Career Boost: How Working Abroad Can Accelerate Your Career
Although the situation may be improving slowly, the cliché of the recent graduate still strikes a nerve for many: walk across the graduation stage, start an unpaid internship, then another unpaid internship, then an entry level job consisting of filling out spreadsheets and listening to your co-workers complain about parenthood.
I too, thought this was my destiny. However, after graduating from the University of Portland in 2014, I stumbled upon an alternative path that no one told me about during four years of university: the opportunities that can be found through working abroad.
And for the last three years, that is exactly what I have done. I spent my first five months abroad working in Hong Kong, and then headed off to Vietnam. Currently, I work at an international technology company in the beachside city of Da Nang, filling a role at a technology company I would have never thought possible back in Portland with my bachelor’s in Secondary Education.
Little did I know when I first struck out abroad, working internationally can provide a huge career boost for young professionals who are uninterested in spending four years in college to end up fetching someone’s coffee.
Young professionals all around the world are reaping the benefits that come with globalization and international work opportunities, and there are many professional benefits to enjoy as well. Here are just a few of the ways that working internationally can provide a unique career boost:
1. Resume Boost
Despite certain countries wanting to deny it, globalization is not only here, it is intertwined with nearly every aspect of our lives.
Companies and corporations are well aware of this, in fact, they have been extending their global reach for a long time. The difference is that in 2017 the jobs that are being created by corporations abroad are not just in manufacturing and textiles, but in service industries and technology, attractive industries for local and international workers alike.
But for companies or corporations, entering new international markets is not easy. Just ask Home Depot how their attempt to enter the Chinese market went. Because of the challenges that entering new cultures pose, employers are putting a premium on staff who already have international experience.
According to an article in Canada’s Policy Options Politiques :
“Business leaders, universities and governments are all seeking the knowledge and savvy that comes with international experience, an elusive set of characteristics sometimes described as cultural fluency. Businesses want their workforce to be able to communicate, connect, negotiate and understand others in the global marketplace. Governments know that almost every issue — from health, to climate change, to innovation — has an international dimension.”
Learning how to navigate different cultures, working with diverse teams, the ability to adjust to cultural norms of another country, as well as finding personal satisfaction in an international position are all incredibly high value skills in a global economy. Only knowing how to work with people who look, think, and act just like you is simply not good enough in our cross-cultural world.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Only knowing how to work with people who look, think, and act like you is simply not good enough today.” quote=”Only knowing how to work with people who look, think, and act like you is simply not good enough today.”]
And finding people who have these skills, especially culture fluency skills and the personal flexibility to assimilate to a new culture is difficult. According to Harvard Business Review:
“Studies show that an estimated 6%–10% of [international] assignments are terminated early, while an unknown but sizable percentage involve unnecessary struggle and underperformance.”
Working in a different culture is tough, and the value of those who can demonstrate they have the skills to do so is placed at a premium in a global economy such as ours.
There is really no substitute for the personal and professional growth that comes with working abroad, and employers are aware of the value that people with those skills can bring.
And as globalization continues, and more companies strive to enter new developing markets, it will be those with previous experience that have the chance to take advantage of the awesome opportunities that are offered.
2. A Responsibility Boost
Though dependent on the country you chose to work in, working abroad offers the opportunity to take on much larger and more diverse roles than you might otherwise have at home. At home, you may be just another recent graduate plagued by the American perception of what it means to be a “millennial.”
Conversely, when working internationally, simply having a Western education makes you a vital resource with a unique skill set. Whether it is learning new skills or taking on higher ranking positions, for many, working abroad means not just being utilized to the absolute fullest, but being pushed beyond what you thought you were capable of.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Working abroad means being pushed beyond what you thought you were capable of.” quote=”Working abroad means being pushed beyond what you thought you were capable of.”]
This manifests itself in many different ways: working more closely with high-ranking staff, being involved in high-impact meetings, taking on leadership positions more quickly, and/or generally having far greater daily impact on business operations.
While your parallel-self back home is flicking through Reddit and shuffling papers, your “abroad-self” is a valued part of groups within a business that make real decisions or is leading meetings or doing any number of high-impact tasks.
Getting the opportunity to have these learning experiences at a young age is an incredible boon to your professional growth and provide an accelerated professional path compared to what is often offered back home.
3. A Self-Confidence Boost
It is true that working abroad is a challenging path and that staying home to work that unpaid internship and living with college friends is more comfortable. But being comfortable is what retirement is for; your 20s are for new experiences and new challenges.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Being comfortable is what retirement is for; your 20s are for new experiences and new challenges. ” quote=”Being comfortable is what retirement is for; your 20s are for new experiences and new challenges.”]
Working in a new country presents a unique set of challenges. It requires re-learning everything: new culture, new office dynamics, and new social faux pas to watch out for. Outside of the work day it doesn’t get much easier: finding friends in a new city, new dating dynamics, and a potential language barrier all present daily challenges. Everything is new and everything must be learned from scratch.
Though the learning curve is steep, the reward for pushing through those challenges and finding solutions is the confidence that you have the flexibility, resilience and grit to succeed in any environment.
Not only is the belief you can thrive anywhere a boon to your sense self, it speaks volumes to future employers about the type of person you are and what you are capable of. This unique ability to point to concrete examples of struggles you have overcome is an advantage not everyone enjoys.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of opportunities all over the world for working internationally, and these opportunities can be career boosting in ways that many first-jobs-out-of-college are not. Of course, all good things come at a cost, and in the case of working abroad, that cost comes in sheer effort. It takes resilience, savvy, and grit to land a position abroad, but the professional and personal boost it affords is priceless.
By Aaron Horwath
Aaron Horwath is a Project Integration Manager at an international technology company currently working in Da Nang, Vietnam. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he has spent the last three years working internationally in Asia. Through his blog 12hourdifference.co, he shares his insights as well as the insights of other professional expats from around the world with millennials who are curious about taking an international career path. Interested in working internationally? Connect with Aaron on his blog 12hourdifference.co or on Twitter @12hrdifference