Interested in a Global Career? Consider PR

If someone told you that you could fast-track your career and significantly increase your pay while achieving a high degree of job satisfaction, significant attention of senior management, and the respect of your peers and clients, would you be interested?

If you’re thinking, “Just tell me how?” then consider working abroad, for it has done all of these things—and more—for me and countless other public relations professionals.

I became a vice president at public relations giant Burson-Marsteller at age 27. I was transferred to Hong Kong, where I worked for three years. I returned to Washington, D.C., and within one year jumped to global account managing director despite taking six months off to have my twins.

Working in another country can expand your horizons professionally and personally in ways you might never have considered. Overseas achievements can enhance your reputation and set you apart from your peers. Doors will open for you, because companies need more people who can apply international experience to local business challenges. Knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures, regulations, economies, consumers and work habits are now crucial for corporate survival—and they can be your ticket to the fast track.

Companies want and need globally minded and experienced employees. Having global experience continues to move from “nice” to “must-have” as a driver for career success. Your clients’ supervisors may be just as likely to sit in Bangalore as in Boston, and your clients may be sourcing from South Africa to manufacture in Chengdu to sell throughout Latin America.

Meanwhile, companies that have always had extensive international operations are expanding them. And the biggest news: There’s a growing collection of multinational corporations that are expanding from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the UAE, which means cross-cultural competence and language skills are increasingly important.

All of these companies will need public relations support—be it agency or in-house—to expand their manufacturing, launch brands, or sell new products, services, or supplies.

PR practitioners have at least two traits that many of the experts note as vital to succeeding in a cross-cultural situation: excellent communications skills and adaptability. These will help ensure you get a seat at the most senior management tables overseas.

When you are abroad, many times it’s the outstanding performance a PR pro demonstrates in a “nontraditional” moment or business situation that leads to recognition by senior management and clients. Plus, the chances are greater that you’ll be exposed to higher-ups simply because you are outside home turf.

If your CEO travels to New York, there may be 500 people fighting for his or her attention. But in Bangkok, you may be one of just a handful of players making a difference for the company in that market. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a mid-level manager to counsel and escort traveling political leaders, members of the C-suite, and even client CEOs when they are on an international tour. You can’t beat that exposure.

Of course, it’s important to note that working abroad is also tough, demanding, and, at times, lonely. You must learn many skills, unlearn the things that have become second nature, and perform at the top of your game in a strange environment. Most professionals who’ve worked overseas admit that it was one of the most difficult things they have ever done—but that also makes it one of the biggest confidence builders around.

So, how can you land one of these extraordinary assignments? Here are my top 10 tips to increase your odds of landing a coveted overseas posting. They’ve been honed over decades of international experience:

1. Perform your current job flawlessly.
2. Make your international desires known.
3. Find a mentor to advocate for you.
4. Learn or practice a foreign language.
5. Research the countries you’d like to work in and be flexible enough to ensure a match between what you want and what the company needs.
6. Demonstrate your cultural awareness of these countries.
7. Point out ways you can make a difference for your company overseas.
8. Package yourself and your accomplishments.
9. Volunteer for special projects that involve international work.
10. And if you still aren’t having any luck, move yourself.

Finally, know that no two experiences are alike, so going global is never predictable. But if you’re even the slightest bit interested, check into it. I bet it will be one of the smartest things you’ll ever do for your career.