7 Strategies for a Successful International Work Assignment

Published: Oct 08, 2018

 Internships       Interviewing       Job Search       Networking       
Article image

International assignments are exciting for a host of reasons, but having the opportunity to live in another country while finding success in your career at the same time is particularly compelling. Working abroad allows you to gain real-world experience, advance the skills you have, and learn how to thrive in a global environment.

But living and working in a new country with a different culture is a major life change. It’s important to immerse yourself in the experience and remain positive through the ups and downs. Below are 7 tips to make the most of your journey abroad.

1. Keep an Open Mind

Social media and the internet allows us to connect with people from all over the world. Take time to learn about the history of your new home, including any local customs or laws, so you can set more realistic expectations ahead of time.

When you finally touch down in your new destination, keep an open mind. What you think you know about an area or country may end up being turned on its head once you spend more than a few days there.

For Allison Alexander, a participant in Abbott’s Finance Professional Development Program, an international assignment was the ultimate lesson in flexibility. “Going to an international role means you’re stepping into a culture and a set of expectations that are foreign to you,” she explains. “It forces you to be open to the unexpected.”

Unlike traveling for leisure, international assignments allow you to spend months or even years in a location. You can, and should, tap into the global mindset you’ve already developed while leaving room for all the surprises that will come from long-term exposure to a different culture.

2. Set Goals

Maximize the benefits of an international assignment by setting goals for yourself at the beginning. What do you hope to accomplish in the first two weeks? How can you challenge yourself once you’ve settled in? And when you leave, what are the skills you want to take with you? Having clearly defined milestones will help you stay focused on what’s important and define the steps needed to grow your career.

3. Develop Language Skills

You may not become fluent, but practicing the local language can help you build deeper connections within the community and potentially open up new work opportunities in the future. Don’t fret if you stumble through mispronunciations and tenses at first, the more you practice, the more confident you'll become, and the better you'll get.

4. Be Adventurous

When you're abroad, it's great to take advantage of travel. You have a new world at your doorstep! It's also a chance to try activities you've never tried before.

"I've been doing things I thought of all my life but could never muster enough courage to actually do," says Timir Gupta, another member of Abbott's Finance Professional Development Program, who has traveled solo, tried skydiving, and chased the northern lights. "And it's a great conversation starter during an interview," he adds.

5. Apply New Perspectives

Gaining insight into different business practices can help you learn to look at old problems in new ways when you return home. This type of creative problem solving will be an asset no matter what your next assignment is.

"When you finally make your way back to a domestic role, you've now become an expert in two completely different professional structures," says Alexander. "You've seen what works and what doesn't in a global setting, and you can lead the group on new ways of thinking that may lead to more success."

6. Expand Your Network

Get out and build connections, both at your assignment and beyond. "Because of traveling, I have friends all over the world," says Gupta. He now has connections across five continents that he can tap into when looking for a reference or career advice.

Luckily, maintaining the professional network you build abroad is now easier than ever before. Social media, LinkedIn, and apps like WhatsApp can help you stay in contact with your colleagues and mentors.

7. Market Yourself and Build Your Career

When you return home, don't forget to incorporate your experience into your personal branding. You want to make sure prospective employers know how your new skills, perspectives, and connections set you apart. Think: How can I rework my resume and reframe interview answers to showcase what I've learned?

Depending on your experience, you may even refocus your career or choose employers who will use your global mindset. If you want more opportunities to go abroad, many multinational organizations offer international assignments. With offices in more than 150 countries, Abbott has numerous internships and development programs for students in finance, information technology, engineering, manufacturing, environmental health, and quality assurance.

Look for companies expanding in emerging markets, too. This can give you the unique opportunity to get in at the ground level and learn how to evolve a product or service to match the local market.

No matter what you choose or where you go, an international assignment can provide you with the unique opportunity to grow personally and professionally—and hopefully have a little fun along the way too.

This post was sponsored by Abbott.