Archive for the ‘The World at Work’ Category

Congressional Internships – Ideal Building Blocks

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

In Working World, Mark and I discuss the importance of having “building blocks” on your resume. These are experiences that show you have survived a rigorous vetting process and are capable of working effectively in a challenging or fast-paced environment. For example, when I was interviewing candidates at the Institute of International Education or NCIV (now Global Ties U.S.), I was always pleased to see Peace Corps volunteer, Experiment in International Living Group Leader, or study abroad experience on a resume.

Serving as a Congressional Intern is also one of those impressive building blocks.  David Roman, who participated in a Career Coffee I conducted late last year, recently joined the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein.  He just shared the list and bios of the Spring 2015 Interns sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
Each of these interns will have a notable building block to add to his or her resume.  What are the building blocks on your resume?  You should be able to distill the lessons you learned from each in an interview
Serving as a Congressional Intern is also one of those impressive building blocks.  David Roman, who participated in one of the Career Coffees that I conduct, joined the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein earlier this year. He just shared the list and bios of the Spring 2015 Interns sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Each of these interns will have a notable building block to add to his or her resume. What are the building blocks on your resume?  You should be able to distill the lessons you learned from each of those building blocks in a job interview.

How do I get pre-Masters, salaried work in the field?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

A recent email I received from a Working World reader went like this:

I myself am interested in a career in international education. I had hoped that my own personal experiences abroad – one year of Rotary Youth Exchange in Italy, three years of university and one year of English teaching in Spain – would be enough to land me a position in the field.
I have applied to a number of positions (e.g., International Student Liaison at GW, Program Associate at IREX), but am starting to feel that almost all of these entry-level positions give preference to graduate degree candidates. Do you have any recommendations for gaining pre-Masters, salaried work in the field?A re

I am interested in a career in international education and exchange. I had hoped that my own personal experiences abroad – one year on an exchange program in Europe, three years of university, and one year of English teaching abroad – would be enough to land me a position in the field. I have applied to a number of positions in the field in the DC area, but am starting to feel that almost all of these entry-level positions give preference to graduate degree candidates. Do you have any recommendations for gaining pre-Masters, salaried work in the field?

Some excellent questions packed in here, ones that I hear regularly. My response to this reader went something like this:

It sounds like you’re building a good resume for work in the international education/exchange field—don’t let yourself by deterred or disheartened if you’re applying for but not landing these jobs. The difficult fact is that the people hiring for these positions likely received a large number of applications, including a lot of qualified ones (when we recently hired for an entry level position at my organization, we received 400+ applications). Just because you didn’t get those jobs does not mean you aren’t qualified for them, or other ones like them.

While some positions may prefer or even require a master’s degree, my honest opinion is that a Master’s is not the (or even a) key criteria most organizations are looking for, especially for entry/junior level positions. I think “Master’s preferred” has become something of a reflexive criteria included in many job descriptions, whether or not a higher degree is actually necessary to be successful in the position. For my part, I’d much rather hire someone who has the right combination of experience, skills, disposition, and who I feel will be a good fit for the team, regardless of their higher education situation.

A few further thoughts:

  1. How well are you highlighting the skills and experience you do bring to the table? Sounds like you’ve had a number of varied experiences in the field—so ask yourself: why should they matter to potential employers and the specific positions you’re applying for?

    Cover letters are very important, and I’d encourage you to look back at your own and see if they truly convey what you hoped they would. A good cover letter should seek to impart not so much what you’ve done, but why you’re a good fit for the positions you’re applying for and why your particular skills and experiences are relevant. I often see cover letters that are nothing more than a recitation of a resume. No need for this duplication. Rather, use the cover letter to interpret your resume for the potential employer, to let them know why they should care about your particular skills and experiences–why those skills and experiences are relevant and will put you in a position to succeed in that particular job.

  2. Do informational interviews. I’m not sure where you’re based, but if you’re able to meet directly with people at organizations in cities (like DC) where you’re interested in working, do that. I’ve seen firsthand how successful this tatic can be. People want to hire known quantities, candidates who they’ve seen in person and can judge to be good, reliable, quality people.

