Becoming Carmen Sandiego

As a kid, I was obsessed with Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Computer games, TV show, you name it - I was going to hunt down Carmen. Fastforward 25 years, and this has carried into my adulthood via wanderlust desires, intrigue by others' cultures, and an overseas work assignment. So one of the questions I’m often asked is: “How do I get a job in another country?” As is the (annoying) answer to most questions in life: it depends. Everybody’s situation and story is different. However, based on my own experience and that of my fellow expats, I’ve pulled together some common ideas that have worked for us:


  • Self-promote any international quality that you have. Have family overseas? Made contacts while you studied abroad in college? Speak another language? Personally, I graduated college with a degree in food marketing (not so relevant) and a minor in French. I used to be very shy about promoting my French abilities. While I could get by, I wasn’t fluent. I was petrified that if I claimed to speak French, someone would call me out on a word I didn't know and judge that I had over-inflated my skills. However, once I got brave enough to describe myself as someone who's proficient in French, I suddenly felt an obligation to maintain and improve speaking abilities. If someone did want my help in French, I would be ready! Along with providing practical benefit, I believe that this also bolsters people’s perception that I'm "international." 


  • It’s never too early to position yourself as someone who wants to work abroad. Faux pas reveal: when I was in my first corporate job, I met with the man who led my division’s international practice. Being the geographically-challenged person I am, I made a comment that exposed to him that I thought Dubai was a city in India. [ugh, still cringing]. Did he call me out on it? Well of course he did. I was mortified. Though I don’t suggest this exact approach, I will say: he never forgot that I wanted to work on his team.


  • Following the previous point, ask yourself: “Do I work for a team / project / company that has international locations or a chance to move abroad?” And secondly, “Am I talking to the right people about my desire?” Perhaps an obvious point… but another lesson learned firsthand: fast forward to a different job, different company. Once again, I was on a mission to verbalize how much I wanted to do global work. While I was vocalizing this to people who were my sponsors, as well as decision makers in my division, I finally realized that neither I nor they had any global responsibilities; and therefore, they weren’t actually that helpful to my "work internationally" mission. Eventually, a higher-ranking sponsor in the organization made calls on my behalf that got me to the right decision makers.


  • Find a domestic job with global-reaching work, as a way to get experience and credibility with international teams. When I was put in front of the right decision makers, I was offered a job that would keep me in Boston, yet work and travel internationally. This was absolutely the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Besides completely expanding my exposure to new divisions within our company and expanding my skillset, I was working with teams all over the world. This was the career game changer for me and also helped me learn about the unglamorous side of working internationally: jet lag, calls at strange hours of the night, and cultural differences that can have a real impact on your responsibilities. But I was hooked.


  • Find a professional niche or skill that someone needs overseas and become the expert. It is expensive and arduous for a company to move someone overseas. An average 3 year assignment can be a $1M investment for a company, so there needs to be a business reason as to why that person should be you. For example, what skills do you have that are needed in your Paris office? Several of my U.S. expat friends have such an extensive knowledge of cyber insurance (yes, it’s a thing) that their companies moved them abroad to establish it as an emerging practice in their respective London offices. In my case, during my U.S.-based global role one of my projects was to set up a new product line in our London office. We actually tried for months to hire a local person to finish the build and launch the business but could not find the right person. After interviewing many people with an unsuccessful result, the company came to the conclusion that no one knew more about the new product and its respective market than I did. So they asked, and I said yes.


  • One last idea: be intentional about building people’s perception of you as a mobile person. Whether it’s right or wrong, a mentor taught me early on that “perception is someone's reality.” Often, once you [cough: especially females] start the life milestones: marriage, mortgage, and kids, it’s likely that you’ll be perceived as less mobile – not right but realistic. So if you are mobile, consciously build that reputation for yourself, and once again, make sure that the right people know it. I discuss my personal and work travel, home support system, and overall lifestyle at work in a specific, intentional way, to let people know just how mobile and ready for the right opportunity I am.


Photography by Matthew Williams for Living Etc.

Posted on November 9, 2015 and filed under Global Views.