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How to Build an International Employment Profile

International Careers Don't Happen Without Planning

Build an international career and live in Paris
Would you like to advance towards an international career in Paris? It takes planning.

Imagine that one day you will work as a professional in Paris or Singapore. You will earn a competitive salary, allowing you to live in a great apartment, drive a car, and take short vacations to nearby travel destinations. Your life will be full of interesting conversations with friends from around the world. This life is attainable — if you plan ahead.

International careers don't just happen. They are carefully planned and built up over a period of time. International employers insist you have international experience before sending you to work abroad. The key to gaining international experience is diving into all things international while at university and taking a gap year off. You must build up many international experiences before applying for professional international jobs. And the great thing about building these experiences is that you can have a blast doing it!

Getting Started

International careers are built on experience in various areas. Here is what you should be doing during your time as a university student to improve your odds of getting a full-time, professional international job after you graduate:

Academic Studies

  • An MA is a prerequisite for most international positions.This is especially true in the social sciences, pure sciences, and business. It may be less critical in health careers, engineering, and computer science. No matter your field, include an international component directly in your choice of courses, or indirectly in the subjects you choose for major research projects.

  • A BA in any field with outside electives broadens your skills inventory. For example, a science student should have four internationally focused social science courses; a history major should have four finance or management courses. Include language skills with all types of disciplines.

  • Other academic experience is essential. Attend or help organize a conference; participate in a professor-led research project; work as a teaching assistant; write a book review for an academic journal; apply for merit-based scholarships and awards; participate in academic competitions; become a tutor; make public presentations; actively seek to work on team projects and preferably team up with international students.

Networking and Cross-Cultural Experience

  • Network with at least three international experts in your field of interest. For example, write essays that require you to speak directly to someone working internationally in your field of interest.

  • Guide international students who are new to your country. You can be a tour guide for visiting professors, assist with international student orientation, work with refugees, or teach English as a second language.

  • Befriend international students on your campus. Join international student social circles on campus; visit with them in their homes; become familiar with their food and social behavior; try to visit them and their families in their home country; actively participate in foreign student associations.

  • Become socially active and knowledgeable in a culture other than your own. Hang out at ethnic social clubs; learn to dance to African or South American music; become knowledgeable in one or more fields of ethnic music; focus on the writing or history from one region or country; learn ethnic cooking; join an Internet club with foreign members.

Overseas Experience

  • Work internationally for 2-6 months. As an intern, co-op student, or volunteer, preferably in your field of expertise. Try for two professional internships over your six years of study. Strongly consider taking a gap year to gain any manner of international experience. Thousands of international internship positions are available each year, and many are paid positions allowing you to live and work in all parts of the world.

  • Study abroad for one or more semesters. Study abroad in your field and learn a new language. Almost every university has exchange programs that help you study abroad for credit, and everyone should consider studying for at least one semester, often in their third year, while getting a degree.

  • Travel for 2-6 months. Do not underestimate the value of backpacking for six months. Interact closely with people from other countries to learn the skills international employers require. One way to extend your stay abroad is to study, volunteer, or intern. Add to your experience a short trip at the end of your placement. Always consider traveling in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South and Central America rather than the traditional choices of Western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand.

  • Be creative. Extend the value of all your international travel by combining two or more objectives while abroad. For example, take four months off and study Spanish full-time in Guatemala while living with a local family and having a full-time one-on-one instructor for less than the cost of attending school in the U.S. or Canada. Extend your stay there by giving computer courses to local charity groups or volunteering to write English language brochures for ecotourism groups. Travel in the region and practice your new Spanish while visiting with professionals in your field of work who are looking for short-term interns.

Hard Skills

  • Proficiency in a new language. Be able to speak and read a language other than your mother tongue. First, consider learning Spanish since it is accessible and useful in North America. In all cases, be an active listener and learn to pick up at least 20 or 30 words in any country you visit, however briefly.

  • Economic and geographic knowledge of the world. Gain a solid understanding of the political and social forces shaping the planet. Start by regularly reading news magazines such as The Economist.

  • Writing and analytical skills. Demonstrate these skills outside of coursework by participating in a research project, writing a brochure, publishing an article in a magazine, or writing for a website.

  • Computer skills. Acquire strong skills with Microsoft Word (can you produce a table of contents, section breaks, footnotes, or use styles?); be comfortable using spreadsheets (can you create a budget or sort a table of data in Excel?); be familiar with databases (can you explain the difference between a flat file and a relational database?); try to develop exceptional Internet research skills (can you find the phone number of a cheap Paris hotel in five minutes? What about the CIA country profile for Bhutan?).

  • Business skills. The most sought-after employees are those with multidisciplinary backgrounds, especially business backgrounds that include strong people skills. Employers seek scientists who can understand market research, engineers who can manage research teams and help commercialize products, and political scientists who can work in trade promotion. There is a need to assess the business aspect of almost every field, such as strategic planning, financial management, systems and data analysis.

  • Other management skills. These include project management, accounting, training, research, report writing, and evaluation.

Soft Skills

  • Organizing, people, and leadership skills. Demonstrate these through work and volunteer experience, preferably with an international group, organizing an event, or as an executive committee member.

  • Intercultural communications abilities. Demonstrate these by being conversant in describing patterns of behavior in cross-cultural work and social environments. Learn to professionally describe these real-life experiences.

  • Coping and adapting abilities. Demonstrate these with examples of how you coped when living away from your support structure of family and friends.

International Job Hunting Skills

  • Essentials for finding international work. Experience has shown that those who are successful at finding international work have all done something extraordinary to land their first job. They have gone out on a limb, acted boldly (but politely), been entrepreneurial, sacrificed certainty, and taken risks to gain international experience and land that first job. International employers are looking for individuals fully committed to international work and living, and your job-hunting methods should reflect this.

Make the Commitment

International jobs require a long-term commitment — you need to invest in yourself to build an international IQ. This process eventually becomes a lifestyle, an outlook on life, a commitment to internationalism and cross-cultural learning. It is an exciting and creative process. Go forth — the world is your teacher. And have fun with the exploration!

Related Topics
International Careers
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