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The Value of International Work Experience

I could easily write several books on the subject of international work experience. Having lived and worked in half a dozen countries over the last 15 years, I have gained experiences that have provided me with a wealth of knowledge that has propelled my career forward in ways that I could not have imagined when I took my first international work assignment. This article will focus on why international work experience is so important and how it will improve your chances of success when returning to your country of origin.

When considering personality traits that make a professional employee or business person successful, there are several that almost always top the list. These include: ability to effectively communicate, flexibility, willingness to experience new ideas, persistence, and patience. All of these characteristics are cultivated when working in foreign work environments. It is easy to demonstrate your effectiveness in these areas to prospective employers during an interview.

“Yes I would consider myself flexible in the workplace. When I was living in Burma, my employer, who did not adhere to North American standards for Human Resource management, would typically alter my role significantly every few months in order to meet changing business needs. At first this was difficult to manage, but over time I found the changes refreshing, as I was able to make a real difference to the company’s bottom line.”

After hearing of a few more stories about the challenges of living and working in Burma, I doubt that the interviewer will believe that it will be a problem if you are asked to work slightly outside of your Job Description.

Companies in foreign countries tend to make very different decisions from their American counterparts. The reason for this is that the factors that shape the decisions are inherently different. Market size, regulations, geography, labor pool, capital resources, infrastructure, are just a small list of items that will necessarily be different in a foreign country. Learning how these factors influence decisions and why they are different than in the United States, will provide you with the experience necessary to make more informed decisions and possibly offer better alternatives.

I am often asked by perspective overseas employees whether the international experience they gain will be on par with the United States. The answer is invariably YES! Hiring of skilled labor in overseas locations is an expensive proposition. Companies do not make investments unless they are going to receive a positive return. For overseas employees this means that there is very little chance that they will be underemployed or underutilized. The fact is usually the opposite. The employee will more than likely be expected to work above their current skill set. For the employee this can result in the movement upwards that they can capitalize when returning to their home country.

In closing, International work experience can provide multiple work benefits for persons of any field. The combination of cultivating successful personality traits, improved decision making skills, and increased experience, can make a tangible difference in your professional life; whether as an employee, consultant or business owner.

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