Finding a Job in Another Country
Ever dreamed of working abroad, living in a foreign land and sampling an exciting new culture, its foods, and traditions? Many college students all across the country, representing all college majors, are finding themselves fascinated by the allure of the international arena. You may be wondering about such details as:
- What does the phrase “international arena” mean?
- Does that mean you have to live abroad?
- How do you know if you are a good candidate?
- Questions to ponder once you have decided on an International Career
- How and where do you launch a career abroad?
- Career Center can help you begin your International Career
- Planning, productivity, and persistence: the power of these 3 P’s can change your life
What does the phrase “international arena” mean?
An international career is a series of jobs that requires employees to conduct their work across national borders or between at least two cultures within a single country. While sensitive political issues are best resolved through face-to-face discussion, in virtually every other sector governments, companies and organizations have come to increasingly rely on technology to address and resolve many problems. In essence, the “international arena” is everywhere and anywhere and is no longer defined by land borders but rather by technological innovation and marketing savvy that view the entire world as the ideal customer.
Does an International Career Mean You Have to Live Abroad?
As more and more governments, companies and organizations stretch their technological fingers around the globe, the once expensive chore of flying personnel abroad and often relocating entire families has redefined itself.
Employers conduct business as usual but with a twist: employees can interact daily with cultures they may never personally see, using technology to develop and finalize contracts, conduct product selection and authorize shipment, assess and redesign service needs, participate in video conferences, and exchange and share ideas, concepts and viewpoints.
Consequently, international jobs abound both here at home and abroad. While federal agencies such as the United States Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development and Peace Corps still primarily recruit those interested in living and working abroad, many U.S.-based companies, nonprofit agencies and consulting firms recruit for positions that involve little to no travel at all.
What Makes a Good International Candidate?
According to Caprice Lantz’s article “ Essential Skills for International Careers” published in the 45 th edition of Planning Job Choices 2002, one of the basic components of a true international job “involves contact with people from other counties, whether in person or through telecommunications.” Thus, instead of having to live and work in Bogata, Costa Rica in order to monitor a million dollar environmental protection program, an employee could basically carry out the day-to-day project oversight duties from a desk in Toledo, communicating with Costa Rican government officials and local project staff by phone, computer and fax, with occasional oversight and crisis management trips as needed.
While the desire to experience another culture and its intricacies is critical to job success in the international arena, another component ranks high on the list: cross-cultural competence. In Lantz’s article, she identifies the skills that comprise this competence:
• Ability to learn
• Adventurous spirit
• Functional skills
• Language skills
• Sense of humor
• Sensitivity, adaptability, and flexibility
• Strong interpersonal skills
• Willingness to take risks
Each of these is a mandatory linchpin in assessing the suitability, acceptability and durability of a candidate pursuing an international job, whether here or abroad. Each is a connecting piece in the “right employee” puzzle as they collectively provide the emotional and psychological foundation to support and sustain the employee as he/she carries out his/her duties.
Who Does Not Make a Good International Candidate?
An unwillingness to learn, a sedentary “life can’t get any better than here” approach to working with those who look, speak and act differently than he/she; an inability to see and understand the “big picture”; a resistance to anything new or challenging; an absence of drive and enthusiasm towards changing the mundane; an indifference to exploring the beauty and vivacity of another language; an inability to tackle a problem head-on; poor teamwork skills; a lack of commitment to a project or program; and a “this is the way we have always done it” problem-solving attitude, are deterrents to bridge-building and collaboration. In the international arena, they can be deadly to the success of any joint venture.
Putting Your Mind Where Your Mouth Is
There are many agencies, companies and organizations that offer positions both domestically and abroad. These positions can either require you to live and work outside of the United States or can be essentially done here. Either way, there are some basic questions that you should ask yourself once you’ve decided that this is the career direction you want to take.
1. “How do I want to use my degree?”- This means exploring the occupational choices that appeal to you, tap into your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses. Would you be interested in a research position? writing position? technology-oriented position? teaching position? accounting position? counseling position? Ideally, in order to gain the greatest knowledge and insight into the types of positions for which your degree can be used AND which interest you, you should initially start with between 3 and 5 choices that you wish to investigate. These will be your starting platform for the next question.
2. “Where would I like to work?”---This takes considerable thought as you need to evaluate whether living abroad interests you or whether you would feel more comfortable working Stateside. If abroad, which continent, which specific countries? If stateside, which states, which cities? Coupled with this question, “Why this particular selection?” What is there about these locations that appeals to you so much-----the climate, food, lifestyles, historical origins, the people themselves? The answers to questions 1 and 2 go hand in hand as they virtually drive your job search.