    People are also typically more than willing to talk with you for 15-20 minutes and tell you more about their jobs and their organizations. This is a great way to get to know organizations better, as well as to network and to put yourself in front of those who might be hiring later on. So don’t worry if an organization isn’t hiring at the moment (in fact, informational interviews often work better if it’s not attached to a job opening—makes the conversation more relaxed and natural, and the person you’re talking with doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get something out of them, rather just hoping to connect and learn). Target organizations you’re interested in working at and try to locate a mid-level person (not a CEO or senior leader) who is doing interesting work and you’d be interested in talking to. Email them and ask them for a short informational interview (at their office, or at a coffee shop convenient for them, or even via phone or Skype if you can’t be in DC). Then after your conversation, stay in touch with them by email. If a job does open at their org, they should be the first person you talk to before applying. And they may even pass along job openings to you that they learn about, since they know you’re looking.

Three easy steps to not being awkward at a networking event

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I’ve admitted it before: I can be awkward at networking events. While I’m an outgoing person, I’m reluctant to randomly approach people I don’t know. If I attend an event with a group of colleagues, I’ll talk mostly to them. If I’m by myself, you might find me near the bar or slowly circling the room to avoid the embarrassment of standing alone. I’ve heard from many other professionals who’ve expressed similar feelings.

For career development, though, these events can be important. And sometimes we just can’t avoid them if they’re a part of our jobs. We can’t always count on going with colleagues or running into people we know. So how can those of us who struggle with networking events get the most out of them? Here are three easy steps that might help:

  1. Head straight to the bar. No, no, not because you need booze to make it through. This move provides you with an immediate destination when you arrive and something to do when you first walk into the room, other than stand there awkwardly. (Also, you never know who you might meet at the bar.)
  2. Once you have a drink in hand, briefly survey the room. Look for someone standing alone, or a small group of two or three people. I usually look for people at a standing table, which provides a set location and somewhere I can set my drink or a plate of appetizers. It also makes it easier for other people to join the group.
  3. Once you’ve identified a target, simply approach and introduce yourself. Do so not too aggressively—don’t startle or abruptly interrupt a conversation. But be confident. Don’t linger and wait for your target to notice you. Use body language to indicate your intention to join (like setting your drink on the standing table). This cold-turkey approach can be hard for some of us, I know. It is for me. But I’ve discovered, lo and behold, people go to networking events to meet other people (I know, a groundbreaking insight). Approaching a new person and starting a conversation is, in fact, something that’s kind of expected at networking events.


Why the wink and the gun? My submission to the Race Card Project

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Attending CIEE’s annual conference last week in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to hear Michele Norris of NPR speak. Norris talked about how she “had it all planned out” but ultimately had to set those plans aside, when life pushed her in a different direction (a sentiment I’m sure many of us can relate to). Specifically, Norris meant she thought she never wanted to be “the reporter who was always talking about race,” but ultimately came to embrace her passion for encouraging candid conversations among Americans about race, ethnicity, and cultural identity.

To that end, she began the Race Card Project, an effort to encourage these conversations. She asks people to distill their thoughts, feelings, and observations about race into one six word sentence. She challenged the CIEE audience to try. Mine came out like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 10.45.24 AM

Norris tweeted me back, asking to hear more. So here it is:

I grew up in a mostly white suburb north of Cincinnati, Ohio. My grade school was not diverse. I remember one black classmate in my year – we played baseball and basketball together – and one girl of Asian descent, but that’s about it. My high school was more diverse, but not by much.

When I was 15 and a half, going on 16, I enrolled in a driver’s ed course, as everyone at that age does. The driving school was in a diverse neighborhood that was also central to many other neighborhoods – so the school drew students from a variety of different places and backgrounds. Which meant a variety of races. Which meant I was in class for the first time with a lot of black students.

I didn’t think much about this in the broader sense of racial politics or diversity. But I do remember being aware of it, aware of the details, like the way my black classmates talked to one other, interacted with the teacher, and approached the learning environment – which was often different than what I was used to at my mostly white school. Not wildly or uncomfortably different, but different enough that I can, 18 years later, still remember being in that classroom.

