WORKING ABROAD / DEC. 01, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Cracking the International Business Code

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It has never been easier to conduct business than it is today. This is largely due to technological advancements and globalization which has enabled businesses to trade with one another instantly regardless of location. This has introduced a global jobs market, one that remains competitive but presents many opportunities for people wanting a career within international business. 

Know your market

Trading in your home country can be very different compared to trading in a foreign one. Languages may differ and customs as well as market conditions. A common mistake made by many businesses is treating a new market the same as a domestic market. Therefore market research is critical before entering a foreign market. Some organizations may commission agents within that country to conduct research for them or act as a spokesperson on behalf of the organisation.

Now let’s take this theory and apply it to yourself. Before considering a career in international business you must know your career market. The internet gives us access to an incredible amount of information at the click of a mouse. Research your industry and the jobs within it. Here you will find various international recruitment pages and the job roles they are searching for. 

Assess your skills

Your skills set you apart from others. When searching for international jobs, look at the job roles you want to advance in and see where the gaps in your current skillset are. You can get a great idea of this from looking at job descriptions or on LinkedIn.

Once you have identified areas you need to gain skills in, you can begin to acquire these through further learning. Your company may offer training schemes and in this case you should speak to your manager about this. If you do not have this luxury then consider enrolling on a course, whether this be online or in class. It is essential to have basic Microsoft skills to work within business and the more you have the further you are likely to progress in your career. A good knowledge of Microsoft excel will help you set budgets and create management reports.  Depending on your career, project management training may be required and will also be useful.

Check with your employer to see if they provide training, if not, consider enrolling and doing it in your own time. This may seem like a lot to ask, however it will benefit you in the long run.

Consider the language barrier

When exploring new markets, consider the language of that country. You will generally have two options: choose a country that speaks your mother tongue or consider ones which do not. Each presents themselves with advantages and disadvantages.

Approaching a country that speaks the same language may save you time and you will certainly find jobs easier. However, even though people may speak the same language, it is important to consider the different sayings, spellings and meanings. In particular, bear this in mind when you are looking over your CV and amend wherever necessary. On the positive side, at least you will be able to verbally communicate with them if necessary.

When looking at a market with a foreign language, you may want to consider getting advice from your company. If you are lucky enough to be bilingual then this is a great skill to have. Be sure to use this as you could be approached by businesses to interpret for them.  

Research customs and cultures

When conducting international business, you may have to travel in order to forge business relationships and meet new clients. Understanding a country’s customs, cultures and laws is vital to create a good impression. We all know how important that first impression is don’t we?

Therefore research is required to ensure you avoid causing any offence. Religion and laws are equally as important to abide by and these vary in each country or state you enter. The United Arab Emirates is a great example of where local laws vary.  With around 1 million British nationals visiting each year, visitors can often fall into the trap of not researching the local laws and getting themselves into a lot of trouble.  

There are many guides and resources to help you understand local laws and customs.

Practice the correct business etiquette

You will be required to know the correct business etiquette for your country if you are looking to work there. Understanding the correct business etiquette will set you apart from other people, especially in interviews.  Hand shaking, personal space and body language must all be considered beforehand.

If you are working within a business, gift giving is an integral part of business etiquette, particularly in Japan and China. Remember to bring a small gift from your hometown and present it to your host. You are likely to receive a gift back from your Japanese counterpart. Pay attention as to whether the gift you receive is wrapped. If this is the case do not open it until you leave otherwise this will be seen as rude.

Business etiquette changes from one country to another, therefore prior research is essential.

Maintaining business relationships around the world

Maintaining business relationships with the rest of the world can often be a challenge, due to the difference in time zones. However advancements in technology have made communication more readily available than ever before.

Consider online document management tools to share with your clients or colleagues. This will allow you to work on projects at the same time and easily access them as well.

Skype is a great communication tool and it is pretty much free to use. Use this to communicate effectively and to hold business meetings. This will give you face to face direct interaction. 

Establish preferred methods of communication

Communication happens in various forms, telephone, email, SMS or video. With so many channels it can be difficult to determine which the best way to communicate is. There are a number of communication patterns around the world which give an insight into how each country communicates. These are worth investigating before approaching potential employers or businesses.

Consider which physical communication method they use as well. This will allow you to adjust your approach method. The French will only accept physical letters for initial business propositions. Therefore there is little point in sending an email to them.  

Getting yourself up to speed with the latest international requirements will hold you in good stead for a career in international business. Remember to tailor your CV to the country you are approaching and researching them before you attempt to do so. Pay particular attention to the customs, laws and etiquette as well as the communication methods.

 

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