Below are questions posed to Stephen Taylor for an upcoming article in a national publication aimed at High School Students.
Q - How much have you seen opportunities for international careers (or U.S.-based careers that require the global perspective) grow in recent years, and what accounts for that growth?
A- International careers tend to follow world economic cycles. When the world economy contracts, so do jobs, and when worldwide economy expands international jobs tend to increase. 1999 was a very good year for the World economy, and many companies were expanding their world presence with the use of expatriate international job assignments. However, by the end of 2000a slowing world economy put the brakes on growth at many global companies. By 2001 an economic contraction was occurring, followed by the Terrorist attack on 9/11. These events had a big impact on both domestic and international employment opportunities.
Now, as the world economy is beginning to recuperate, we see companies increasing investment in their overseas operations, including adding expatiate personnel to be in-place when significant growth returns.
Q - What particular industries or job types seem to have had the most growth of careers with a global emphasis and why?
A - There are a number of different paths to international jobs. For example, the English language is used worldwide, so there is always need for highly proficient English teachers in foreign countries, especially those who are fluent in the teaching country’s language.
Technology companies, whether electronics, oil and gas, or utilities with a global presence, send their engineers to foreign countries to either setup the initial facilities or to oversee and manage the manufacturing plants.
Of course there is always the need for governmental representation around the world. Career positions in the diplomatic corps are difficult to get, but can be very rewarding.
Global companies must compete in very challenging markets. This requires the need for skilled marketing and sales professionals with a combination of business and international education and skills.
Q - Why do you think the idea of an international career appeals to a lot of people?
A - Just as the slogan, “Join the Navy, see the World” motivated young people to enlist in the U.S. Navy, there has always been a certain mystic, excitement, and aura about travelling and especially working internationally. But international positions carry a high level of responsibility and are generally very demanding in terms of time, effort, and personal commitment. There are real advantages to working abroad for people with the right mentality and skills.
International assignments typically offer a much greater degree of autonomy than other corporate positions. Because a person is located far away from the ‘Head Office’, there is less daily oversight, but there are also higher expectations for accomplishing successful results. For people with a strong sense of achieving objectives and goals, international assignments are a good match.
The international assignment allows emergence in a new culture, geography, and perhaps language. For the person who loves the challenge of change, and is flexible enough to adapt to these changes, living abroad can be very rewarding. However, for people who need to have predictability, control, and calm, international assignments can be a potential problem.
Q - What are the biggest misconception people tend to have about these types of careers?
A - Probably that working an international assignment is something like a vacation. In reality, most people working these jobs put in many more hours than their peers at the ‘Home office.’ Remember that these positions are relatively few in numbers and have a high degree of responsibility for achieving successful results for the Company. This is a serious responsibility, and most individuals who accept it, put out a huge amount of effort, many times working seven days a week, and travelling extensively. For many, there is little differentiation between their personal and their corporate life during an international assignment.
5- How important do you think it is for those in international careers to have known that would be their focus while in college? In other words, do you generally have to major in a subject such as "international business" to later get that kind of job?
In the past, most overseas assignments were made based upon the employee’s skills and results on the job. However, we are now observing a trend toward hiring or promoting individuals that have more formal international management training. For someone desiring an international career, it would be wise to major in the skill area (engineering, finance, marketing, etc.) and minor in an international curriculum.
Q - In your experience, do people tend to stay with international careers or are they more likely to try them out for a few years?
A - Most companies have a limit on how long they allow an expatriate to remain in an overseas assignment, and are typically 18 to 36 months. However, there are always exceptions. Another issue is that some countries limit the length of time a non-citizen can work in their country.
Because most international assignments are given to strong, accomplished, and ‘fast track’ employees, the person does not want to stay in any specific assignment or location too long. Rather, they are anxious to be promoted to the next position in their career.
Q - What "words of wisdom" can you offer students who are considering an international career?
A - First, these assignments are not all ‘fun and games.’ They carry a very high level of responsibility, authority, and require energy, skill, and commitment.
Second, since these assignments are highly coveted, the more you prepare through education, the greater likelihood your chance to get one. By taking international courses in under graduate school, it shows your forethought and interest in international business to potential employers. It also prepares you for pursuing a more dedicated international curriculum in graduate school.
Third, working an international job or assignment requires a special personality. You must have the ability to be flexible, not be judgmental of other people’s ways of living and doing things, be able to leave your friends and family for relatively long periods of time, and commit yourself 100% to the success of the assignment and company you work for.
Q - What Web resources (besides your own) would you suggest young people visit for more information about starting out in the field, salaries, pro's and con's of international careers, etc.?
A - Because the Web is so dynamic, sites that have information on international careers come and go quickly. I’d suggest reviewing the sites of colleges that have strong international business programs.
One of the most renowned universities for international business is Thunderbird.
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