Going Global: How Young Professionals Can Build Foundation for International Career

This strategy can ensure you get a great start in spreading your wings abroad

(Image: Thinkstock)

Every successful organization accepts one complicated fact: We live and operate in a global, interconnected economy. Whether you are a rising executive or an intern, you should be actively studying how the international community will affect your role and company.

Your immediate focus may not lie across international lines, but the fundraising dollars your non-profit needs, the next wave of technology, and your fiercest competitor just might.

In a global marketplace like ours, serious professionals should be ready to accept that next breakout role, be it in San Francisco or Sao Paolo. For those serious about having a career that spans the globe, here are a few tips that will help you get started.

Be ready to go within a week or less. At the beginning of your career, most international travel opportunities are not well planned with months of notice. They come up at the last minute and you will need to be on a plane within a few days. While having a valid passport is a huge step in the right direction, other important things you want to have handy include good luggage with carry on options, a few standby clothing options, universal converters/chargers, an extra laptop battery for long haul flights and extra copies of passport photos. Start building this collection now and you will be in good shape when an international opportunity comes your way.

Work for a global company and create relationships within the network. My global experience is a direct result of interest and opportunity crossing paths at the right times. In my first full-time position out of college, I worked at a 50-person health care communications shop with just one office. However, the CEO was the chair of a partnership with representatives in six countries. I volunteered to take notes on calls, prepare meeting agendas and create website analytics reports for the group. With each call, I soaked up as much as I could from the discussions about market challenges, and I leveraged this knowledge in my next position at a large public relations firm with 30 offices in 18 countries. In my time there, I was awarded a global employee scholarship, which allowed me to work with colleagues in Beijing and Shanghai over a one-month period.

It was an amazing experience on so many levels, but the part I valued the most was the relationships I developed along the way. The number of people who regularly travel abroad for work (and stay longer than a week) is quite small.  As a result, you develop unique friendships and will likely cross paths with these people and their networks a few times during the span of your career.

Don’t discount the importance of cultural proficiency. Whenever the opportunity to work on an international project comes up, it is natural to consider the local language and your ability to be successful communicating in that environment. Unfortunately, we tend to be in deficit when it comes to true language proficiency here in America. However, most international companies employ teams with good English proficiency abroad, so language is not a major hurdle in the office.

Knowledge of a few basic phrases will help you get started and you can usually lean on a few bilingual staff members until you have a good grasp on the local language. One of the most important ways to ensure success internationally is to do the research necessary to understand the local culture.

Learn what is acceptable and what is frowned upon in various settings. Read about how interactions and management styles are governed in the workplace. Get familiar with perspectives on tone, volume, touching, personal space and timeliness. These elements will determine help you navigate the inevitable project challenges that stand between you and overall success.

It can take years to work your way up to a global role, but if you keep these points in mind as you manage your career, you will be a few steps closer to your next career adventure.

James S. Walker (@jaywalk1 ) is a global digital manager on the Nature Conservancy’s international digital marketing team. Intrigued by how social and cultural insights connect people on a global level, Walker has completed long-term project assignments in China and Mongolia, and chronicles his thoughts on the industry via his blog, PR Prescriptions, and Website, Socially Diverse.

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