Roadblocks to a Cross-Cultural Career

What prevents us from truly living the cross-cultural career we dream about? What limits us in our quest to work across cultures, in international education, in global corporations, in work that is mindful of how others around the world are connected?

Having worked as a career coach for hundreds of people, whether recent college grads or seasoned international educators seeking promotions/change in jobs, I see patterns that create real roadblocks. They are often self imposed – and thankfully can be remedied. I have distilled my list down to three main roadblocks.

  1. We get too comfortable

Cross-cultural jobs, particularly in the field of international education, are more competitive than ever.  After all, who doesn’t want to work in jobs that allow us to facilitate the expansion of the minds of others, that often incorporates some travel abroad, and puts us in a space where we are thinking and acting across cultures on a daily basis.

What I have seen, repeatedly, is people resting on the laurels of a dated degree, having lived abroad, or speaking another language. They believe that this gives them transferable skills to allow them to get in the door, which, unfortunately is rare these days. For example, teaching Spanish for 15 years does not mean you can advise on Spanish academic programs effectively abroad – but it does mean you likely teach Spanish well. We get comfortable in our careers and then we seek change (which is healthy!) but we don’t always do the strategic work to path ourselves for our next career step.  If you want to work in a new career across cultures and haven’t before, you’ll likely need to volunteer (locally or virtually) to get that all important experience that opens your resume. (Yes, even if it is volunteering, it should fall under “Experience” on your resume.)

Some people aren’t willing to recognize that immersion abroad isn’t always enough. Some stubbornly expect that their talent  in another career vein should be enough. In most cases, it will not be.

As an example, getting into a study abroad university job means stretching yourself first – reaching out to conduct informational interviews with people in roles that look interesting to you to better understand what the work, asking how you can contribute (for pay or otherwise) in your spare time (such as volunteering at a regional re-entry conference), reading up on the field through the Forum on Education Abroad and other professional associations, and learning the language, acronyms, and hot topics intimately.

Simply put, a cross-cultural career transition requires getting uncomfortable!

2. Lack of a digital footprint

The internet has opened up new pathways for employers to more carefully examine the perception of quality/knowledge and the credibility of voice of candidates.  This means that before you are hired, there is a good chance that someone is googling you to see how you present yourself out in the world and what you have to say about the work you aim to be part

of. Yet, many people do not have a digital portfolio to help make the process easier for prospective employers.  A portfolio is an online “home” for your voice and academic work. It should include relevant blog post links, abstract of your thesis/dissertation, exquisite recommendation letters/thank you notes from customers, and any other evidence of your understanding of the job posting and daily work priorities, Consider that these should be relevant and germane to the job you seek, not the one you had. If you don’t have a digital footprint, you are communicating to prospective employers that you have not been active in the field you seek via technology, which is an increasingly important skill for nearly any field these days, but particularly for cross-cultural roles.

3. Not being current on the cross-cultural field 

Times are changing, yet I’m still (and often) asked about how much a Master’s degree matters in the cross-cultural job search.  It really depends on the job and while there is an increasing discussion about the value of scholar practitioners in the higher ed scene as one example, having some “proof” of expertise  is critical, no matter your specific career path. But the reality is that beyond the MA (which is often a benefit for university positions), one must be up to date on the happenings in the field you wish to partake in.  f you want to work in international relocation for a Fortune 500 company – you must know the trends in human resource policies.  If you want to work in international admissions for a college, you need to know how visa laws for the F1 and J1 may be changing under the current administration. If you want to work in education abroad, you need to understand safety practices and processes as well as educational systems in other countries.  If you want to work in refugee programming and support, you need to understand trauma and crisis counseling. It requires reading up on the field, attending conferences, and investing time and resources in training.  For some, it may require returning to school for a certificate or further degree.  I realize budgets are tight, but we can be creative with how to advance our knowledge of working in jobs across cultures.  Want to learn about study abroad growth and program development?  Try ASU’s free class on the topic, created in conjunction with the US State Department.  Want to learn about how companies move employees around the world?  Read up on it on SHRM’s website.  Want to know more about international recruiting for colleges?  Study NAFSA’s resource page on the topic. Eager to learn about how to support refugees as a career?  Try a site like Amnesty International which has offered a free MOOC on refugee rights.

As a career coach, I am confident that these three major barriers to entry can be remedied.  If you’re interested in learning how to strategically approach the search for a career across cultures, consider the upcoming C4 Cultural Career Coaching Circle (cohort) which starts in late September. The methodology we follow is proven and we use international education as a framework to illustrate the methods – but we certainly can coach you in other cross-cultural career paths!