One day in class, the teacher asked a question. I couldn’t tell you what that question was, but I guess I knew the answer, so I volunteered. I was correct, and the teacher said well done. I remember one of my black classmates turning around and praising me for my correct answer. I don’t remember exactly what he said, and I don’t remember his particular tone or intention. Meaning, he might have been actually praising me, or maybe he was gently giving me shit for being a know-it-all, or more likely somewhere in between. Just one teenager talking to another.

And anyway, that’s not really important. What’s important – and what I do clearly remember – is my reaction. I gave him the wink and the gun. You know, the wink and the gun: that gesture where you stick out both hands like mock guns, thumbs raised and pointer fingers pointed ahead, while winking and making a little clicking sound with your tongue and your back teeth. The reaction to this was instantaneous: raucous laughter all around. Someone yelled with glee, “Oh, he gave you the wink and the gun!” The teacher called for order, things quieted down, and class continued.

I was left burning with some combination of embarrassment and confusion. Why the wink and the gun? Why did I just decide on a gesture I’d ever done before and probably haven’t done since (at least non-ironically)? Did I think this was something black kids my age did? Did I think it would make me “cool” with him? Did I just not have any idea how to relate to a black peer, so I crashed around searching for something, anything, I thought to be appropriate?

In the grand scheme, a small moment. But one that has, for whatever reason, stuck with me. I’m not even sure there’s a broader point here. But if there is, maybe it’s this: when we’re getting to know people different than ourselves (different race, gender, neighborhood, country, culture, etc.), it’s probably best to just be ourselves. And maybe even more importantly, best to allow those we’re getting to know to be themselves too—and avoid imposing upon them our own (likely erroneous) notions of who they are.

Oh, and also, don’t give the wink and the gun. To anyone. It makes you look like an idiot.

Dealing with the overwhelm: you’re not as busy as you think you are

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Are we really as busy as we say we are? Hanna Rosin doesn’t think so.

In Working World, Sherry and I talk about a condition familiar to many, known as “the overwhelm” (a term also mentioned in Rosin’s article). The overwhelm may be not only something we all deal but also something many of us (perhaps unconsciously) strive for:

“Busyness of a certain kind…became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour.”

This makes sense to me. How many times have I responded to the question of “How’s work?” with the barely-thought-out answer of: “Busy.” And this comes whether I’m actually particularly busy or not. Why am I compelled to characterize things as busy, regardless of reality? Likely because answers like “slow,” “not too bad,” or “you know, I’m actually pretty bored at the moment” aren’t the right ones. I might come across as unengaged, lacking passion, like a slacker. It’s “busyness as a virtue…a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be ‘busy.’”

This trap is hard to avoid. We stay late at work or check/answer emails immediately not always because we need to or are required to, but because we think this is a mark of productivity. And this leads us down a path where we confuse being a hard worker with being a smart or talented or efficient one.

One aspect of the international nonprofit world that I am grateful for is a commitment to work-life balance. To ensuring that excess hours and unnatural email response time expectations are not a part of the package. Some of this stems from being in an industry in which salaries are typically lower, and thus some extra “compensation” can be gained from humane hours and expectations. But part of it also comes from working with and around a group of people who are innately curious, restless, and inclined toward a broad interest in the humanities. And what I mean by this is: the international education and exchange community is full of people who like to travel and do other stuff good too. So it’s often not a challenge to get them to listen when you say, “stop working and go do something else.” They’ve likely already booked a plane ticket.

Sherry and I try to give our own antidotes to feeling the overwhelm in Working World: Disconnect. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, plan a trip (go on a trip!), spend time with family and friends. I think we’d both stand by these recommendations. But I also love this solution from Rosin’s article:

“The answer to feeling oppressively busy…is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it, ctd.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The British Council agrees with IES Study Abroad (whose recent study shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market):

Venturing overseas to get a degree makes you attractive to employers – and it’s fun.

