September 10, 2013

Finesse Those Sticky Career Situations

Yes, networking can be awkward — especially in a global setting. Get sage advice on how to handle common dilemmas in international careers, including negotiating a top comp package.

Rebecca McReynolds
Topics: Your Career

No path to the top is smooth the whole way. In part three of our series on global careers, top managers open up about how they’ve handled the snafus that inevitably arise in cross-border business. 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.

Networking is always important, whether you are looking for a job or looking for that next career stepping stone. But for many people it feels awkward. How do you network globally?

Hazleton: Keep building your brand. In our industry we have a number of industry forums, groups, and conferences, and I am always looking for opportunities to speak at these events. My CV is filled with examples of my speaking at well-regarded conferences, and by collecting those experiences I have become considered an expert in the field. Become an active participant. Organize, moderate, or make presentations. The more you become involved, the more people want you to be involved because you are seen as a thought leader.

Prusky: Columbia was a key part of building my international network. When I was first starting out I worked in 10 countries in two years. I always carried a Xerox copy of the global alumni list broken down by country, and whenever I landed someplace new I called people and asked them to lunch.

Bernhard: Also, when you are working abroad there is always a local congregation of businesspeople who are all expats from western counties. That’s where expats come together, and becoming part of that network it not only great fun, it gives you friends and contacts for life.

If you make a wrong turn in your career, such as leaving a corporate job for a start-up and it fails, or you lose your job, how do you get back on course?

Hazleton: First, don’t let that discourage you and don’t wallow in it for too long. People are reluctant to admit failure. I’ve probably made a few mistakes and didn’t want to admit failure so I stayed in that wrong turn for too long. Cut your losses. Don’t wander aimlessly about before taking the next step. The longer you are floating around the less attractive you become to future employers. Most important, don’t lose your contacts. If you are going to take a risky path, hedge your bets. Maintain your contacts, and establish checkpoints to make sure you are on the right target. Use that discipline to make sure that you don’t end up wallowing too long with no bridge back to a career.

Bernhard: This happens quite often, and there is nothing wrong with it, but you need to be active in terms of using your network. Depending on your personal situation, it’s good to take time out and reconsider your options instead of jumping from one job to the next. Evaluate with distance what went right, what went wrong, and what conclusions you can draw from this experience so that you don’t make the same mistake next time. And keep going.

How have you seen people undermine their professional advancement in global careers?

Hazleton: The number one problem that I have seen is people is overpromising and underdelivering. Another common stumbling block is in not understanding the corporate culture. These days we all have many bosses, and sometimes they don’t all like each other. They all have rivalries. You have to understand the politics. Don’t allow yourself to be used as a pawn, and do your best to keep everyone on your side.

Quinn: Organizations, even global ones, are really small. Just a few people can decide the course of your career. A lot of advancement in an organization is about impressing the people who can control your career, so who’s your audience? I had a great relationship with most of the senior executives at Goldman Sachs but not with my direct boss who was the guy who was going to make the decision about my next job. So now I work in the yard, play golf, and do some consulting. I was going do that anyway. I’m just doing it three or four years sooner than I had planned.

Prusky: I think that usually happens when you push too hard without having anything to back it up. If you are going to push, negotiate, and squeeze but you haven’t performed, that will undermine you. You will have created a false sense of value about who you are. You can create that false sense of value even to yourself.

When you get a job offer or promotion, how should you approach the negotiation over salary, work structure, and future advancement possibilities?

Hazleton: Focus on the things that will make you successful, such as role definition and decision-making authority. Be clear about the type and the quantity of the resources you think you will need to be successful. When you position yourself as a problem solver for the company and can show them how hiring you will benefit the company, it starts the relationship off in the right way and they are more willing to negotiate around what defines success for this role.

Prusky: The answer is very simple: you perform well. Go above and beyond, and you become valuable by your ability to be creative and think quickly on your feet, to be trusted, and, most importantly, to get the job done. If all those things happen, you don’t need to negotiate. You become valuable by default.

Quinn: In today’s business environment it’s better to look at any job in two-year increments. What are the skills and experiences that I’m going to accumulate over the next two years? Will they make me a more valuable and capable professional than I am now? People need to think about their career as an accumulation of different skills and things they are passionate about. It doesn’t have to be with the same corporation, but if a company can offer continuing opportunities for you to develop different skills and experiences while you are there, grab it.

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