How to Break Into an International Career

While many countries (particularly the United States) are having labor problems at home, the international job market is booming like never before. The internet and the global connectivity of markets all over the world has placed individuals with international competencies into unprecedented demand. If you have the skills and the temperament for it, breaking into an international career could be a huge step toward a better future.

Are You Suited to an International Career?

Do you have what it takes to launch an international career? Before you dig out your passport and start packing your things, there are a few questions you should ask yourself first. Working internationally is not something everyone is well-suited to. It takes a certain kind of person with certain character traits to really make it work.

So what kind of traits should you have when working abroad?

First, you'll need to have courage. Not only is courage a valuable quality when it comes to leadership and doing business, but it's also necessary for taking the plunge in the first place. Leaving your home country to work somewhere else can be hugely intimidating — there are so many unknown factors, new things to learn, new customs to acclimate to, not to mention possibly learning a new language. It takes some fortitude to navigate all that successfully.

Second, you must also be adaptable. By nature, moving to a new country means adapting to a whole new set of circumstances. So many things may be very different from what you're used to, from food and driving and social mores, to electric outlets and shopping and entertainment. Diving into a different culture means upending almost everything you're most used to in life. This is especially true if you're working in an international career — the world of business and diplomacy is likely to have an entirely different cultural landscape in another country.

Third, you must be curious. Granted, if you're looking into pursuing an international career, chances are you already are curious by nature. It's one thing to experience other cultures through the lens of the internet, movies, television, or books, but quite another to embrace it entirely and become a part of another culture. That takes some inquisitiveness and willingness to learn and change.

You'll also need strong interpersonal and communications skills, problem-solving skills, and a general optimism about launching into this new career.

What Education Do You Need?

To be truly successful in an international career, a degree certainly can't hurt. Although there are some jobs you can get overseas without a degree, you'll generally find more opportunities will open up once you have a degree.

So what kind of education will serve you best? You might first look at a BA in international studies, which will help you develop the broad cross-cultural skills you'll need to be successful. Because of the broad applications of an international studies degree, obtaining one can lead to jobs in any number of sectors: government, communications, business, pharmaceuticals, marketing, and more.

Other degrees that may prove useful, depending on what kind of work you're going into?

  • An international business degree, for focusing specifically on conducting business overseas. This degree can open up career paths such as entrepreneur, business analyst, or operations manager.
  • An international marketing degree, concentrating on acquiring expertise on languages, management and business techniques, economics, and more.

Breaking Into an International Career

So let's say you've completed your education, and you're ready to try to break into an international career. How do you go about that?

There's no one right answer to this question. The path you'll take to launching your international career depends on the kind of job you want, and there are at least as many paths as there are jobs. Here are a few common examples of how to go international:

Apply for an internship or fellowship.

Organizations are always in need of (and often hungry for) interns who are looking to get started in their area of business. There are plenty of organizations and programs that can help you find and get started with an international internship.

Volunteer abroad.

Volunteer work is another great way to get international expertise — and it's actually a great way to get started. Many successful international professionals got their start with volunteer work. It immerses you in the culture, gets you familiar with the customs and realities of the area, and it looks fabulous on a resume.

Teach English abroad.

Teaching English to non-English speakers is another profession that's always in demand. If you already have a passion for teaching and want to take things to the next level — or if you're just looking for a new adventure — this could be the career path for you.

Study abroad.

Earning your degree while in a foreign country can be like killing two birds with one stone. You're preparing yourself with the education you need to start an international career, while, by necessity, immersing yourself in another place and culture. By the time you've earned your degree, you'll have some stellar qualifications already.

Learn a foreign language.

One profession that's constantly in demand: skilled translators. Technology hasn't yet advanced to the point where humans aren't needed to bridge the language gap. Although becoming a translator can be profitable and satisfying, you don't have to have ambitions toward being one — learning a foreign language is a valuable asset on its own, and is likely to be a necessity for some jobs.

Apply for a job that will help you gain international experience.

One thing that tends to be universally true of businesses around the world: many of them have no problem with young, ambitious employees who are willing to work for modest pay and have no family to keep them tied to a particular country. Check international job boards to look for an entry-level position in your area of interest and consider applying.

Start your own international business.

Granted, this is obviously easier said than done — but it can be done, and if you already have an adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit, you're halfway there already. You might start as a consultant and slowly build your individual business into a thriving organization, or you might have a killer idea in some field particularly relevant to an international career (business consulting, farming, and construction, for example). Crowdfunding and online fundraising have made it easier than ever before to start your own business. It may not be easy, but it's something to consider.

Top Paying International Jobs

While the international job market is competitive, it's also very lucrative at the moment: thanks to information technology and the internet, the world is shrinking all the time, and qualified individuals with the skills necessary to navigate that world are seeing demand rise. Here are some of the top-paying jobs you could pursue if you should decide to cultivate an overseas career:

International trade manager

Financial institutions all over the world are in need of skilled individuals who can handle the complexities of the constantly-changing international market. An international trade manager could find work in international banking, business development, and trade. Pursuing this job requires a degree and no small amount of licensure and certifications, but demand for trade managers has gone nowhere but up in recent years. A skilled international trade manager can earn anywhere from $90,000 to $130,000 a year.

Oil rig worker

Demand for oil is only rising internationally, and skilled oil rig workers are in perpetually short supply. Companies abroad are particularly eager for qualified workers and will pay more than their United States counterparts if they have the right expertise. Oil rig work isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. An international oil rig worker demands an average salary of $75,000. a year.

International buyer

An international buyer's job involves market research, product testing, and studying competitors to determine what products are featured in stores and online marketplaces. They monitor purchase orders and negotiate the buying and selling of goods for companies. Average pay: $70,000 / year.

Political analyst

The politics of the world are constantly changing, and those politics often have a profound effect on market realities. A skilled political analyst can help identify trends in vital industries, consult businesses on historical data for use in their everyday operations, and a wide variety of other tasks. Being a political analyst is hard work, but also well-compensated, paying up to $160,000 a year.

International law attorney

The field of law is sophisticated and demanding enough within the boundaries of a single country. International law can be vastly more confusing and complicated — which is why businesses all over the world need lawyers who are specifically skilled in the niceties and details of international law. An international lawyer might work for the government, a law firm, or some other agency, helping navigate legal dilemmas and otherwise advising on issues of the law. An international lawyer can command an average salary of about $120,000.

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Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.