Thanks to David Comp for the tip on this article. David also points to the oddly cheery “and it’s fun” in the subtitle, as well as the fact that this fun factor (which we can’t help agree with) is never discussed in the actual article. David asks: “Why then did the author feel the need to include this in the sub-title of the article?” A good question, especially when you consider the last line of the article:

“If you don’t like it, you can always go home.”

Fair enough and certainly true. But related to both David’s take on the balance between an academically rigorous study abroad program and one in which students are able to travel, drink “underage,” and generally cut loose, as well as this idea of whether study/living abroad is always “fun,” I’ll throw out there that: 1) life abroad is not always fun and 2) even the un-fun parts can still be beneficial.

A quick example: my girlfriend studied abroad in Paris for a semester, though it was supposed to be a year: she cut it short because the experience was a difficult one for her (she didn’t like it, so she went home, I suppose). That doesn’t mean she didn’t like everything about the experience. There were many parts of France and the French and life with her host family that she loved. But there were also an overwhelming number of difficulties (expenses and difficulties with overaggressive and culturally-insensitive French men, to name but two) that made her experience a truly “un-fun” one, so much so that she cut her time there short. She didn’t have “fun” on her study abroad experience in the same way many people do—traveling every weekend and drinking into the wee hours every night. Yet her experience in Paris was still very formative. She gained important skills that she continues to use to this day—not just language and cultural skills, but also perseverance, adaptation, and self-reliance. Despite some negative experiences, she still holds a great affection for France and the French people. And despite the fact that she wasn’t able to travel all over Europe like many of her classmates, she came away from the experience with a desire to see more and go further, a desire which she has been trying to satisfy through further international experience and travel as she gets older.

As David says, everyone has a different definition of fun. In the same way, the “success” of a study abroad experience can come in different ways for different people. It’s important to both be open to what comes your way while you’re actually studying abroad, and to allow yourself the opportunity to discover how that study abroad experience continues to affect you (perhaps in unexpected ways) as you move further away from it.

Give it a ponder

Friday, December 4th, 2009

When sending out any email or other type of communication during your job search, it never hurts to take your time and do it right, to, as the wonderfully strange James Lipton says, give it a ponder:

Lots more Lipton here. Of course, any Lipton reference inevitably brings us back to Will Ferrell and a scrumtralescent Alec Baldwin:

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Something for you to counter that crap with: an IES Abroad study that shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market:

Parents of returning study abroad college students found the experience initiated a sea-change in their willingness to be more responsible, act independently, and take on the world by themselves.

I place this and other arguments like it in the category of “things I wished I’d known 7-10 years ago when debating my dad about the merits of going abroad.” That I would be gaining “maturity, self-confidence, appreciation for other cultures, and independence,” marketable skills in any profession, would probably have sounded a lot better than, “Well, uh, why not? I know you don’t want me living in the basement anymore anyway…”

In other news, was my study abroad really 10 years ago? Almost. Guh.

The racial gap in the job hunt

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I read with interest this piece in the NYTimes yesterday about the racial gap in the job hunt and felt it was worthy of attention, and perhaps comment, in this space—though I really didn’t know how to thoughtfully add to the discussion, as racism in my career has never reared its nasty head (either directly, as I’ve always been a white job applicant, or indirectly, as I’ve never personally witnessed outright workplace racial discrimination).

Luckily Ta-Nehesi Coates steps in and does the heavy lifting for us. His take on all matters black and white is as thoughtful, thought-provoking, and balanced as it gets. If you don’t read him regularly, I would recommend it.

UPDATE: It also occurs to me to acknowledge, in the context of the international affairs arena (though this could apply in any industry), the discrimination a job applicant with a “non-American” sounding name could face. The Times article points out that Barry Jabbar Sykes, ”who has a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, now uses Barry J. Sykes in his continuing search for an information technology position, even though he has gone by Jabbar his whole life. ‘Barry sounds like I could be from Ireland,’ he said.”

