Choosing an International Employer

What makes an employer ‘international’ , and which one’s for you?

In this section we’ll explore the different types of international employer, introduce some of the terminology you’ll come across (which may have different meanings in different countries), and examine the opportunities different types of employer may offer for your international development.

In line with the question asked elsewhere on this website ‘what makes an experience international?’, there are a multitude of ways an employer might be said to be ‘international’, but what does international mean anyway in the context of a business or specifically the experience industry?

‘International’ : /ɪntəˈnæʃnəl/ . The word has numerous uses, including as an adjective: ‘connected with or involving two or more countries’ e.g. international trade, sport, airport, relations … ; or as a noun: ‘a person from a foreign country’* . And whether you’re referring to yourself or an organisation you’re aiming (as a verb)… to internationalise (or -ize) – ‘to make something international’*

The foundation of all this is the meanings of ‘inter-‘ as ‘between, among or representing’* and ‘nation‘ – ‘ a country considered as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government’.**

So being (and becoming) ‘international’ is simultaneously about where people and organisations come from, who they are and represent, and where they interact; it’s about where they represent in terms of a particular place, but also what they represent in terms of culture, history and, of course, language. International management*** goes further. According to business author Carl Rodrigues, in his book International Management: a cultural approach , it’s a process that has to take into account people, culture and geography so that organisations can “attain their goals and objectives across unique multicultural, multinational boundaries.” It’s that uniqueness that really draws us to international organisations, whether it’s the challenge of working in such a complex, dynamic environment, or the simple attraction of a diverse, multicultural one.

International organisations, then, fall on a spectrum from the local (yet outward-looking) to the truly global, and each will offer different elements of the diversity, complexity, challenge and dynamism we seek. For you, choosing the right one is about understanding something of your own attitudes, abilities and aspirations, and then exploring what organisations at home and abroad offer as a springboard to your personal internationalisation.

But it’s not a one-way street. You also need to consider what you have to offer right now to the internationally-oriented organisation, and what steps you might need to take to develop your personal resources, your attitudes and abilities, before joining their workforce. That way both you and the organisation can achieve your goals and aspirations. If you’re not yet ready for a fully international experience, there are plenty of things you can do to move your development forward one step at a time.

So let’s consider which types of ‘international’ experience you might be looking for at different stages in your development and personal internationalisation, based on what type of applicant you are…

  1. The Enthusiast . If you’re an ‘enthusiast’ you’re looking for an organisation offering the chance to meet people from different cultural backgrounds to yours, whether it’s work colleagues or customers. Your own enthusiasm is likely to be for something closer to home – local events, venues, activities or heritage for example. This sort of organisation could allow you to stay in your home country or even your home town, but to begin broadening your own cultural horizons. In some cases it might involve welcoming visitors and showing off your own neighbourhood or region, as a guide on a tourist site, at a local venue, or perhaps a tour guide. You’d need to be able to demonstrate your enthusiasm, communicative and organisational skills, and some intercultural awareness
  2. The Agent . In this case you’re looking for an employer or organisation whose main purpose is to help its clients travel abroad, exposing them to different geographies and different cultures, and at the same time bringing you in touch with these things too. You’ll learn a lot about the type of client served, their expectations of an international experience and about the international travel products and destinations. All this can be achieved while still living in familiar surroundings of your home country. This sort of role calls for empathy with the customer or client, along with research and organisational skills, geographical and cultural awareness. If you’ll be liaising with partners or suppliers abroad a second language would be a benefit here too.
  3. The Explorer . ‘Explorers’ look for an employer working with international clients and perhaps offering opportunities to travel abroad to do so, but much of the work usually taking place back home. They offer the advantage of sporadic exposure to international travel on a project basis, but without necessarily having to live for an extended period abroad. Foreign languages may be useful here but they’ll be used mostly when abroad or when dealing with foreign clients, but not in your day-to-day existence unless spending significant time abroad. Certainly you’ll need to demonstrate intercultural skills, adaptability and the ability to think ‘on the go’, resolve problems and work effectively to client briefs within the parameters of your employer and the team you’re part of.
  4. The Adventurer . Employers sought by ‘Adventurers’ may offer the chance to be based abroad for extended periods, perhaps season-by-season and for up to a year. It may therefore mean that you can experience more than one country and culture, or different regions. It may of course require , or at least benefit from some competence in different foreign languages, but then countries like the USA or Australia offer a huge diversity of places with different character and traditions. Again intercultural competencies , adaptability, problem identification and resolution will be really important here, as will the ability to work responsibly and independently. Having said that, any sound internship experience will be supported from within the organisation and, while you’ll be challenged to deliver, it’s never in the organisation’s interest to stretch you too far too early.

Preparing yourself to apply for, and ultimately gain, experience with an international employer means systematically evaluating your own strengths and competencies – those things you can do and demonstrate – but also to realistically assess areas you still need to work on. Areas to work on need a plan to achieve the development you’ve identified you need. Strengths and competencies need to be demonstrable to the organisations you want to work for, so concrete experience that will both strengthen and provide examples of what you can do is absolutely essential. This way you’ll have genuine stories to convince recruiters that you’re ready to hire!

* Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2015 **Oxford Library of Words and Phrases, 1993

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