Four Approaches to International Careers

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting public health initiatives gave organizations across the globe an ultimatum: operate remotely, or not at all. Local markets and the global economy felt the impact as businesses struggled to stay afloat amidst restrictions on in-person activities. In the wake of these circumstances, one thing became abundantly clear: the global workforce is capable of communicating at unprecedented levels. With professionals and their organizations aware of this ability, now is as appealing a time as ever to jump into a global career.

What opportunities does this globalized economy present for recent graduates and young professionals? Where do they start when launching an international career? Mike Hoer, who has spent over 30 years living in and working in Asia, Africa, and Europe, has an answer. With experience performing both consulting and management roles abroad, Hoer has identified four approaches, or methods, through which young professionals can begin global careers.

Green Beret Method

The Green Beret method may not be for the faint of heart. Throwing structure and methodology aside, according to Hoer, “you just go to a country [and] start looking for work.” While this strategy—or apparent lack of strategy—may be speculative, it comes with the potential to find jobs that others would not have access to. Additionally, Hoer attests that it will lead to amazing experiences.

For example, Hoer tells of one man who undertook the Green Beret method and found a position teaching business English for a local company. While working for this company, the man was asked to help prepare a set of important business presentations. From this opportunity, he ended up earning 1% of the $6 million contract his company closed with Walmart. Ironically, Hoer advises those using this method to find a job other than teaching English in order to better build their resumes. Although it worked for this man, English instruction positions are not always the best launching grounds for career in international business.

For many, the Green Beret method isn’t very feasible. It’s risky and the payoff is uncertain. For less risky methods, Hoer has three other suggestions.

Traditional Method

The most common path to working abroad is what Hoer terms the traditional method, where individuals graduate from school, work for a global company willing to send them abroad, and let the organization know of their desire to go overseas. While some young professionals have started their careers immediately traveling outside of the U.S., Hoer suggests this is becoming less common. He claims that, more likely, “what you do is you work there for a couple of years [and] you show them that you are the trusted employee” before getting a position abroad. Hoer explains that companies want to become confident that the professional will uphold the firm’s values and culture while abroad. Additionally, working in the U.S. before going overseas advances networking that will enable smooth communication when carrying-out international business.

Hoer suggests this method is better for young families because companies are likely to offer more incentives to experienced employees. For example, funding for child education, home leave, and business club memberships are notable benefits that may be easier to secure after establishing trust with a company. Hoer underscores these incentives and concludes, “this tends to be a more lucrative financial proposition. Also, it gives you a lot of flexibility—you can come back after a couple years if you find out the family is not adjusting.”

Frequent Flyer Method

Living abroad may not be for everyone. Luckily with the last two methods, individuals can have international careers without moving overseas.  According to Hoer, the first way of doing so is to “live in the United States and commute—I call this the frequent flyer way.” With technology enabling direct communication between counterparts across the world, it is easier than ever to participate in an international career from the comfort of one’s home country. Hoer himself did this for 6 years, flying back and forth between the United States and Hong Kong, as necessary, for in-person engagements. He suggests this option is particularly attractive to families with older children as it may not be optimal to move the entire family abroad. As Hoer says, with the frequent flyer method, “you have the best of both worlds.”

Home Country Expert Method

Being a home country expert, may be of particular interest to new graduates looking to jumpstart their international careers despite the fact that “the opportunity for rookie job placement overseas [may be] closing a little bit.” Being a home country expert entails advising international executives to ensure they do not make any cultural mistakes while conducting business in the U.S. According to Hoer, “you have a lot of international companies that are coming to the U.S., and let’s say that your expertise, your home country, is the U.S., you then become the expert on U.S. opportunities.” For example, Hoer observes that other countries do not regulate gender, age, and other forms of discrimination as heavily as the United States. This could cause serious difficulties for international firms without prior experience hiring workers in this environment.

Finding such positions will likely entail a little more searching, as the international firms may not be connected to career centers in the U.S. However, Hoer points out that this creates one benefit as consequently “there will be no competition for the job.” While being a home country expert allows individuals to stay in the U.S., it also can lead to opportunities to move overseas if desired. Summarizing, Hoer says, “when you go to a foreign country, you need a local country expert, and that is a great way to have an international career; never leaving your home country if you want, but usually leading to an opportunity to go overseas at some point.”

Conclusion

These four methods provide ways for graduates and young professionals to take their careers abroad. The key to having successful international opportunities is to seek companies willing to encourage the professionals’ chosen strategies—whether that be moving overseas or working remotely from a home country. In the end, however, finding and cultivating international career opportunities depends on the person. Develop the skills and build the trust that naturally lead to the desired global experiences.

To learn more from Mike Hoer on the different aspects of international careers, view his Global Perspectives Summit 2020 presentation here.