Did the name Jabbar imply to potential employers that he’s black (which he is)? Non-American (which he isn’t)? Perhaps Muslim (no discussion of his religious affiliation, which is how it should remain)? Some combination of the three? Do applicants for a U.S.-based job, no matter their race or country of origin, face discrimination if they have a “foreign” name, one that isn’t boilerplate Anglo-Saxon? It’s certainly possible. Perhaps a “foreign-sounding” name indicates the applicant is a non-native English speaker, and thus doesn’t possess language skills that are up to par for the job? Or the requisite cultural skills? Every new job has a learning curve, but perhaps the “non-American” applicant’s learning curve will be too long to make it worthwhile to hire him or her? It’s actually quite easy to see how someone (even myself) could judge an applicant in these ways solely based on their “foreign” name or the “foreign” manner in which their resume or cover letter is put together, etc. (Does my recent rant about “odd” cover letter salutations fall into this category? Seems like it easily could, and this may be something I need to check myself on.) Of course it’s up to every job applicant, no matter their name, race, or country of origin, to put together their application in a professional way–clear, cohesive, concise, well-written, no grammatical or copy-editing errors, suitable for the cultural/national context in which they’re applying. But it’s also up to the hiring manager to view each application and its inherent parts with no prejudgment or bias.

As to those “foreign-sounding” names…if a person’s name says very little about what they look like, it says far, far less about who they actually are and what they can do. Even so, the human temptation to assume based on surface indicators stubbornly remains.

Reality check: are the jobs out there?

Monday, November 30th, 2009

An Andrew Sullivan reader is having a rough time finding that first job out of college:

I’ve only had five cumulative months of employment since, this in spite of a “practical” degree (economics) from a “good” school (East Coast whatever – if my situation is any indication, an Ivy degree doesn’t mean jackshit). Friends of mine with relatively less worldly degrees in many cases have not been able to find a job at all in over a year. And it is not that we’re just sitting on our asses, playing video games because we think we’re above a certain kind of work – this high-handed claptrap is perhaps the most irritating snobbery of so-called “experts”, of a piece with their stellar market analysis over the last decade. No, when we say we can’t get a job, we mean we can’t get any job.

Certainly white-collar jobs, those that we thought we were being prepared for, are so few and far between that they’ve become the stuff of lore, a mythical entity. When someone manages to snag one of those these days it’s treated like a fucking miracle, complete with celebration and deepest envy both. This just for a job! Not two years ago a job was practically a birthright, plentiful and in season; now it’s something to forage and kill for. But we’re having to compete now for jobs that anyone can do – which makes it that much harder to get them as well. Temp agencies mostly turn us away. Shit, even the damned Safeway near me isn’t hiring. I’m perfectly content to bag groceries or wash cars or do construction, but there isn’t a scrap of work to be had.

If all that sounds unbelievable, then you just don’t know what it’s like right now for young, inexperienced people whose first taste of the labor market has been one of closed doors and pounded pavement and steadily increasing panic. At the moment I do have a part-time temp job and I’m grateful for it, but I don’t know how long it’ll last. Every time a superior passes my desk I quake because he or she could be coming to give me the axe – this is how we fortunate employed spend our days, adrenaline-riddled and constantly on tenterhooks. I don’t have health insurance. I’m engulfed in student loans.

How does this compare with your experiences? Are recent college graduates looking for work in international education, exchange, and development having this much trouble? Is the white-collar job in international affairs out there to be had, or rather a “mythical entity”?

“The wanderlust of a new generation”

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

In so many ways, such a beautiful thing. If my own generation (I’m pushing 30—guh) is one in which the world knows no boundaries and international interaction is an accepted, common, and well-loved part of personal and professional life, then those younger than me—the “next” generation—is pushing this concept to Jean Luc Picard-like heights. And this, it’s worth repeating, is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the reasons I got into the international exchange field. The more and the earlier young people are exposed to the wondrous variety yet common humanity that makes up our world, the better—the better for them, for their families, their countries, their chosen professions, and all of us.

From a purely practical perspective, though, this wanderlust can throw up professional development hurdles. That is, us young folk inflicted with wanderlust, because we are fixated on traveling to exotic locations as part of our careers, tend to view potential job opportunities solely by the travel opportunities inherent within them. I’ve said this before, like yesterday, and I’m drawn to it again because of this BusinessWeek article focusing on the top employers for those who want “international work that will take them abroad.”

