Value of Overseas Assignments for your Career

When I was in China last spring we visited companies in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.  It was striking how many of the leaders of the multi-national companies had experience working in multiple countries and had strong language skills.  To lead multi-national companies, there is an increasing demand for leaders with experience in multiple countries.  Knowledge of the business challenges, culture and language enable these managers to be more effective and successful as they assume more leadership responsibilities.   Some companies require at least one international assignment as a prerequisite for senior leadership positions.

Even managers who were not able to speak the local language brought significant value to multi-national assignments by bringing a knowledge of how things are done in other parts of the world, a network of connections at headquarters and a willingness to learn and understand the local market, customers, employees, cultural issues and economic and business challenges.  A leader who has only worked in the US throughout their entire career will have a more limited perspective than someone who has experienced the business in other parts of the world.

If an overseas assignment is interesting to you, here are some thoughts to consider.

Image Courtesy of Blog.expatindenmark.com

Image Courtesy of Blog.expatindenmark.com

Build Your Value – You are likely not too valuable to the company in an overseas assignment right out of school.  Gain experience and build your knowledge of the company and how to get things done at headquarters first so you bring that value to the other locations in a future assignment.  Do what you do very well so you will stand out as a candidate for a broader experience.

Don’t Wait Too Long – I’ve seen people keep putting off the international assignment for various reasons.  Unfortunately life gets more complicated as time passes.  It is easier to relocate before you have a family or before your children start school.  Waiting too long gives you more challenges to overcome.  Set yourself up for success both personally and professionally by not waiting too long.

Be Prepared – Before starting an overseas assignment, do your homework.  Learn as much as you can about the company and customers in that location.  Review business customers.  Learn at least common phrases in the local language.  Talk to employees currently working there or those who recently worked there.  Seek their input on ensuring a smooth transition.

Seize the Opportunity  – Make the most of the assignment.  Learn as much as you can while you are there.  Take advantage of being there to see the sights, learn the history, interact with the locals when possible.  Do you work well and learn as much as possible about the unique aspects of the business in that location as well as the challenges of working with corporate from afar.  This perspective will change how you think about challenges in the future.

Not to mention, the prevelence of international job opportunities is increasing. Check out Justin Harper’s article “Fancy an overseas posting? Opportunities are on the rise” from The Telegraph.

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Summer Dress Code

It’s summertime and the living is easy.  Many companies have a more relaxed, casual dress code in the summer but it is important to maintain your professional image. Check out some tips below and read some of my pointers in Annette Richmond’s advice column with more advice on How to Stay Cool and Professional This Summer. She recommends some great places to shop whether you are looking for moderately priced work wear, trendy dresses for young professionals, or high-end fashion without the high-end prices for the Fasionistas out there!

DO

  • Know the Culture — Critical to know the culture and follow the lead of the managers in your group or division.  Some companies have no relaxation of the dress code in the summer and any attempt to be more casual would be frowned upon.  In some companies summer casual means no neckties.  Before you head to the office in capri’s, shorts or a golf shirt, be sure you understand what the expectations are in your specific office.  You do not want to stand out negatively from the crowd.
  • Stay Professional – Your goal should be to always appear professional while on the job.  Even with a more relaxed summer dress code it is important that you still project a professional image.  Focus on professional looking business casual attire.
  • Be Modest and Conservative –Think about whether you would want the president of the company or an important client to see you in that outfit.  If the answer is no, don’t wear it to work.  Think about whether it projects the image of the company or your own personal brand.

DON’T

  • Forget the Beach Attire —  If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it to work.
  • Leave the Flip Flops at Home – The most frequent complaint I hear from employers if flip flops.  They are very noisy in the office and most employers consider them unprofessional.  Do not wear flip flips in the office.
  • Cover Up – Underwear is meant to be under your clothes at all times, not visible to your co-workers.  Midriff baring or plunging necklines are also not appropriate for the office.

Protect Your Reputation

Your reputation at work is your personal brand.  You work hard to known as a capable, competent professional who does great work in a timely manner.  Do not ruin or at least tarnish that reputation by dressing unprofessionally in the workplace.  It is not worth it.

Image courtesy of Loft.com

Image courtesy of Loft.com

Managing Changes in Your Work Schedule

Adjusting to a new work schedule can be managed effectively with a bit of planning:

Moving from Part-time to Full-time

  • Adjust your sleep schedule at least a week in advance.  Maybe you have been burning the midnight oil and sleeping in every morning.  Maybe you have been working late hours.  To prepare for your new work hours, you should start at least a week in advance going to bed and waking up on your new schedule.  Yawning thought your day is not a positive first impression to give your new manager.
  • Make Decisions in Advance – Plan your wardrobe for the week in advance and make sure your clothing is clean, ironed and ready to go.  Avoid any last minute morning emergencies.  Plan your lunches in advance and prepare them the night before so you can grab them on your way out the door.  Plan your dinners in advance and maybe do some cooking in advance on the weekend.  A bit of advanced planning can minimize your stress during the week allowing you to focus on being successful in your new job.
  • Set yourself up for success – Being proactive and planning for possible disruptions can help you focus on the job and enable you to be more successful.  Don’t wait until there is a crisis.

Returning from Maternity Leave or Disability Leave

  • The three points above apply here as well.
  • Ease back in if possible – Explore the opportunity to work half days for the first couple weeks.  Ease yourself back into the work environment.  Trying to do too much too soon could cause set backs.
  • Get your sleep – Whether it is a new baby or pain keeping you up at night, recognize the fact that sleep deprivation significantly impacts your performance.  Do what you can to maximize your sleep.

