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NYT article: When a Career Path Leads Abroad

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When a Career Path Leads Abroad
By PHYLLIS KORKKI
Published: December 4, Protected content

AT its best, an overseas job offers rich cultural experiences and professional advancement — along with a whiff of glamour. But international work is not for everyone, and those considering it need to be realistic and strategic.

David G. Klein
The idea of working abroad can be enticing — perhaps conjuring images of sipping drinks at a charming Old World cafe. But “the romance of an international assignment always exceeds the reality,” said Mary B. Teagarden, professor of global strategy at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.

Choosing the wrong person for an overseas job is costly, for both companies and workers. “The failure rate with international assignments is quite high,” Professor Teagarden said — people come home before their contracted time or they don’t achieve their goals. Business is lost, and professional and personal relationships can be damaged, she said.

That is why she and her colleagues at Thunderbird have identified a “global mind-set” — attributes of a successful overseas employee. For one thing, people who thrive overseas are drawn to variety and novelty, she said. For example, ask someone what types of food or television programs they like, she said. If their answers cover a wide range, she said, these are likely to be better candidates for an international assignment.

They also show resiliency and are willing to take risks, she said. “They may be a black sheep or the outlier at home,” she said, and the international assignment fills a professional void in their lives.

In “Get Ahead by Going Abroad,” Stacie Nevadomski Berdan and C. Perry Yeatman identify five qualities that are crucial to overseas success: adaptability and flexibility; the ability to listen and communicate well; skill at building teams and relationships; patience and persistence; and curiosity and open-mindedness. The “command and control” personality — a hallmark of American leadership — does not tend to work well cross-culturally, Ms. Berdan said.

Her book focuses on women; she and Ms. Yeatman found that the women they surveyed who worked abroad (the typical assignment was three to five years) advanced professionally at a much faster pace than women who stayed in their home countries.

That is an incentive to pursue foreign work, not to mention that being overseas is “a mind-bending cultural experience,” Ms. Berdan said. But how to begin?

Many people think of American multinational companies when they seek a foreign job. But cast your net wider by looking at companies based overseas, especially those with headquarters in your designated foreign country, Ms. Berdan said. Find out about these companies through Web sites like simplyhired.com and goinglobal.com.

And don’t forget about the State Department, nongovernmental organizations and nonprofit groups, if your interests and ideals tend that way.

For the unemployed who are not afraid to take a risk, Ms. Berdan says, it can be effective to move to the foreign city of your choice and look for a job when you get there. (This, of course, is much easier to do if you are single.)

Do your research, and consider countries that have high growth rates over all or in a particular industry, Ms. Berdan said. China, India and Brazil are on a growth surge, for example, and tourism is strong in countries like Costa Rica and Belize, she said.

If you are going to pick up and move without a job, have at least six months of savings and be aware of visa requirements and tax laws along with personal safety issues, she added.

Expatriates are usually a small and close-knit group, Ms. Berdan said. Network with them online before you move to start obtaining job leads; she says one good site for international networking is Protected content .

If you want to position yourself for a foreign assignment at your current company, raise your hand early and often, Ms. Berdan said — volunteer to take that midnight call from a different time zone.

Of course, it also helps to know a foreign language or two, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing an overseas dream. It isn’t a deal-breaker at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. The company can put people through intensive language training both before and after arrival at the foreign country, said James H. Wall, global managing director of talent.

Deloitte’s member firms have operations in over Protected content , and demand is strong for overseas workers in big emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, he said, along with Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Deloitte’s openings are in accounting and auditing; tax services; financial advising; and management consulting.

Like Ms. Berdan, Mr. Wall says overseas experience tends to help people’s careers — especially in the new, more global economy. “We really encourage international exposure and experience,” Mr. Wall said. “It creates a more well-rounded professional.”

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