Although jobs are tight in the U.S., more openings are popping up in various hot spots around the world as economies elsewhere continue to grow much faster than ours. In a recent New York Times business column, "When a Career Path Leads Abroad," I gave advice about how to go about finding an international job. Network. Do your homework. Raise your hand high and often for global assignments. Be strategic in how you connect the dots among strong economies, growing industries and your particular expertise or technical know-how. Let's say you follow the advice and land a job in a foreign country. After relocating, what's next?
Well your first year on the ground is critical. Doing the best job you can in a climate of unknowns will challenge you to figure out how best you can succeed. Learning to work in another country takes a great deal of energy and commitment. If you're going to make it past the first year, you'll need to quickly prove you've got what it takes. And although your HQs -- or the transferring office -- may check in with you periodically, the local environment is the one you must conquer, the one you must impress.
The local team generally gives you a few months to get your bearings and start delivering. During that time, you'll be granted some benefit of doubt. But after that, you have to demonstrate that you're capable, no matter how junior or senior you are, or you'll lose the respect you seek and the trust you need from your new colleagues. If you succeed quickly, your reputation will grow. If you don't, overcoming a lackluster first impression will be a monumental challenge.
If you're like the vast majority of the professionals I interviewed for my book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, you'll look back on the first few months and laugh at youself, your naiveté and your cultural bungling. Making mistakes is natural when you're operating in a foreign environment. Moreover, you'll be operating at warp speed as you try to settle in and get the lay of the land. There probably won't be enough hours in the day to resolve the numerous paradoxes or complex problems you'll encounter. But you'll have to do it anyway. Many global workers realize that many of the difficulties they encounter are due to who they are not their new colleagues.
But this new life is not what you're used to, and it's imperative to keep this point in mind. That's why when people ask me for a few key tips when moving to a new country -- no matter where they are moving from or where they are moving to -- I refer them to the "Making the Most of it Maxims" from my book. These are tips I recommend you keep front and center, every day, for at least your first 6 months on the ground. In fact, many friends have written in and said they followed the advice about taping it to the bathroom mirror to read every morning before starting their day
Remember that you are the guest and may need to modify your style. You may need to adapt your behavior to coincide with local norms. This doesn't mean change who you are but you may need to change your behavior within a certain setting.
Figure out what the cultural norms are in social and business environments. Learn the written and unwritten rules, which may vary by industry, hierarchy and culture. Pay attention, ask questions and figure out how things are done.
Accept that paradoxes are part and parcel of international adventure. Cross-cultural life presents a bounty of situations in which you'll find yourself facing apparently contradictory positions. Learn to deal with them effectively or they may inhibit your ability to perform.
Don't be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. You will make mistakes; cultural misunderstandings are inevitable. Learn from them and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Keep a positive attitude and have fun! Some days will be more difficult than others. So take care of yourself and fuel your tank with whatever reinforces you. And of course have fun!
Although living abroad has its challenges, it can also be a terrific, mind-opening experience that enhances both your personal and professional lives. Consider the possibilities, especially in this economy, and take the leap to go global.