I already made my argument yesterday as to why one will be well-served to examine the entirety of a potential job or career track rather than focusing only on the travel aspect, so I won’t rehash things again. But I will make a point I don’t think I’ve made as extensively in this space as I should: that an internationally-oriented job can be deeply fulfilling and help to satisfy wanderlust even if travel isn’t a regular component. In my case, my days are spent deep in issues of international exchange, which I find to be cool and terribly fulfilling. Because I’m immersed in a professional world that is completely international, I always feel international, regardless of where I physically am.

I may be sitting at a desk in DC, but I’m emailing with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. I’m contemplating the potential implications of the lifting of the travel ban to Cuba or of Obama’s promise to send 100,000 American to study in China. I’m meeting with an education ministry representative from Ireland who is helping in our efforts to convince Congress that exchange programs need to be properly, but not overly, regulated. I’m talking to the Fulbright Commission in Mexico. I’m talking to an EducationUSA advisor in Budapest. I’m talking to an exchange agency in Bangkok who is helping to recruit our next international intern.

True, I get very excited about the actual international trips I get to take and for me, like for so many of us, the ability to travel (for work and for pleasure) is a big part of my existence. But the fact that I am immersed in an international world and international issues with international people on a daily basis and in my daily work is not something I take for granted—and all of this does, I find, help to satisfy my wanderlust during those times when I’m not able to jet off for some place new.

Mentoring update

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

A month and a half ago or so, I noted that I am now, despite my reservations about the concept of a formal and prescribed mentor-protege relations, an official American University mentor. I also mentioned that my AU senior and I seemed to be on the same page about things—we don’t really know how this is supposed to work, but we’ll just keep an open mind and see how things progress.

And I’m happy to report that they’re moving along well, and naturally. We haven’t felt the need to force things—say, by going to a professional event together simply because we felt like that’s what we’re supposed to do. Rather, we’ve kept it low key and that’s worked well for us. We’ve met for a beer and just chatted—a bit about school and career stuff, but mostly about ourselves, getting to know each other. She came to an Alliance event, heard a Congressman speak, and got to meet several people in our field and find out more about what kind of work they’re doing. And we’ve kept in good touch via email. I’ve forwarded her articles or event listings I’ve come across, and she’s asked me questions that happen to pop into her mind. For example, the other day she emailed me:

Do you keep in contact with your former employers? And how much contact with people is enough to claim that you are in contact with them? Is this like you exchanged business cards with them at an event once upon a time or you drop them an e-mail to say hi every few weeks?

I realize the obvious answer is that it is entirely circumstantial and depends but I thought I’d ask. The reason is that I will probably have to start applying for jobs in the near future (scary!) and will probably need references. Because I was gone all last year I don’t have references from my junior year (unless I apply somewhere in [country where she studied]) and will probably have to depend on my supervisor from sophmore year internship (and wherever I intern next semester). Is it unfair for her to be called by a prospective employer if I haven’t talked to her in a couple of months (I contacted her over the summer)?

A good question, one I was happy to weigh in on. I like that she’s thinking about things like this and that she feels she can ask me about them—not because I know the right answer but rather because it’s good to discuss and talk stuff like this out. Even if we don’t arrive at an answer, at least we’re moving the discussion along.

So I’m pleased with the way the official mentoring duties have gone so far and hope to have more positive updates soon. After the jump, my answer to her email question.


I get it: you want to work abroad.

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

But what kind of work do you want to be doing abroad?  Why do you want to work abroad?

These are questions I continually raise in my sessions. Traveling/working abroad is not synonymous with pursuing an international career. They can overlap, and for many of us hopefully they will—but they are not one in the same. Just because a job has a travel component or allows you to live in a different country doesn’t mean it’s the right job for you or your international career. It might mean that, but you’ve got to look deeper—go beyond the travel component.

