Is international work experience overrated?
Kennedy Executive Search is a network with Partner all over Europe and North America and I talk to executive search firm owners, clients and candidates not only in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Denver, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris and Prague but also in many other destinations in Europe, North America, Middle East and APAC.
Some of what I hear and experience is very different. Some is not at all.
In a nutshell, what are the 2 key learnings to be drawn from international work experience?
1. People are different everywhere: If you move your accounting department from Nebraska to Kuala Lumpur (pssst: I know neither one but this stays between you and me, OK?), study one term abroad or take a sabbatical and deworm orphans in Somalia, you will see that local people will approach the same situation differently than you are used to. The question to be asked is not “What is wrong, what is right?” but rather “How do you guys do it here, how did I do it so far and what can I learn from both?” There is a reason for most things in life and what seems strange to you could have a good explanation: the way may be different even if the goal is the same.
Key learnings to draw from this first insight are adaptability, flexibility, efficient communication skills, sensitivity, openness to new ideas and tolerance.
2. People are the same everywhere: I was travelling a lot professionally between 2007 and 2010 and worked with teams all over Europe. And whether I was in Dublin, Zurich or Madrid, I often heard “All you say is terrific and it could not be more true – but that does not work here. We are different”. In my business (recruitment), this may be right for insignificant details, it is wrong for the big picture: clients in any country of the world look for quality, service, a fast solution for their needs and a fair price, manager want employees that do not resign or call in for sick leave, employees wish to be recognized for their contribution and share-holders sleep well if the return on investment is high. The way all this is expressed is certainly different in Osaka than in Mexico City, yet the goal is the same – even though the way to get there may be different.
Skills to be taken from this are abstract thinking, the ability to draw synthesis, good judgment, global thinking but also willpower, the readiness to take risks and a helicopter view.
International experience matters as it will not only make your resume sexy and secure you a competitive advantage. It will sharpen your soft skills and efficiently change the way you approach new situations. These – and not technical skills – will finally determine your success or failure in any corporate context in the world and no awkward boss or crisis can ever take these learnings away from you!