September 9, 2013

Nab that Global Job

Four top executives describe what they look for when filling an international opening — and which credentials they ignore.

Rebecca McReynolds
Topics: Your Career
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In part two of our series on global careers, top managers describe what they look for when filling an international opening — and which credentials they ignore. The panel includes Tomas Hazleton, Head of corporate and operational risk for Threadneedle Investments; Kevin A. Quinn, founder of Genki Advisory; James F. Prusky, a partner with Crecera Finance Co.; and Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management for Daimler AG.

What constitutes global experience? Is it enough to have P&L responsibility for an international client from a US base?

Quinn: I had a great experience living in Japan for four years, but I don’t think that’s necessary to have a real global experience. When Goldman Sachs was a younger company, going abroad was considered a requirement of leadership. You were taken care of, and you moved ahead faster than people who didn’t go abroad. Now that’s changed. The people who go abroad are being disconnected from where the decisions are being made. Once people get inside big companies it’s very hard to convince them that an international experience is going to be good for their career. They often will be disconnected from all their political capital, and when it comes to promotion and pay, they will usually be in line behind the local people.

Bernhard: I think that depends on the industry. In our business you have to be able to live and work somewhere outside your home base. In the past, we have had very disappointing experiences when we tried to steer markets from the home base. You don’t understand the local customer, your decision-making is too slow, and you can’t provide the immediate solutions that local customers need. Remote-control management doesn’t work.

Prusky: To really have credibility and true understanding you must put your time in and live overseas. It’s a critical part of not only understanding different mindsets but also in appreciating the similarities that exist between different cultures. Anyone who has worked internationally knows that it’s about finding your way in a new place on multiple levels. It’s not just how to navigate the airport and find a good restaurant but how to truly accomplish something and get something done.

How can midcareer professionals gain global experience if they haven’t had it up to this point?

Prusky: You have to decide how much risk you are willing to take to gain experience and credibility. That could simply mean putting your hand up to take on an international assignment. It could also mean taking on a new domestic assignment and finding a way to build an international component into it. For example, if you are working at a domestic manufacturing company and you are developing a new product, look for an international supplier for one of the parts or identify an international customer for the finished product.

Quinn: Managers are going to be looking for unique skills. Do you speak the language? What is going to make you effective in that market? Do you have unusually strong interpersonal skills that will translate in a foreign business culture? You will need to be able to show some experience in your past that will convince an organization that they should put you in a new region in midcareer.

Bernhard: It starts with the person being open to it and having a special aptitude to be comfortable in new situations. People must feel at ease moving to new counties and adapting to new environments. Not everyone is the same in this respect. It is also good to have experience with international travel. If a candidate says, “I would be happy to live abroad” but has never been outside their own country, I get the feeling they don’t know what they are talking about.

How is planning a global career different from simply looking for an overseas job to fill a line on your resume?

Hazleton: International careers have become more difficult because those fat expat benefit packages the international companies used to offer were the first thing to go during the economic crisis. If you are planning an international career you have to be willing to help the process and not price yourself out of the market. Would you agree to coming in as local staff, or do you need one of those rich expat benefit packages?

Bernhard: I’m not going for an international career; I’m going for a career in a certain company or industry. Most big companies have overseas operations, and I suspect that overseas operations are important to these companies. When you have worked in a foreign economy you get a competitive edge when it comes to being considered for top positions. You always get the support from the board when you have proven your case both on the home turf and abroad. Still, while you should always be looking for those opportunities, don’t stay away from the home base for too long. I would say go out for a couple of years, but come back home for a couple of years. That way you don’t completely disappear from the radar screen.

Prusky: International isn’t its own specialized discipline anymore. It is a piece of every aspect of business. If you don’t get the fact that all careers are global, then you a missing a critical factor in the business world today, and you are going to have a huge blind spot in your career path.

In designing a global career path, how can you influence the kinds of projects you’re assigned to — beyond being good at your job?

Bernhard: We are always going to look for people who volunteer. We are never going to force anyone to relocate, but if you show interest and let managers know that this is something you want to do, you will be a top consideration.

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