It’s no secret that cable programmers are expanding their international operations by leaps and bounds. That trend promises to continue at an even faster pace in the years ahead—and for good reason. As Rosalind Clay Carter, SVP of human resources for A&E Television Networks, said, “Globalization is critical for the expansion of our brands while also building an opportunity for the growth of international revenue.”
Revenue isn’t the only thing that’s growing overseas. Global expansion is also producing a wealth of job opportunities for employees who are willing to venture beyond our country’s borders. Whether you are looking to keep your career flowing smoothly upward, explore new horizons or jump start one that’s gotten stalled, accepting an international assignment is a golden opportunity to put yourself front and center on management’s radar screen.
Eric Hawkins, SVP of HR for Discovery Networks International, summed up the reason from his company’s standpoint: “As Discovery continues to grow internationally, it is becoming more critical that our talent understand the opportunities and challenges among other international regions. The skills, experiences and relationships employees develop on assignment will help to strengthen our strategic and operational effectiveness both overseas and domestically. And engaging these skills after you return home will become even more important.”
Chris Powell, EVP of HR for Scripps Networks Interactive, said that the benefits of an international assignment also can be much more personal. “The increased global perspective one can gain from an international assignment expands beyond being in a position of offering broader points of view in a business environment. For many it’s also an opportunity for personal growth. Having increased exposure on how other cultures, people and the world in general see things can be an enlightening and rewarding experience.”
Sounds Good, But… The truth is that living and working in a foreign country is not everyone’s cup of tea. Although some companies, such as Discovery Communications, have short-term projects ranging in duration from six weeks to three months, the norm is one to three years. Even for people who are flexible, patient and able to thrive in new environments, Hawkins said, “working in a foreign culture can be very demanding, with the job constantly changing. And the stresses of everyday living can be challenging. Beyond that, when you’re thinking about accepting an overseas assignment, you have to consider the time, effort, energy and enterprise it takes to pick up and relocate—while still doing your job.”
Depending on your situation, you may need to consider personal factors ranging from how well your spouse and young children will adapt to living in a foreign country to managing the concerns of aging parents and college-age children back home. Regardless of your family status, a major key to success in a long-term foreign assignment is a strong local support system of family, friends or colleagues. Without that emotional safety net, said Lisa Kaye, pres and CEO of greenlightjobs.com, “it can be a real hardship to work in another country for a year or more. In short, you need to decide whether the opportunity for professional growth is worth the personal sacrifice at the time the offer is made.”
Aside from personal considerations, Powell encourages individuals to honestly assess if they have the skills and characteristics needed to succeed in a global position. He identified four abilities to consider that are indispensible: adaptability, language, cultural understanding and listening skills. “Working in a foreign country can be very exciting and challenging all at the same time," said Powell. "Some of those challenges may be based on the fact that people do things differently, both professionally and culturally, and as a guest in another country, having the ability to be flexible, understand the local language and cultural nuances are extremely advantageous.”
And how do listening skills come into play? “Getting a solid foundation or lay of the land is always helpful before offering advice, a point of view or an action plan. Americans are often thought of as arrogant when outside the U.S., and it’s often because ‘we know how to do it well or better.’ Whatever the situation, it is always good practice to listen and understand before reacting.”
You’re Not Alone No relocation is stress-free (as you know, if you’ve moved even a few miles), but industry employers do everything they can to make overseas moves as smooth as possible for employees and their families. Although the exact nature of the assistance depends upon the length and type of assignment, services generally include moving expenses, home-finding help and temporary housing in the new location, as well as language lessons, tax services and immigration arrangements.
Get Ready to Roll Once you’ve decided that an overseas assignment is right for you, how do you go about landing one of these plum gigs? Paul Richardson, SVP of HR for ESPN advised, “Start by letting your manager and your HR business partner know that you’d like to spread your wings abroad. You may also be able to include global assignments in your individual development plan, as ESPN employees can, or managers may call out the opportunity within the company’s talent and succession planning activities.”
On your own, there are numerous steps you can take to boost your chances of going global. Needless to say, it’s important to perform at peak level in your current job. Also analyze your employer’s business, so you can identify where your particular talents can add value. Take stretch assignments in your home location to demonstrate your skills. Leverage your company’s tuition reimbursement program to gain a new language skill or enhance your international business acumen. If possible, show management that you are interested in its global efforts by volunteering for U.S.-based projects with the international department. Applying for a short, temporary project abroad is a great way to demonstrate your abilities as well as test the waters before plunging into a long-term assignment on foreign soil.
Beyond those steps, Discovery’s Hawkins suggested, “Get to know foreign colleagues who are on assignment in your home location, and invite them to social events. As anyone who’s ever been on assignment can tell you, being hosted by a ‘local’ is a treat, and management just may notice your interest in the international life.”
In the long run, only you can decide whether an overseas assignment is right for you. It will cause some inconvenience, and it may not result in an increase in earnings in the short term, but the payoff can be significant. As William J.T. Strahan, senior vice president of human resources for Comcast Cable, put it, “In the long term, you will be the person who is different, who has the unique experience, who answered duty’s call when the company needed you. If you do volunteer, you’ll be building good career karma.”