Five things to know about working abroad after an MBA

Many young professionals choose an international MBA for one very specific reason: they want to expand their horizons by working in a culture much different than their own. Those who come from countries with emerging economies boost their chances of finding work this way, because developing nations are offering up an abundance of opportunities these days. Why? Developing nations now make up more than half of the world’s GDP. That’s big news.

But it takes more than just skills and brains to be successful in a cultural environment that is not your own. This is why cross-cultural competency is one of the top skills employers demand. Without instruction or exposure to working with various cultures, MBAs can fall into cultural traps that can derail their attempts to become employed in a “new” country.

Here are my top five recommendations for avoiding cultural missteps when beginning your quest to work abroad.

1) Be open-minded (and be aware!) about the international markets that are currently full of promise, and the skills they require.

Some markets simply have more demand and availability for international managers than others. Right now, we see a lot of demand from employers for managerial talent in places like Panama (which is being very open-minded about immigration these days), China, India, Poland, Russia, the UAE (Dubai) and much of Latin America. But know this: not all markets are created equal. Some have stringent visa requirements, and for many, fluency in multiple languages, especially the native language, is a must (this is particularly true in China).

Do yourself a favor and study local market conditions and visa requirements before you spend a lot of time applying for jobs in a particular area.

2) Don’t change too much about yourself at once.

For many, an MBA is a chance to start fresh. But MBAs switching both their geography and their industry at the same time must be able to prove themselves in both arenas. This can be more challenging than you might think.

Employers will be more likely to hire you if you’re bringing your past industry expertise to a new geography, because they know they can count on you for your professional acumen. But for those who want to make an industry change as well, consider working for a global employer that is expanding in your native country. This type of employer is more likely to have jobs that are the most relevant to your past experience. Some MBAs find success in a “two hop” strategy (and one I advise to the students with whom I work), which entails working for a global employer in their home country, and through promotion or internal transfer, achieving a foreign assignment in time.

3) Watch out for “the trough.”

Much has been written about the various adjustments expats go through when when they move to a new country, especially the notion of a “U-curve.” When graduates first settle in to a new culture, they often feel an initial euphoria, which is understandable—they are overly enamored of their new surroundings and haven’t run into any barriers. This is when an expatriate starts off at the top left of the U. But over time, many people commonly experience a “trough” stage, whereby they quickly become stressed or fatigued by all the challenges of the new environment, and may long to return to more familiar surroundings. This phase doesn’t last forever (which is why the concept centers on a “U” versus an “L”), but it can be a real challenge to those who find themselves mustering through it...


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