Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Myths and Realities

International work has a certain lure and mysticism which was once reserved for itinerant missionaries, anthropologists, and soldiers of fortune of decades ago. Indeed, there are probably more myths about international jobs than of any other type of work.

Most job seekers are unprepared and naive in approaching the international job market; some might be best termed "job dumb." They play around the periphery of this job market with little success in penetrating it successfully. They muddle-through the job market with questionable perceptions of how it

works. Combining facts, stereotypes, myths, and folkloregained from a mixture of logic, experience, movies, nightly news reports, and advice from well-meaning friends and relativesthese perceptions lead job seekers down several unproductive paths. They are often responsible for the self-fulfilling prophecy and lament of the unsuccessful international job seeker: "There are no jobs available for me."

Some of the more important myths preventing individuals from achieving success in the international job market include:

MYTH 1   International employment pays extremely well compared to salaries in the States.
REALITY The financial rewards of international employment vary greatly. Some jobsespecially international consultingcan pay very well. Jobs with many nonprofit organizations pay poorly. For those living abroad, special financial benefits are often offset by additional expenses incurred in trying to maintain a certain lifestyle as well as lost opportunities for supplementing income, such as appreciation on property in the States or job opportunities for one's spouse.
MYTH 2   International jobs are very challenging and interesting.
REALITY Some international jobs are exciting, but many are dull and boring. The excitement tends to come from the lifestyle which involves traveling and learning about other cultures, eating different foods, meeting new and different people, and encountering unique events.
MYTH 3  International work involves exciting and sometimes exotic travel.
REALITY  Travel is definitely a benefit for many individuals who have international jobs. However, the excitement of travel often wears off after age 40, after children reach high school age, after the third move in five years, after the tenth flight in a single year, and after the third lost suitcase and another terrifying taxicab ride from another chaotic airport.
MYTH 4 International development work is personally rewarding because of the positive changes one is able to make in the lives of others.
REALITY International development work is personally rewarding for individuals who can make a difference in the lives of others. But development work also is one of the most frustrating areas of international work.
MYTH 5 International lifestyles are better than back home.
REALITY International lifestyles vary considerably. Living abroad can mean a large and comfortable home with servants and a good international school for one's children.
MYTH 6 It's easier to find an international job while traveling or living abroad than by networking or applying from the U.S.
REALITY From where one should best look for an international job depends on several factors. Expatriates living in-country often have an advantage in landing short-term contract jobs because of their location. Many companies prefer hiring someone already in the field for small jobs that may only involve $10,000 to $30,000 in labor expenses.
MYTH 7 One must have a great deal of international experience to get an international job.
REALITY It depends on the situation and the job. Many jobs require little or no international experienceonly a specific or exotic skill that is difficult to find.
MYTH 8 Travel experience and language competency are essential to finding an international job.
REALITY This is one of the great myths of finding an international job. While travel, foreign languages, and international education may help you find a job, they are not necessarily prerequisites for entering the international job market.
MYTH 9 An international-related educational background is essential for finding an international job.
REALITY An international education may be helpful in better understanding the international arena, but it is no guarantee of gaining entrance to the job market. At best such an education will better help you network with others you meet in the international job market.
MYTH 10 Living and working abroad is dangerous.
REALITY It can be dangerous, but it seldom is. Living and working abroad may actually increase your safety quotient. It's much safer to work abroad than in many places in the U.S. 
MYTH 11 There are few international jobs available today.
REALITY There are numerous international jobs available today for those who know where they are and how to find them. In fact, we expect to see the number of international job opportunities increase steadily over the next decade as the world economy becomes even more interdependent, national boundaries become more open, and populations move more easily between countries.
MYTH 12 It's best to use an international job placement service to get an international job.
REALITY You should be able to do just as well in finding an international job on your own than by hiring someone to help you. In fact, many of these so-called placement firms have bad reputations for exploiting clients and engaging in fraudulent practices.
One has to have "connections" in order to break into the international job market. Whom you know is more important than what you can do.
REALITY While "connections" and knowing people are important to finding any job, and especially important when seeking an international job where information on job vacancies and opportunities is difficult to access, they are by no means essential.
Most international jobs involve a great deal of travel. An international job will enable me to see and experience the world.
REALITY Many international jobs involve very little travel. The most traveling you may ever do is when you move from your home base to the job site abroad, and then return for a home visit once or twice in a two to three year period. Some international jobs involve working in one location, sometimes isolated, for one to two years at a time.
MYTH 15 Most international jobs require moving and living abroad.
REALITY Many do but many others don't. Many international jobs are based in the United States and involve periodic travel to work sites abroad. International consultants and contractors, for example, may spend one to two months at a time on projects abroad, but their work base is back home. Educators, researchers, foundation employees, and business people often spend only a few weeks a year working abroad. Even employees of the State Department and USAID will spend much of their career in Washington, DC.
MYTH 16 If one wants to work in the international arena, it's best to work for government or a multinational corporation.
REALITY Government agencies and multinational corporations do offer numerous international job opportunities, but they are only a few of the many players in the international job market. In fact, you may find some of the most interesting and rewarding jobs are found with nonprofit organizations or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and small or medium-size businesses in the travel and hospitality industries.
MYTH 17 The best international jobs are found within the U.S. State Department and USAID or with the United Nations.
REALITY These may be great jobs for some people, but they aren't for others, including many present employees who are looking for other more rewarding alternatives. While these high-profile organizations appear to offer many international glamour jobs, in reality competition is keen for these jobs and many are disappointing, boring jobs. Morale is especially low in the State Department and USAID because of recent changes in the personnel systems that do not reward international expertise and experience; career rewards are given to those who can demonstrate managerial expertisea skill that requires little or no demonstrated international or area expertise.
The international hiring process seems to take forever. It takes longer to find an international job than to land a job back home.
REALITY This also depends on the situation. Some organizations, especially government and the United Nations, may take an extraordinary amount of time to fill a vacancy because of the large number of candidates applying for a position, numerous decision-making levels, and the need for security clearances. Other organizations may take a long time because they are looking for someone with a highly specialized or technical skill that is difficult to find even with the hiring of an executive search firm.
MYTH 19 It's difficult to start one's own international business.
REALITY Depending on what you want to do as well as your entrepreneurial skills, it's relatively easy to get started and operational within a short period of time. All you need is some basic information, a business plan, contacts, and the resources to finance the initial stages of your venture. In fact, the coming decade should be an unparalleled period for international entrepreneurship as "development" of countries increasingly becomes defined in terms of encouraging greater foreign investment, joint ventures, and import-export arrangements.
MYTH 20 The job search techniques that work for finding a domestic job also work well for finding an international job.
REALITY Some do but many don't because they are based upon a culturally-biased model of achieving career success in the American job market. They assume that job applicants are primarily motivated to get jobs they do well and enjoy doing and then make job moves that demonstrate career growth and advancement. Such skilled and motivated people are supposed to be oriented toward career success. However, many international job applicants could care less about such career success.
MYTH 21 It's best to learn about other cultures and adjust one's behavior to meet the local expectations. The more I act like the locals, the easier it will be for me and my job.
REALITY Yes, you should understand and be sensitive to other cultures. But it's not necessary to go to extremes by always behaving like the locals. Indeed, many people become overly sensitive to other cultures and engage in silly behaviors that are even embarrassing to the locals who aren't sure who such foreigners drink they are! Other cultures have expectations for both foreigners and expatriates which are not the same as for the locals. As such, you are permitted to be different as long as you are not offensive. If you try to "go bush" you may not be respected as much as when you maintain your own identity.