There are a wide variety of reasons why students want to work internationally; to experience different cultures; gain international experience; take a 'gap year'; widen graduate career options or simply to return to their home country.
There are also a range of ways in which people engage with work abroad.
The most commonly recognised will be people who live and work away from their home country on a permanent basis, moving to a new post or seeking a position when they get there.
- International transfer or secondment – from one part of a company to another
- Assignment-based work – where there are regular short or medium-term business trips
- International commuting – based at home but travelling on a daily/weekly basis to work in another country
- Contract work - contracted to living abroad for a specific, usually quite lengthy, period of time; work which regularly includes long-term business trips
- Work based domestically but dealing with international suppliers and/or clients.
- Virtual international work – involving working mostly through electronic media in cross-border project teams
- These different ways of working in the international arena require differing levels of skill, commitment and engagement with the host country.
What are Employers Looking For?
Research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has identified the following key attributes that are required for a global employee:
- Strong intercultural and communication skills
- Resilience: working abroad can mean losing the usual support structures of the organisation, friends and family
- Flexibility to adapt to new situations and ways of doing things
- Ability to handle diversity and to understand, respect and adapt to cultural differences
- Knowledge of local conditions
- Awareness of the strategic aims of your employer and an understanding of the international environment in which they operate
- A working knowledge of the local language plus a good level of skill in both written and verbal English. It is common for English to be the working language within many business environments, but a good working knowledge of the local language will help you to communicate effectively and develop good relationships both at work and socially
- And then, not to forget that there are the wide variety of skills normally required for graduate-level work such as problem-solving, analytical thinking, team working, leadership, self-motivation, self-reliance and business/commercial awareness.
Early Planning for Your Global Career
There are a number of ways to develop your global competency after graduation and the international aspects of your career, so it's important to define exactly what a global career means to you and then take steps to develop skills and experience.
International experience may be personally interesting to you or worth gaining to add an additional dimension to your CV, or it may be essential for your longer term career ambitions
You may want a truly global career, involving several long-term expatriate assignments
Alternatively, you may want a career that involves travelling internationally on a regular basis but from a home base, e.g. professional service work, banking or logistics
Your CV can be strengthened by any exposure to experiences of other cultures through learning foreign languages, practising self-reliance or demonstrating resilience and adaptability
Researching labour market conditions, work permit requirements and having a clear understanding of any constraints, as well as planning and preparation, are all important for success.
Support From the Careers Service
Heriot Watt University has a worldwide network of alumni who may be able to help if you're returning home or going elsewhere. Joining LinkedIn and keeping in touch through the Heriot-Watt Alumni Networks is a really good way to get advice from others who have graduated from your programme.
Although we cannot be experts on every country, we can help by discussing your plans, helping you to organise your job search and evaluate what you have gained from your time at Heriot Watt.