General Points

  • Open and Honest Communication with your manager goes a long way.  If there is an issue, identify it and propose a solution.
  • Set clear and realistic expectations – if you have physical limitations after surgery, be very clear about any limitations or any accommodations required.  If doing a transitional re-entry be clear about what you will able to do in the reduced hours.

 

Job Search in an Online World

The job search process is changing rapidly as social media and other technologies become more widely used.  How can a job seeker stay current and maximize these tools?

Get more answers to these questions below on job searching in an online world!

  1. What’s the best way for job candidates to approach employers on social media?
  2. What is one tip you would provide to job seekers trying to determine when and how to start their job search?
  3. What career advice would you give to baby boomers who have been laid off and have significant gaps on their resume?
  4. What is one tip you would give to job candidates participating in a video interview?
  5. How can job seekers recognize a good job offer or job posting from a bad one?
  6. How cann candidates pump up their public online presence for the job search without giving up their privacy?
  7. What’s one tool every individual needs during their job search?
Image Courtesy of Glasbergen

Image Courtesy of Glasbergen

Leverage Emotional & Social Intelligence

I found several definitions of emotional intelligence but it is what allows you to influence the people around you.  It is the foundation of conflict management, adaptability and teamwork.  Clearly there is an expectation that an employee is aware of and in control of their emotions in the workplace but I think it goes much further as a success factor in the workplace.  Social intelligence implies an awareness of the social environment and the needs of others.

Teamwork – To succeed in business these days, most positions require an ability to work with a team –sometimes as a leader and sometimes as a contributor.  Knowing how to effectively work in team, manage the conflicts, meet deadlines, keep all members engaged, etc is critical to success In many organizations.  Teamwork also means working with others who are not like you – they may not have the same skills, the same strengths, the same backgrounds or even the same expectations of the group.  Building clarity around purpose and deliverables is critical.

Communication – To succeed one must be able to effectively communicate their ideas and proposed solutions to peers ,managers and senior staff.  Both written and verbal communication is critical.  It is not about writing thirty pages, it is more about pulling the critical information into a succinct and actionable summary.  It is really about telling them they really need to know.

Negotiation and Persuasion – These skills are critical in getting things done.  Often you have to persuade others to provide the information you need even when you have no authority over them.  Negotiations need to be win-win.

Relationships – Bottom line, business is done by people.  Building relationships across the organization can be critical to success.  Learning how to interact with individuals at different levels of the organization is critical to career success.    Helping other people look good can win you a long-term ally.  Empathy for others is also important in building and maintaining professional relationships.

Cultural Fit – It is important during the interviewing phase to ensure that your personal style fits with the organization’s culture.  A poor fit often manifests itself in poor social interactions and intelligence.  Without strong relationships within the organization it is difficult for the employee to success.

Dress for Success, Ladies!

For an interview it is important to put your best foot forward to make the best possible impression.  Employers form opinions about candidates in the first few seconds so appearance does matter.  Women need to pay particular attention to presenting their best professional image.

  • Suit – You need to look like the successful business person you aspire to be.  Always wear a suit, either skirt or pants are ok.  If it is a skirt, it should not be too short or too tight.  It should be clean, well pressed and should fit appropriately.  Suit should be black, navy or gray.
  • Blouse – Wear a well-pressed blouse or shell with your suit.  No low cut necklines or bulging buttons.  No tummy showing between the shirt and the waistband.
  • Hose – neutral hose is appropriate, no bare legs, no patterned hose
  • Shoes – Clean, polished shoes with low to medium heel, no high heels, no sandals or sneakers
  • Minimal Jewelry – small earnings, a ring and a watch should be it.  Avoid bracelets that clang.  Avoid anything that could be distracting.
  • Make-up – minimal and tasteful.  Avoid anything that appears more appropriate for evening or a cocktail lounge.
  • Get a manicure – clean, well-trimmed nails with neutral or subtle polish make a positive impression when shaking hands
  • Accessories – limit what you carry  so you don’t look like a bag lady.  Just a small handbag and a pad folio for notes would be most appropriate.
  • Go light on fragrance – don’t over power the interviewer with heavy fragrance.

You want everything about your appearance to support your professional qualifications for the job.  Do not wear anything that could distract from the image.

Image Courtesy of Cartoonstock.com

Image Courtesy of Cartoonstock.com

Targeted Networking

While I have always been a strong advocate of the value of networking in a job search, I’ve come to realize from watching students and alumni that many are not gaining the full value of networking because they lack a strategic focus.  In a job search, it is critical to maximize your opportunities for success and without strategic focus you are less likely to accomplish you goals.

  • Define a target list – Do you research about companies and industries that interest you and that hire people with the skills you have to offer.  Don’t overlook small and mid-sized companies.  Build a list of 30 – 40 companies which meet your criteria.
  • Identify contacts – For the companies on your list, research to identify contacts.  Use LinkedIn, your alumni database, former colleagues, friends and family, etc. to identify contacts working in the companies on your target list.  Capture all contacts you find in your target companies but highlight the ones in the functional area you are most interested in.
  • Network strategically – Focus your networking on the companies on your list.  Learn as much as you can about the company, the challenges they face, how they hire and train their employees, what skills are required for success in your field of interest, etc.  Use your contacts to identify other companies for your target list based on their recommendations.

Rather than scattering your networking activity broadly, a most focused, strategic approach is more likely to gain results.  Network your way to your next position.