Confidence in the Cross-Cultural Job Search

I walked into the interview room for a company formed through a merger. The room was small but the employer was a large company in an average city in Connecticut. It was the late 1990’s and I sported a gray striped dress with a long and loose jacket. I rarely wore dresses, making this a serious conversation ahead.

Two men around my age welcomed me to the office and explained how the interview would proceed. They described a bit about the company and their clients (which included Fortune 100 companies) – and boy did that sound intimidating!), and then proceeded to ask me questions about how I might fit into the role of consulting global human resources teams guiding expatriates and repatriates under corporate policies. I carefully explained how my work in international education was more similar to corporate global relocation than one migt think, what made me a unique candidate, and how I approached my work to ensure that my ability to form horizontal and vertical relationships across any org chart would drive success. I must have done well as after a few more interviews, I got the offer.

Was I excited? Heck, yes! But I was a bit terrified!  Would they like me once I started?  Would I fit into a “boy’s club” culture? Did they understand that my  MA in International Education meant that I took cultural competency seriously? And could I actually be confident in this role, one that felt like a tremendous departure from my beloved field of international education? Was how I presented myself on paper in alignment with how I presented myself?

I wasn’t feeling confident. I got the job, but it took me some time to feel truly confident in my role.

My confidence kicked in. at my corporate gig and I loved the work I did with diverse teams. Here I am in the early 2000’s (2nd from the left) working with a fabulous team of Human Resource experts (from Brasil and England).

According to Psychology Today, confidence can be described as “a belief in one’s ability to succeed.” In my experience as a career coach for those seeking jobs across cultures (which I am VERY confident in!), I see four main areas where people lack confidence when applying for jobs, receiving an offer, and actually starting the job:

1)    The resume

For most people, writing (and re-writing) a resume is a futile exercise  When lacking confidence in how to approach this critical document, they tend to scribe a list of achievements peppered with a list of duties. Yet a confident resume is written in a manner that allows the hiring committee to envision the candidate as an employee of the hiring organization, not just someone resting on their accolades. When one writes a resume as the “future you” (the person you can be in the organization’s culture/ job) instead of highlighting the “past you”, the result that is that one is seen more quickly as being in alignment with the hiring organization’s needs. This is when one can show confidence in abilities and skills that make it clear that this is a viable candidat worthy of consideration for the hiring organization’s team. Without confidence in this document, you won’t get past the gatekeepers, plain and simple.

2)    The cover letter

The cover letter is what I call the “heart” of the application. It humanizes the candidate when written well. Yet, most people approach the cover letter feeling clueless about how to truly stand out in an eager pack of job candidates.They aren’t confident to veer off the “safe” template someone handed them in a college career office, typically resulting in a cover letter that repeats the resume (at “x job” I did this, at “y job” I did that…). This format has most people on hiring committees ready to scream or nap…or both!

When one is confident in the cover letter, it reads like an invitation. It whispers:  Go ahead, write my name on the YES list for an interview.  I know you’re intrigued and want to learn more about who I am and why I’m in this vast pool of candidates. Yet many people don’t have the confidence to know how to yield that kind of response to a cover letter, and they get quietly shuffled over to the NO pile.

3)    The compensation negotiation

This is where the lack of confidence most easily rears its ugly head.  Despite being offered a job, most people will not do anything but simply say YES when the offer is heard.  Not know how to approach compensation negotiation leaves hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table over the life of a career, yet most people are afraid to ask, thinking they’ll upset the employer. Sadly, the lack of confidence could mean years of required of work to be able to  afford to retire. Confidence is necessary to negotiate and when you don’t have it, the Human Resource or hiring manager notices is immediately, which makes it easy for them to say no to any requests for additional compensation.

4)    Doing the actual job

Interestingly, I have coached many people who do ultimately land “THE JOB” and then express concerns that they’re not quite up to the task. They feel overwhelmed imagining what it will be like or focus on the 2% of tasks they don’t have experience with vs the 98% that they do! I call this “premature worrying” and it is truly draining and illogical, yet it likely means one cares a whole lot. about the work). Lack of confidence in what skills that got the job is often what keeps us up at night once we are IN the job. Typically, a few weeks into working, those I coach write to me to say how well things are going and that they’re temporary lack of confidence has passed. (Phew!)

Feeling incapable – even for a brief period of time – can be scarring and the aim is to avoid it getting the best of us!

The best remedy for lack of confidence is to put oneself out there to gain experience. With more experiences under our belts, additional time to build that wisdom, positive self-talk, and more comfort in asking questions, one begins to grow the confidence muscle. However, the job search, particularly for international education and cross-cultural positions, requires confidence and many of us simply don’t have the time on the calendar to spend volunteering endlessly or watching YouTube videos to learn the latest technology to truly feel “ready” to apply for a dream job.  We know we have the bulk of the skills, but often the main muscle we need to flex in the job hunt is confidence and it can allude us because, simply put, we are human.

As a career coach, I have worked with hundreds of people over the years who end up in a coaching situations because they simply don’t know the most effective strategy to get from Point A (the search) to Point B (the job) and they lose confidence in themselves. When they participate in a coaching program to support their career goals, they ultimately reflect on their learning journeys and usually have a-ha moments distilled into one or two statements about how something major or subtle shifted in them that “moved the needle” in the quest.  When I recently asked members of the C4 cohort what had shifted for them in their coaching experience, the answer was evident. It was CONFIDENCE.

I really appreciate this quote by Michelle Obama: “Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence.” It directly applies to the coaching process . As a coach, I educate participants about how to exercise their confidence muscle.

To be more confident in the job search process, you must be educated specifically on how it works.  I am grateful to teach this specifically for international education jobs and cross-cultural careers. Without this type of education or training, one may seriously struggle with confidence – and the longer a person goes without landing a job, the worse it may get. This is why I created the C4 cohort for international education and cross cultural job seekers. (Perhaps I should call it the  C5 because confidence is the most common denominator for participants in each cohort.). This strategic program has boosted confidence and yielded fabulous jobs for countless people in the C4 cohort “family”.  Confidence matters…and iit typically requires an investment in YOU.

The C4 starts again on December 10th and I do hope that you will join us. Confidence is a the byproduct of this strategic program which focuses on resumes, cover letters, interviews, and compensation negotiation specific to international education and cross-cultural careers.. And who, after all, would turn down an affordable dose of job search confidence?! 😉