THOUGHT PIECE the carling team
Career Tips: Making International Roles A Success
If you are working in a global company, international experience is one of the key skills that is highly valued in more senior roles. The ability to demonstrate that you are ‘culturally fluent’, able to work with and lead an international team and are able to understand the broader global context e.g. in supply chain – these are all essentials for career progression. However, these roles can be tricky, and there are several tips and strategies that can help to make these moves go smoothly and be a success.
IT’S A STRETCH ASSIGNMENT!
International roles are a challenge. You will not only need to navigate a new company and team but also do this within in a cultural context that is unfamiliar – and this is demanding. For example, you will need to adapt how you perform tasks that would usually be straightforward e.g. leading a team meeting, changing how you communicate to fit the new cultural norms. It’s a steep learning curve and requires concentration and energy. But, on top of this, everything outside of work such as opening a bank account, getting a prescription, and even doing the grocery shopping is challenging too! It’s an experience that builds a lot of resilience (which is one of the benefits of taking these roles) but the skills developed are valuable for opening up career options.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
As a career mentor, one of my favourite tips is: expect a rocky first few months, accept that this ‘roller coaster’ is a part of the process and be prepared. However, any steps you can take in advance to ease the transition into your role will pay dividends as it will free up more of your time and energy to deliver and be successful. The HR department can be very helpful and should be able to give you information about accommodation, day care, schools, taxes, work visas for partners etc. But here, the internet search is also your friend. It is also a great tip to seek advice from contacts who have already worked in that part of the business or in that country. If it is a long assignment, it might be possible to push for a scoping visit first – ideally with your family if you are moving as unit. In short, the more you can find out and organise in advance, the better.
It’s equally important to find out as much about the role and the project as possible before making a commitment. Is the role a good fit for your skill set? What are the main challenges? Are there potential derailers? This is where having conversations with the leadership in the destination company can be very useful.
As with any new role, there will be negotiation around the contract and there are a few additional aspects to consider for an international move. For example, if it is an internal move you may wish to negotiate that the contract is for several years to minimise disruption to the family’s education or fit in with a partner’s career plans. You may also wish to negotiate on salary if there are tax, cost of living or private healthcare implications for that destination. If you are permanently relocating to a new country, giving yourself a longer runway and negotiating a delay to the start of the contract can help with aspects such as selling property. Even if it’s an internal role for a shorter assignment of a few months, negotiating an allowance to allow some eating out and leisure activities can be useful. Overall, the happier you are outside of work, and can relax and enjoy the experience, the better you will deliver!
Career planning – is there an ideal point in a career to do some international roles?
There are certainly some advantages to gaining international experience earlier in a career. It’s a time when there are usually less commitments outside of work and there can be more freedom and flexibility. It’s also perhaps easier to take a risk….for my first international move I was 24 and fed up with a rainy English summer and, out of the blue, I got a phone call offering a two year contract in California – I just accepted on the spot! For some countries, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are schemes to allow early career individuals to get working visas; this can provide opportunities such as travelling and working in the craft industry abroad. However, in my research with industry members, many of them had made successful international moves mid-career. Although it was more complicated to arrange, they were looking at taking more senior roles which would provide them with experience that was not readily available in their own country. Also, when there was an intention to permanently relocate or emigrate, being mid-career was advantageous as it was possible to demonstrate the experience and skill sets that were attractive for a company to support and sponsor the move. As such, it may be useful to make an international move early career to gain experience and then consider taking further roles at a more senior level if it suits your career plan.
FINDING INTERNATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES – USE YOUR NETWORK
If you are looking for a role within your company, there is probably a jobs board where international roles are listed. However, many of those I interviewed found that their networks within the company were equally useful for identifying potential roles especially in the case of short assignments and projects. Mentors with their wide range of contacts were also extremely helpful for finding opportunities.
If you are moving companies, then working with recruiters such as The Carling Partnership who have an international client base and experience about the mechanics of international moves is a good option. But also, if you are looking to move to a particular country or region, a good tip is to find ways to extend your network in that region so that you can find about local opportunities. For example, your connections in the allied industry may be able to use their own extensive networks to support you.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE, BUT WITHOUT MOVING!
A relocation may not be a good fit, or even possible, depending on your circumstances, so look for opportunities to gain the ‘cultural fluency’ without relocation. For example, you could consider working in the allied industries where companies may be based in one country but have an international client base. So, there will be travel involved, but usually for much shorter visits. This approach also allows you to grow your own international network, which can be useful if you subsequently decide to make a long term move.
And finally, as with any interview, a company will be looking for the technical skills and experience to be able to deliver in the role. But, for an international move, be prepared that they will certainly be looking for the following:
- Evidence that you have the flexibility and adaptability to fit into a new culture.
- A knowledge of the context: company, culture, business and economic environment. For example, labour costs and availability or restrictions around resources (water?).
- A well thought out potential game plan for the move, especially in mid-career and/or if you are not making the move alone.
Dr Caroline Walker is an IBD Board Member and fellow and an accredited Executive coach. She offers specialised online career coaching and mentoring for the industry. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Linked in Dr Caroline Walker | LinkedIn