredibly important.
Expat Women:  What did you do before you started this business and what inspired you to change your life/business direction?
Megan: Ever since I was in high school I had a passion for exploring other countries and cultures. That passion translated into a bachelors degree in International Relations, living and studying in Paris, and a job in the U.S. designing business training programs for entrepreneurs from developing and transitional countries. I designed training programs for people from many countries across diverse industries – from a pig farmer in Belize and a cheese maker in Tanzania to a construction company owner in Sri Lanka and an advertising executive from Romania. My career in international education and training with USAID continued for many years and I returned to school get my Masters Degree in Multimedia Communications. I worked for the university career center running their employer relations programs while pursuing this degree which is what gave me my first taste of formal career development methodology. After my degree I continued to work for international organizations doing program and organizational development work, and upon moving to London I continued doing professional, organizational and business development work on a consulting basis. I have been fortunate that my work before and after my Masters degree has allowed me to work in many countries in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

But it was when my husband and I decided to move to Rome that I realized I would have some real hurdles to overcome professionally. I did not speak Italian, had no network in Italy to speak of, and I was sure that securing a work visa in Italy was not going to be easy. It was then that I decided I wanted to start my own business and career coaching seemed like a perfect fit. So I pursued several certifications in career coaching, executive coaching, and personal branding and Career By Choice was born!
Expat Women: Megan, I have been a follower of your blog for over a year now and I am always impressed with the number of people you reach out and connect to, as well as how you share information so freely on your blog. Is this part of your networking and personal branding strategy?
Megan: Blogging is an incredibly powerful tool that can serve many purposes. I use my blog to strengthen my online presence, to build my personal brand online, and to showcase my thought leadership in expat careers and entrepreneurship, personal branding and online identity and networking. But I also use it to build, and share resources with, my network.
Expat Women: Finally, what top five tips would you give to women in our audience who are struggling with the issue of loss of professional identity abroad?
Understanding your unique value – what you offer that no one else can in quite the way that you do – gives you clarity, confidence and focus.
If you are abroad due to a spouse's work assignment and you yourself are not working, remember that your value and the value you create in the world are not defined by having a job. Think of all of the ways that you do and can create value in the world and in people's lives without ever being "employed" or running a business.
Research tells us that 80% of competencies that define successful work performance are related to emotional intelligence. These are things like initiative, optimism, self–discipline and the ability to work with others – none of which are job–specific, and all of which can be improved. And in the case of an expat, your cultural intelligence is important as well. So if you are looking to develop professionally but are not working, look for resources such as Daniel Goleman's Working With Emotional Intelligence that will allow you to build those muscles that will be sure to equip you for success in your next job.
Your network is one of your most valuable tools in your career or business development tool kit. No matter where you are or what you are doing (working at the moment or not), continuing to grow and nurture your network will serve you well and help create opportunities for the future.
As mentioned above, your online identity is an important part of any expat's career or business development. No matter where you are or what you are doing, as long as you have internet access there is always something you can do to generate content online that reinforces your message of unique value. Building your thought leadership and network online will increase your visibility and create future opportunities of all kinds.
Expat Women: Megan, thank you very much for time, advice and inspiration. We wish you and your business every success and we look forward to catching up with you again in the future.
June 2009
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