When I moved from Toronto to Singapore back in 2010, little did I realize the extent to which the experience would help me learn and grow. Now, as I embark on my MBA at INSEAD, I am confident that my experience of working with professionals from 14 different countries in Asia-Pacific will help me contribute to classroom discussions more holistically. Below, I share some important advantages of getting global work experience, especially prior to applying for an MBA:
- Working in a different set of cultures expands your leadership capabilities. While reading about different cultures is enriching, personal interaction takes this learning to a whole new level. My interactions with individuals from countries as diverse as Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Japan have provided me with tremendous opportunity to learn country specific business practices. I have also learned to discern when any one person’s reaction could be as a result of different cultural norms, their emotions, their personality or just their communication style. Undoubtedly, learning to lead cross-cultural teams has become an important part of leadership in global team environments today.
- It sends a signal to schools as well as future employers that you are willing to go beyond your comfort zone and take risks. Calculated risk taking involves comprehensive analysis (an advantage in itself), but you still might make some mistakes. I strongly believe that good leadership comes from having made lots of (hopefully little) mistakes and having learned from them.
- Having global work experience differentiates you. Schools value the lessons you’ve learned in a different country because they know you will add value to classroom discussions. Within most applicant pools (although it is becoming more common), not every candidate will have truly international work experience. So take (or create) the opportunity and go for it.
How to go about getting international work experience:
- Through your current employer:
- Look out for opportunities within your current role to take on international projects where you get to travel or be a part of virtual international teams.
- Look outside of your current role for international job postings or opportunities, especially the ones with a broader reach than just one country or culture.
- Take an extended leave of absence (if possible) from current employer and travel to an international city. Setup a few interviews beforehand or look out for teaching English opportunities or even volunteer positions.
Sweeny Chhabra, Forté Fellow
MBA 2013, INSEAD