You’ve recently been hired at a new kitchen appliance distribution and manufacturing company. Congratulations. You are feeling confident and are ready to hit the ground running. You meet your co-workers, get a quick tour of the office, learn that the copier is on the fritz again and are dropped off at your cubical to get started. You dive into a small stack of paperwork that has you contacting suppliers and checking on the status of an ongoing project with partners at a different firm and suddenly the task which didn’t seem so large in the first place is overwhelming. Why? Because the supplier who provides your company with the machinery parts for the waffle iron is in Cuba and those aforementioned project partners are in Japan. You don’t understand their accents, you are getting frustrated that the Cubans can’t keep to a deadline, and the Japanese won’t put anything in writing that you can pass along to your boss. Welcome to the workplace of the 21st century.
Blame technology. With all the ways businesses can connect with each other, international collaboration and the globalization of the workplace is increasing at an incredible rate. And this increase has spurred a new demand in business. Companies are adopting a globalized outlook on business and therefore it might come as no surprise that companies want to hire employees with international experience.
Globalization of the workplace simply means that businesses are now communicating and dealing with other companies overseas in a larger way than they ever have before. In my first job coming out of college, I landed a position with a career college and was surprised to discover just how frequently I would be connecting with international partners and clients, some as far away as Thailand. It was something I never would have imagined but all of a sudden I am being expected to communicate efficiently and effectively with our partners and that meant having to do things such as translating e-mail correspondence back and forth between English and Thai as well as understand the nuances of how they do business. And having rarely left the confines of my own province let alone this continent, I was completely unprepared. Thank goodness for Google Translate and Wikipedia.
Suddenly I was extremely grateful for the scant amount of French that I was forced to learn back in elementary school because it meant that at least the Spanish and the Italian wasn’t completely going over my head.
According to an article posted by Robert Shindell, the number one job skill that employers are looking for is communication skills. This typically translates into reading, writing and listening but in the 21st century, more and more companies are including a second language requirement under that heading. Having a second language is not only practical in the workplace, but it is also an indicator to employers that you have the discipline it takes to commit to a long term task such as becoming bi- or trilingual.
The benefit of having a cultural experience on your resume doesn’t stop at languages either. Cheryl Matherly and Dianace Robinson, guest authors for an article in the Wall Street Journal, explain that having global credentials “increase[s] your marketability in the global workplace”. Many colleges and universities offer study abroad opportunities that help to prepare students for an international work environment because this is not a fad or a phase that the workforce is going through. Globalization is the future of the business world and it is important that students take this trend seriously.
Enough though with the scare tactics about how you are doomed to fail if you don’t get international experience. I never did and it wasn’t the end of the world (pardon the pun). However I do realize quite easily just how much more attractive my resume would have been to potential employers if I had.
My resume coming out of college looked exactly like thousands of other resumes being submitted to HR departments. Every single one of the classmates I had been with over the past four years had learned the exact same subjects, courses and industry terminology as I had. And there were hundreds of other new graduates from hundreds of other schools and related programs that had all learned something extremely similar. I was not unique by a long shot.
Participating in an international internship does not guarantee you a job. Nothing in this day and age is guaranteed. But it does make you stand out perhaps just a rung above all the average, uninspiring resumes like mine. Yes, you went to college, but so did 78 other candidates. Oh, you graduated with high honours? That narrows it down to 63. Your interests are sports and travel? 57. Last year you travelled to Cuba to spend the summer doing a number of historical architectural restoration projects with a small contracting company in Havana? 1. You.