Career represents individual professional journey through jobs, work experiences, skills acquisition, training, learning, research, education, employment, projects, voluntary work, social work, special assignments, experiential learning, etc. giving meaning to the person’s life from an occupational viewpoint. More often than not, careers are undertaken for a very significant part of someone’s life with opportunities for progression, new experiences, career growth and development. Career can be experienced as a single job or multiple jobs; one employer or multiple employers; and one geographical location or multiple locations.
Global Careers create opportunities for professionals to work in different cultures and geographies for one or multiple employers. It often means working in another country or geography requiring some level of relocations, disruptions to personal and family life and perhaps major changes as well. In a highly technological and digital world of work, global careers can equally be experienced virtually, without major physical relocation but with significant travelling experiences and professional contacts with people of different cultures, races, language and lifestyle. For example, some employees of multinational/transnational organizations and globalized companies whilst predominantly operating in their base country or location of primary employment are able to experience a more globalized career through special assignments, international exposures, project participation and virtual teams. These organizations amongst others invest a lot in collaborative structures, systems and digital platforms in driving greater connectedness, synergies and efficiencies through virtual teamwork.
Building a Global Career will therefore definitely require a more active, deliberate and intentional approach as part of one’s overall career journey, aspiration and career development. Perhaps, the best point in life where one can commence the deliberate action of building a global career is when making a career choice within the context of educational qualification and study. This is because, some career choices have higher affinity for global career imperatives and opportunities than others. Importantly, this is driven by global economic indicators and changes and are logically dependent on global demands and supplies of jobs, careers, talents, opportunities, etc.
This write up will focus more on the professional journey, providing some insights and considerations in making a choice to build a global career. It will therefore be analogous to maximizing career opportunities on a journey that has already commenced and attaining a higher altitude!
What should I be paying attention to when Building a Global Career?
- Plan your global career well ahead, be deliberate, and be intentional. It is less likely to happen inadvertently. Globalization presents a unique opportunity for skills that are groomed and developed in Kampala to be needed and sought for in Kentucky. Skills marketability and opportunities to join the world of expatriation increases as the world of work becomes more and more globalized and mobility of resources are less constrained. For instance, the ongoing ratification of African Union (AU) common market protocols and dismantling of barriers in the continent that constrains travels by simplifying visa processing for Africans in Africa will create more opportunities for intra Africa expatriation and movement of skills and talents within the continent. Unarguably, the EU in terms of market maturity, economic stability and social networks is the most enabled ecosystem for citizens to build global careers given career mobility and the ease at which talents and resources can move within the bloc and by extension to other continents. The lifespan of careers nowadays is becoming more elongated, lasting as long as 70 years, with good planning and determination, building a global career gets a possibility boost.
- Whilst work experiences, knowledge, higher qualifications and professional accomplishments are important in both local and international careers, skills building is more pertinent for the latter. Therefore, ensure that your experiences, exposures and educations are all translating into skills, relevant skills. The global workplace and workforce market pays more attention to skills rather than experiences. Skills is the trading currency! Investing in skills and building skills moves you more into specialism in your chosen fields or career paths, specialists are more sought after in the global space as it is always a niche market. Of course, in a global economic downturn and depression, it may become less advantageous based on the interplay of economic indices and demand versus supply. Also as technology advances, skills go into obsolescence faster thereby making some specialism less competitively demanded. Get the basics right by investing in good education, programs and courses that have global components and applications. Also, training in global top rated educational institutions gives you a competitive edge. The 2019 Workplace Learning Report identified in its 3rd Annual Edition both Soft skills and Hard skills that are trending and in high demand globally. For the former dimension, they are: Creativity, Adaptability, Persuading Others, Collaboration and Time Management. Some of the hard skills in global demand are: AI, Analytical Reasoning, Cloud Computing, People Management, Data Science, Digital Marketing, Business Analysis, Social Media Marketing, Game Development, Sales Leadership, Corporate Communications, Journalism, Animation, Mobile Application Development, Translation (demand for interpreters and translators is projected to grow by about 30% before 2025), UX Design, Competitive Strategies, Customer Service Systems, etc.