This issue loomed large during my sessions in Tulsa last week. At an evening session last Tuesday, I first threw out a few remarks and then chaired a panel discussion that included a Foreign Service Officer, a TU marketing professor who had done the Peace Corps, the Director of Business Intelligence for the Hilti Corporation (based in Liechtenstein, Hilti “develops, manufactures, and markets products for the construction and building maintenance industries, primarily to the professional end-user”), and the Director of Global Business Services for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. It was a great panel, representing a diverse array of jobs/experiences with international elements to them.

Yet I kept being forced to draw the conversation back from discussions of “how will this job take me abroad?” to more concrete discussions of “yes, but what do you actually do in your job?”

For example, the Foreign Service Officer spoke about his 32 years living in umpteen different countries and some of the cool adventures he had. All great stuff. But I felt compelled to draw him back to the specifics: What was his daily work like? What did he spend his days doing? He was a consular officer—how did his work differ from the work of other professional cones in the Foreign Service? What about some of the difficulties that come with moving every few years to a new country? With living in difficult and dangerous locations? The travel is cool and all, but it won’t matter unless you enjoy the work you’re doing and the life you’re leading.

Also, take the Hilti representative. He spent much of his time talking about his company’s internship program, how students are recruited for it, how one might get hired on full time and then, after that, what it would take to work abroad or travel abroad regularly from a U.S. location. It was all about the travel. Which, again, is all well and good, but, again, I felt the need to draw him back with a simple question: but what do you actually do? I had no concept of what kind of a company Hilti actually is, let alone what this Director of Business Intelligence’s job might entail on a day to day basis.

So he told us a bit about it. And I’ll admit, I kind of zoned out. It had something to do with sales, more to do with statistical analysis and several other things that make me break into a cold sweat. The next day I spoke with a TU student who’d done an internship with Hilti and found it not to be to her liking. She’d been drawn in by the sell of the “international” and hadn’t looked deeply at what kind of company Hilti is and what she’d be doing as an intern. What she ended up doing were tasks not at all suited to the kind of work (she discovered) she’d like to be doing.

I don’t mean to bad mouth Hilti here—on the contrary, it seems like a fine company and its rep at TU a funny and interesting guy. I also understand that there are many people who would love to work at a place like Hilti and do the kind of work that makes me break into a cold sweat. My point is that we shouldn’t be judging a job or a potential opportunity by the simple fact of whether it has an international travel component. That may be one part of our judgment, but we also need to be looking at what we’ll be doing day in and day out during that job. How do we want to spend our days? I want to travel to great places, for sure—but I also want to do fulfilling work that matters to me and that I enjoy. Work that takes place in an environment I can thrive in and with people I like. Work that allows me to live the kind of life I want to live. Don’t let the travel part trump all other considerations, or you run the risk of finding yourself in a job that travels, yes, but one that you really don’t like all that much.

From exchange student to microbrewer

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I’m tardy in my follow-up from Tulsa (which was a well-spent day and a half during International Education Week chatting with students about international careers), but before I do a full wrap-up, a quick study abroad story of the “you never know where things will take you” nature. As relayed by my Tulsan dinner compatriots at a dark, kind-of-hipster but still kind-of-old-timey and altogether charming restaurant called Lola’s on the Bowery, while drinking a Marshall’s Atlas IPA:

Eric Marshall was studying in the unique International Business and Language program at the University of Tulsa when he decided to study abroad in Germany. His time in Germany—namely his time spent at pubs and amidst the local beers—was so formative that he decided to return after graduation and take a self-guided learning tour of German breweries, learning the secrets of the craft. He used his business skills honed in the IBL program and his beer-brewing skills honed in Germany to create the Marshall Brewing Company, the results of which I discovered are quite hoppy and refreshing.

You never know where study abroad might take you…


“Travelling is a fool’s paradise.”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

As a devil’s advocate-like follow up to last week’s take on why travel really, really isn’t a waste of time, a few quotes from some luminaries on why, sometimes, it can be better to stay at home and how what we thought we might have left behind actually goes wherever we do. First, Emerson:

The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise.

Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home.

After the jump, GK Chesterton and one of my favorites, David Foster Wallace.