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Working in the U.S.: what to expect

From popular expat jobs to work/life balance norms, the article explains what you can expect from working the U.S.

Finding employment

Famed as a land of opportunity, workers have been flooding to the U.S. in droves for centuries. However, immigration clampdowns and protectionist measures by the Trump administration mean that though opportunities still exist for skilled workers, those without a specific talent will find it harder to gain employment.

As official figures for U.S. unemployment are low — 3.8% in March 2019 — with 156.97 million Americans in full time employment, prospects for skilled expats are currently good.

The most popular sectors for expats include the fields of:

  • Technology
  • Software
  • Finance
  • Health care
  • Telecommunications
  • Entertainment
  • Petrochemical industries.

If you are looking for work in the U.S., most international job boards will have listings that are suitable for you. The most popular agencies include Manpower and Randstad U.S., but the American Staffing Association (ASA) is probably best to start your search as most reputable agencies are members. The website also offers useful tips about how to prepare your resume (curriculum vitae, or CV) and how to impress your prospective American employer.

Business etiquette

Work dress is surprisingly conservative on the east coast; the west coast is less formal. Although Americans generally address people on first-name terms, you should start off a business meeting with a handshake and only use first names after an indication from your host. This depends as much on the industry that you’re joining as anything else.

Work/life balance

American work habits can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle with little time to socialise and enjoy the benefits of your new country. A 2017 report in Business Insider suggested that ‘many Americans skip lunch to continue working’, a habit that may appear very odd to anyone relocating from a European country. Don’t be surprised to receive work emails at home — and be expected to respond to them long after the close of the working day. You may be micro-managed by your boss; this is common practice and American workers are not encouraged to challenge their bosses. Collaborative working isn’t widespread, and if you disagree openly with your boss you’ll be seen as the exception rather than the rule.

U.S. holidays

You can expect to enjoy 10 Federal holidays once you work in the U.S., though if you work for a private company rather than a federal organisation you won’t necessarily be given paid leave.

  • New Year’s Day – January 1st
  • Birth of Martin Luther King –  January 21st
  • Birth of George Washington –  February 18th
  • Memorial Day – May 27th
  • Independence Day - July 4th
  • Labor Day – September 2nd
  • Columbus Day – October 14th
  • Veterans’ Day – November 11th
  • Thanksgiving – November 28th
  • Christmas Day – December 25th

Rights and salaries

Workers’ rights are minimal in the U.S. compared with countries in, for example, Europe — you can be fired on the spot. On the other hand, salaries can be high. The Bureau for Labor statistics states that salaries for April 2019 were, on average, $905 per week. Graduates and professionals can expect to command far higher salaries. In 2017, the highest-paid lawyers could expect a salary of $119,250, per annum and doctors can earn $294,000 per annum. Both figures vary according to where in the country you are working and whether you specialise. A neurosurgeon can earn $663,000 per annum.

Employers in the U.S. usually offer comprehensive benefits packages, from health care insurance to childcare subsidies. Learn more in our employment benefits guide.

Prices correct April 2019.

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