3. “What am I willing to compromise on?”- No job will ever provide EVERYTHING you are looking for. At some point, you will have to give up something to get most of what you want. For example: while the duties of the position and the salary might be exactly what you are looking for, perhaps the geographic location is not your ideal choice. Or, perhaps the location is ideal but the salary and other aspects of the job are not to your liking. Then comes a period of concentrated introspection and value assessment. Which elements of the position count the most for you and which count the least? If you take the position, which elements are you willing to concede? Believe it or not, this is probably the most vital of the three questions.
Getting Your Feet Wet
Once the three big questions have been answered, then the way is paved to search for the job opportunities. Some career experts suggest that one quick way to move quickly into an international job is to teach English as a Second Language, and most often in the Asian and Pacific Rim countries. Of these, Korea seems to the most prolific with literally thousands of language school employers. However, a word of caution: not all language schools are created equally nor do they function equally. Should you decide to pursue this route, investigate the school thoroughly. The U.S. Department of State website provides critical information about teaching English in Korea as well as the financial, cultural and employment risks that come along with the job. The main page can be researched for any country that has an American Embassy.
Some students are attracted to the U.S. Diplomatic Service, of which there are three federal components: the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) . State and USIA require applicants to take a written and oral examination and must pass both parts. USAID does not administer nor require the tests and will take applications on a continuous basis. State and USIA offer assignments worldwide while USAID only sends employees to Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Near East and those parts of Europe designated as developing countries.
Each agency is autonomous and separate and do not trade applications. You must apply to each agency separately. Understand that each agency conducts exhaustive criminal, credit and general background checks so that the time span between applying for a position and actually being hired can be as long as a year.
Competition for these jobs is fierce. If hired, the perks abound, including full relocation to the Washington, D.C. area, paid language training at the renown Foreign Language Institute, generous dental, health benefits, a lucrative retirement plan, and an array of other perks for those assigned overseas including free luxury housing, cost of living allowances and a post differential to offset the expense of living abroad.
All three agencies maintain a roster of civil service positions that, while international in scope, are based in the Washington, D.C. area and do not require living abroad. These are also advertised on their websites. These jobs are made to order for those who hunger for the international flavor without the relocation hassles.
Another route to consider is Peace Corps. Although a degree is not required, it is preferred. Peace Corps only goes to developing countries around the globe, requires a two year commitment, and is billed as the “toughest job you will ever love.” Peace Corps also maintains a roster of civil service positions that deal with their international program portfolio.
Should your interest lie in the corporate sector, virtually every multinational company in the United States has overseas operations. Jockeying for these positions may be significantly more difficult as employers tend to award these opportunities to their more experienced employees. As Lantz points out in her article, “If you are prone to taking risks, you might also consider firms that have just recently entered the international marketplace; these tend to be smaller, entrepreneurial businesses.” Yet, she urges candidates to understand that while they may offer international postings to candidates earlier in their careers, candidates should bear in mind that these companies “don’t have the same footing in the international arena as firms that have a well-staked out part in the global marketplace.” But if you are willing to invest the time and energy into establishing and nurturing a long-term commitment to such an employer, this is a good way to go.
And don’t forget the many international nonprofit organizations that supply either critical assistance in times of crisis or human and/or financial resources in addressing health, environmental, agricultural and educational problems to developing countries throughout the world. These, too, maintain stateside positions as well as international assignments.
Internationally-oriented consulting firms also are a good resource as the State Department, USAID, the United Nations all turn to them to recruit short to long-term specialists to address a myriad of problems. Registering with a host of firms that frequently call upon the types of skills, education and training that you can offer would be a smart move. This way, the deal is even sweeter: living and working abroad in all of the places YOU choose, with exciting experiences, problems and challenges at every turn.
How Career Center Can Help You
Career Center can help you at each stage of the process whether it be:
• Figuring out if this is the right career path for you
• Identifying employers
• Sifting through their employment opportunities
• Drafting resumes and cover letters
• Furnishing all of the other required information and/or materials.
The Power of the Three P’s
Remember that the keys to success in finding your dream international job are three little but powerful words: planning, productivity and persistence.
• Begin early in your college career to research and investigate those international entities and their opportunities that are of interest to you.
• Compile a list of individuals who are doing the types of jobs that interest you.
• Conduct informational interviews with them to learn the day-to-day functions of these jobs, how much education is required, what types of specialized training are necessary, what salary levels are offered and what potential opportunities may exist. Also, balance your research with an investigation into the downside of their positions to better understand the rigors and demands more fully.
• Set up appointments with Career Service for continued guidance and support.
• Take advantage of every internship or co-op opportunity that can provide you with an in-depth understanding of the different types of international positions.
• Be assertive. From the list of individuals you interview, identify potential mentors who can help you in your decision-making process, from which classes to take to which employers to target.
• Research companies that interest you and contact individuals who Can be included your network. Stay in touch with them to keep them apprized of your progress.
• Recognize that Career Center is a tremendous resource to help you stay on track.
• Keep focused and don’t allow temporary setbacks to distract you.