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Developing Your Global Career

by Aga Sypniewska, MBA, MA. Career Counselor / International Program Manager University of Colorado Boulder / Career Services

Have you ever dreamt about an exciting international career at a multinational organization based somewhere overseas while working with people from other countries, experiencing other cultures, and traveling the world? This idea is no longer a fantasy. Globalization and internalization have created numerous opportunities for people with similar interests and international aptitudes. In fact, according to the Association of American Residents Overseas, there are over 6.3 million Americans living and working overseas[i].
Employers also value global competencies as they believe those skills promote team efficiency, support trust building among clients, promote a diverse workforce, and help gain new clients around the world while creating better brand reputation.  In the British Council’s study (2013)[ii], 90% of surveyed recruiters said they value those skills while 47% of them consistently screened candidates for them. Employers are specifically looking for candidates who: (1) understand and respect people from other cultures, (2) are able to easily adapt to new environments and changing circumstances, and (3) speak foreign languages.
Students also recognize the impact of globalization on the world of work and the need to develop global competencies that will ultimately lead them to rewarding international careers. But, mistakenly, most students believe that they “can’t begin an international career until their feet are on the foreign soil” (Duke University, n.d.)[iii].  Hence, many students who visit Career Services for help on developing their global careers come with an expectation of being referred to a specific international position that is pre-arranged and ready to go. However, such opportunities usually require a fee and are not paid.
Since many students cannot afford to go abroad on such programs and/or are not sufficiently prepared to do so, such expectations are not only unrealistic but also not beneficial. Luckily, global competencies can be developed domestically. The activities that lead to the development of those skills can be later displayed on a resume and effectively built into a global job-seeker’s profile. And, to prospective global employers, they are as valuable as the experiences gained from going abroad.
According to a study done by the Loyola Marymount University in California (2002)[iv], the most successful expatriates (people who landed great global careers) are those who had a step-by-step approach to developing their international experiences and systematically grew their skills. They all started small and at home and progressively moved into going abroad, once they established a strong foundation of global competencies.
Next you will learn about the different steps those successful expats took in order to develop their exciting global careers, and each step will be paired up with examples of available resources you can tap into locally - at CU Boulder and within the Denver metro area.
Step #1 – Developing global competencies at home
Their first step all the successful expats took in preparing for their global careers was by working on creating a greater international awareness and developing a plethora of intercultural skills. This took place when they were still in college and they did so at locally-based organizations. The activities in this phase included:


  • participating in international student clubs and activities
  • pursuing supplementary academic certificates in international business, affairs or relations
  • interning for local government agencies dealing with international topics
  • volunteering for local non-profits working on global projects
  • helping in organizing conferences related to international topics
  • being a mentor or a guide to an international student
  • teaching English to immigrants and/or international students
  • serving as a host family to international students.
Here are a few CU Boulder resources to develop a solid foundation in global competencies:
  1. Examples of CU-based organizations:
  1. Examples of other local organizations within the Denver metro area:
Step #2 – Immersing in international experiences abroad
After gaining sufficient awareness of global issues and developing basic intercultural competencies, the second step the successful global expats took in developing their global careers was to immerse themselves in international experiences by going abroad. This phase gave the individuals more in-depth opportunities of applying their newly-gained knowledge and skills by immersing themselves in a foreign culture. Here they invested their time and financial resources into:
  • extensive international travel
  • study abroad programs
  • foreign humanitarian and missionary services
  • volunteering opportunities abroad
  • international internships
  • foreign government services
  • Teaching English abroad.
Some of the resources available for CU students are:  
Step #3 – Networking with like-minded individuals across countries
After gaining sufficient international exposure, the successful expats could now develop a clearer picture of what kind of work they would like to do and where. The activities in this stage mainly included networking with individuals who returned from abroad and/or who obtained migrated overseas. Networking was an integral step preceding an actual job search abroad. Through networking with experienced returnees and other expats living abroad, they could learn about specific on-the-job skills needed to secure a desirable position in a foreign country, ways to find positions abroad, and foreign work etiquettes present in another culture. They also focused on building a supportive network of like-minded individuals for the future, once they would land a desirable position in a country of choice.
Resources availed to CU students are:  
Step #4 – Securing a desirable position abroad
In the final stage, the successful expats already completed their academic degree, developed a plethora of global competencies, gained some international experience, and developed a network of supportive like-minded individuals. Now, they were ready and fully equipped to look for desirable positions abroad. Since they approached their global career development in a systematic way and were willing to put in enough effort into it, they had the required determination and persistence to undertake the complex process of finding a job overseas.
The most important characteristic of this multi-stage strategy is that the different stages build up on each other. As a result, the individuals pursuing this approach become well-rounded candidates, well-equipped with both academic degrees and sufficient experiences and knowledge. Through this, they are hugely attractive to potential employers as they bring with them an in-depth understanding of the globalized world of work. As one study concluded[v]: “globally competent students recognize the value of international understanding for its own sake as well as for personal fulfillment.” Such students go beyond just finding a summer job overseas. They start their preparation early and at home by connecting with individuals from other countries and involving in globally-oriented projects and programs. Through such well-rounded investment put into developing their global competencies and the self-directed effort required to do so, employers could see the candidates are ready for the challenges of living and working in a foreign country as they are willing to go the extra mile to pursue their dream.
[iv] C. M. Vance. (2002). The personal quest for building global competence: A taxonomy of self-initiating career path strategies for gaining business experience abroad. Academy of Management Proceedings and Membership Directory, pB1-B6.
[v] NASULGC Task Force on International Education. (2004). “Globally competent students: An excerpt.” A Call to leadership: The Presidential Role in Internalizing the University. p.2-5.
Last Updated June 2015