Other than being a headhunter with 13 years of experience in the industry, my international profile is often what people remember after having met me: my mother is German, my father Czech and I am married to a French lady. I lived, worked or studied in seven countries, ran spot assignments all over Europe, the U.S. and parts of Africa and I speak five languages.
What learned by living abroad for almost 20 years?
1. People are not the same elsewhere.
If you relocate accounts receivables from New York City to Calcutta, study one year on another continent, or take a sabbatical and vaccinate orphans in Africa, one of the first things you discover is that the locals have a different way of approaching issues than do you. The question to be asked is not, “What is right, what is wrong,” but rather “How do these people do it here and why do they do it this way, how would I do it, and what can I learn from both?”
Even things that look strange to us have a reason (most of the time).
Don’t judge before having asked and understood why things are done in a certain manner: the goal can be the same even though the way to get there may be very different.
Insights from this first point are tolerance, adaptability, flexibility, a healthy curiosity as well as the importance of asking questions and of never assuming anything.
2. People are the same elsewhere.
From 2007 to 2010 when I was working at Robert Half, I was traveling a lot. I coached and led teams all over Europe. Regardless if I was in Paris, Zurich, or Frankfurt, I always heard, “Your advice is awesome and it is soooo true – but it will not work here. We are different.”
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In our business, this may be true for insignificant details such as how to write an email or if you have wine during lunch or not, but it is not for the big picture. Clients in Hong Kong or New York City want a consultant who listens to them, and understands their needs and will present the right candidate fast, and at a correct fee.
Candidates in Dubai or Tokyo want to be treated like human beings, expect to be called back when we say “I will call you on Friday,” and they await a job from us. If you are the owner of a recruitment firm in Mexico City or in The Bronx, you want motivated employees who get the job done, treat customers and candidates right, don’t bring any trouble and never get sick. And the employees of this very firm seek recognition, growth and value in what they are doing.
And, oh yes,Human Resources doesn’t understand the job description, is the last to be involved if anything in the process changes, they don’t want us to talk to line managers, and they all make our lives miserable. This is as true for Wall Street as it would be on the moon!
What will be different may be the way all this is expressed, but the motivations and goals do not change.
Key learnings to be taken from this are abstract thinking, good judgment, the ability to draw synthesis, willpower, a certain friendliness towards risks and a helicopter view.
International work experience will not only make your resume more attractive and secure you a competitive advantage. It will perfect your soft skills and change the way you approach new situations forever. This – and not your technical expertise – will make you successful in any corporate or entrepreneurial context in the world and no awkward boss or economic crisis can ever take that away from you!