Workplace Working in different countries help or hinder professional career?

May 6, 2008
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Does anyone have experience or insight on whether working in many different contries help your professional career? A professional in the sense that you are a lawyer, doctor, nurse, engineer...a person who would be licensed by some state/province/government body to practice in your field.

Clearly, the experience of travelling, living and working in another country is beneficial personally (my opinion), but I don't know if it's a beneficial career move.

My work experience is in Canada and the US and I'm familiar with the codes and practices here. But my plan is to travel and work in several countries (Australia and Europe) in the next 5-10 years. By moving so much, I may fail to be licensed in some of the countries I'll work in which could result in lower pay, fewer responsibilities, and less opportunities for project management and promotion. On the flip side, I'm sure I will learn many new things and expand my professional knowledge and network by working in different environments.

Ultimately, I think the benefit to my personal happiness is worth it, but I wonder if anyone has personal experience to share on this.
 
Aug 29, 2008
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My short answer: It is always more difficult to take a path that is atypical because the average person will look for a candidate whose experience they can easily evaluate. However, while you may limit your options and make things harder for yourself, the options you are left with are likely to be more suited to you. High risk, high reward.

I am currently living abroad and don't yet have the experience of going back to my home country (US). I do have family and friends who have been full circle. My current approach is to keep in mind both my personal goals and my long-term professional goals and then find a balance and work toward keeping as many home doors open as possible.

You might get useful advice from other posters if you say what field you are in.

Generally, there may be ways to get your personal and professional goals to work together. For example, a second language could be useful in your field, e.g., Spanish in healthcare if eventually you want to live in certain parts of the US.

If you are unlikely to advance in your field in another country, consider a job where you have more opportunity and can learn a different but still relevant skill. If you want to be in management in a particular field, look at other management possibilities that you could later package as management + field-specific experience.

How people see you when you come back to N. America will depend on how you market your experience.
 
I personally think it helps. I had a very successful friend tell me not to remove these things from my resume as it gives you the leg up and it doesn't come across as being complacent in one area. Mine wasn't even abroad, it was just a different state. I wanted to remove it because 1) it made my resume 2 pages long and I'm only 28, and 2) the experience was so long ago it didn't seem particularly relevant anymore. He said HR likes to see that you've lived other places and can be open minded or bring new ideas to the table.
 
Aug 29, 2008
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I agree that if you have international experience, you should include it on a resume.

However, there is a trade-off between getting the international experience and the experience you might otherwise get domestically.
 
Nov 20, 2007
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Canada
I also think it helps, but it also depends on the professional career.

I'm in accounting and I've had experience in the US and Canada. My Canadian clients like that I've had experience in US venture capital and technology. My company also encourages international work transfers, and it seems like the more international experience you have the better qualified you are to get those jobs.
 
Oct 20, 2008
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i don't think it hurts as long as you gain relevant experience while abroad and you can always spin it as beneficial. but plain jane doe is right: you should indicate what field you are in because some fields would kill for people with international experience (business, finance, etc) while it wouldn't matter in others (health care - US tends to have the most stringent training requirements so working elsewhere might be seen as a "step down").
 
Aug 29, 2008
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I just learned that Canada has working holiday agreements with quite a number of countries, so assuming you are young and Canadian that is a great advantage, as you won't create as many gaps in your resume.
 
May 6, 2008
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^Jane, thanks for the comments. I had just been looking at that opportunity for France. Unfortunately, that visa program is only open to Canadians residing in Canada (I don't qualify because I live in the US). Although it's always possible for me to take a few month hiatus, go back to Canada while my visa is processing. It's a great program though since the visa gives you the flexibility to travel and work.

Thanks all for your comments. I'm sorry for being unresponsive. Was just thinking things through and talking to my more experienced coworkers/friends. Obviously there's been some differing opinions on this.

To clarify, I am a civil/environmental engineer. Hopefully a licensed engineer by the end of the year!
 
May 6, 2008
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So here are the two main points I got from my coworkers.

1. The engineering/contractor/client crowd in any city is usually a pretty tight group. By staying in one city or one region you really get to capitalize on your networks. This is particularly important for places like NYC where there can be bureaucracy and red tape that only someone familiar with the system can negotiate efficiently. Also, because our field (civil/enviro engineering) is largely targeted at public clients (municipalities and not private individuals) we have a lot to gain from knowing the "local" system rather than the "international" system. As in, you want a broad enough knowledge to know what's going on elsewhere, but ultimately, the local client preferences, rules, and history will control the job. Also, our municipal clients tend to like having people on board who have worked on their city's projects before (we have security, background check requirements too for sensitive locations) and who know the details and histories of their projects. (although any client likes it when you know their projects...)

So, I have experienced this. I spent nearly my first two years just learning the system of the city I'm working in. And I'm still learning. Where all their infrastructure is (plants, reservoirs, pipes), what their operating requirements are, how to locate drawings for their structures, getting to know their archive system. Of course, I'm willing and happy to do this again so I can learn about a new city and a new system. But I do see how this can set me back because your knowledge and contribution to the project is tied to your knowledge of the city. This probably isn't as much of a problem in other fields like business or accounting.


2. On the flip side from point 1. As an engineer, if you have any thoughts about one day running your own consulting business, you need to get out there. If you've only ever worked with one city's system or even one region's system, you are doing yourself a great disservice. A firm working with a city will want to hire you because you have a wider knowledge than they do. They already know the city system, they want additional expertise on stuff they haven't seen before.

Again, I have also seen this. A colleague of mine recently tried to relocate to the West Coast. For someone of his level, firms are usually asking for a list of clients that can be brought in. Of course, this is easy if your clients are private individuals or businesses. But it's not that easy to bring the City of New York as your client if you're moving to LA. So it helps to have a broader base of smaller and larger clients.



Anyway, long post. I've been keeping my ears open a lot and asking around (not too much at work because no one wants to be that flaky co-worker who's going to take off midway through a project for Europe or somewhere). Seems like it's still better to go for the move. With the caveat that you can't move too often (like every year) because in our field you need the time to learn the local system.