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.