- As part of your strategy in building global career which is more responsive to globally relevant skills, ensure that you develop other critical skills such as Resilience, Leadership, Business Acumen, Enterprise Mindset, Cultural Awareness, Diversity and Inclusiveness, Computing and Internet Research.
- Learning another language, especially one of the UN official and working languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) helps you position yourself better for a global career. These languages are either the primary or secondary ones of at least 40% of the world population. Go bilingual, even multilingual!
- Build connections, invest in your networks, broaden your professional relationships and make them more global. Seminars, workshops, training programs, volunteering assignments are some of the opportunities that can be leveraged to accentuating your global connectivity. You can also turn your vacation and holiday trips into platforms for developing global mindsets, meeting and connecting with people of other cultures, broadening and deepening your professional connections. Deliberately review your social media and digital footprints and decide how best to further sweat these assets to give you a stronger foothold and enable you extract more value in this sphere. Be more open-minded as the first opportunity for the role that will launch you into a global career can come from the least unlikely places, connections or contacts.
- Re-write or re-configure your CV and make it more suitable for a wider and more global audience. This may also include subscribing to international recruitment organizations (for instance, Gulf Talents, Dragnet, International Recruitment Service, etc.) and having your CVs in the databases of global talent acquisition agencies/organization (for instance, Executives in Africa, Michael Page, Hays, Alliance Recruitment Agency, etc.)
- A tactical approach will be to focus more on frontier and emerging markets – Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Thailand – in the search of your international job opportunities: some of these markets and countries have significant skills shortages, though the Compensation & Benefits may not be in the top percentile of the international market pay scale, it will be a good launching pad or a connection that creates more opportunities. As it is often remarked, “one international experience gives birth to another international experience”, therefore seek for the opportunity and get it earlier in your career journey. Focus on the international marketplace where these opportunities are, be more deliberate in seeking for global career by enhancing your connectedness and creating alignment between your job experiences, career aspirations and globally relevant skills that guarantees mobility.
“Understanding human relationships” and “being aware of how to manage best in a different culture” may perhaps be the most critical factor in succeeding at a global career. Dave Hendrick in his article titled “6 Critical Factors to a Global Career” in 2015 underscores the importance of the first point based on his interview with Scott Price, President and CEO of Walmart Asia. He asked 3 fundamental questions: How do friendships get formed? How does one mentor? How does conflict get resolved?
Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends states that, “Rather than an orderly, sequential progression from job to job, the 21st century careers can be viewed as a series of developmental experiences, each offering the opportunity to acquire new skills, perspectives and judgement. “ Given our VUCA world, rapidly disrupting changes, fast evolving and advancing technologies, it hypothesizes that, “the greatest value now lies beyond purely technical skills”, and with the ascendancy of AI, Machine Learning, Robotics, “the most valuable roles are those that enable machines to pair with skilled, cross disciplinary thinkers to innovate, create and deliver services.”
Scott Hartley writes in his book, The Fuzzy and the Techie, that the best technology and products come from innovations that blend the arts and sciences together: “We need both context and code, data literacy and data science.”
High performing cultures and Performance-driven organizations will – as part of their talent acquisition strategies – continue to prioritize and differentiate talents not just for their technical skills and experiences but more for their soft skills, values, potentials, emotional intelligence, social and collaborative quotients, adaptability, etc.
Finally, global careers though financially rewarding, personal brand marketability enhancing, family and lifestyle enabling by making children embrace global mindsets and cultural diversities, they also have their underlying drawbacks, challenges and risks. Decisions to proceed or not must be taken within wider contexts of the family, opportunity costs, re-entry costs, wider implications, career trajectory, and short term/ long term options and alternatives. For instance (though an outlier phenomenon), I have seen in organizations potential successors who declined international assignment opportunities arriving in the C-suite earlier than their colleagues who did several overseas assignments.
Careers are integral components of our lives, existence and humanity ecosystem. We must actively, proactively and deliberately manage them for growth, fulfilment, success, well-being, multi-faceted stability, relevance and significance.