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.
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.