At 27, I have almost a decade of meaningful international experience. I’ve worked professionally in more than a dozen countries, including Mongolia, South Africa, Turkey, Qatar, and Nigeria, and now I’m part of the international operations team of a major Silicon Valley startup in Mexico and Australia.
However, I used to have a much less exciting job. Having worked in the consulting division of a huge multinational company, I know what it feels like to be plugging away in a cubicle in New York or Chicago. But what I’ve found–completely by accident, in retrospect–is that there are a few clear strategies for launching the globe-trotting career of your dreams. Here are six of the ways I’ve managed to pull it off.
1. I Started Early
I come from a small city in upstate New York, so as soon as I started college in 2007 I went after every opportunity to go overseas. I won a scholarship to study at the National University of Singapore, and later I landed fellowships to do research in countries like Guatemala and Egypt, studied Mandarin in China for six months, and traveled independently to dozens of other countries in the process.
Not long after I graduated, I was able to leverage those undergrad experiences (plus two years in a management consulting firm; see point No. 3 below) to land a job with a global media company, where I traveled across five continents for two years. Thanks to those years of global experience, it’s actually hard for me to get anything but an international job now.
Go abroad early in your career. Take any opportunity you can–take a salary cut if you have to, volunteer, do anything that “globalizes” your resume.
2. I’ve Built A Highly Global Network
If I wanted to move into commercial banking in the Middle East, I’ve got a contact for that. If I wanted to break into the modeling scene in Taiwan, I also have a contact for that. Hell, if I wanted a job producing Norwegian techno music in India, I literally have a contact for that, too. The beautiful thing is, I didn’t seek these people out and I never tried to “network” with them–I just met them while couch surfing across Asia or having drinks in Addis Ababa.
Once you get started doing work that involves some form of regular international travel, your network goes global. And as long as you continue on this type of career path, you’ll find that it inherently sustains connections like these. Because all of a sudden, you need to connect with other people who work overseas just like you do, since they’re the ones who can help you find other opportunities. It’s a virtuous circle.
3. I Took The Typical Route Right Out Of Undergrad
In order to build a global career in your 20s, you don’t necessarily need to leave college with your bags already packed. In fact, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make the leap into a global sales role without a Fortune 500 company on my resume. The people I know who looked for entry-level jobs overseas right after graduation wound up compromising on their professional interests in order to land anything that paid. And most of them struggled to break back into the U.S. job market after their time overseas.
In my experience, it’s best to start your career at home, get a solid skill set under your belt, begin to complement it with international experience of any sort (and foreign language skills if you have them), and only thenwork your way into a job abroad. Believe me, it doesn’t take as long as it sounds.
4. I Speak Spanish
I actually majored in Chinese during university, but it’s been Spanish that’s gotten me hired time after time.
Like many Americans, I started learning Spanish in middle school and took advanced courses through college, but it was working in Guatemala and traveling through South America that finally set me on the path to fluency. Now I speak Spanish while I work here in Mexico, and the full language immersion continues to develop one of my key professional assets.
5. I’m (Happily) Single And Nomadic
I’m not necessarily single on purpose, but it definitely makes it easier to accept jobs that people with partners and families can’t. My first international employer sent me to Nigeria, but being young, adventurous, and uncommitted made it an exciting and career-advancing opportunity for me.
I’ve also been nomadic since 2013. I have the disposition to feel at home just about anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat, which has already proved a compelling asset for many companies looking to staff their emerging markets. The only way to figure out if you have that attitude, too, is simply to take a job that demands a lot of international travel and see how it suits you.
6. I’m A Blogger
For better or worse, all of my 2,000 Facebook friends and the tens of thousands of visitors to my site know exactly what I’m up to at all times. That’s actually how I landed my latest gig in Mexico: A friend from university whom I hadn’t spoken to in six years knew what I’ve been up to because of my blog, then connected me to a friend of hers who happened to be recruiting for someone with precisely my background.
Be vocal about who you are and what you want in your life and career–even while you’re still figuring that out. People want to help, so help them help you by communicating your talents, ideas, and goals.
After all, those will keep evolving with you. I learned all of this by clumsily chasing my curiosities around the world for the past decade, but the lessons are universally applicable. As I’ve found through trial and error, the formula boils down to a few key principles, rather than some master plan:
- Build a strong skill set at home.
- Pick up any international experience you can early on.
- Learn to speak an in-demand language.
- Be open to going anywhere.
- Nurture a global network.
But most of all, never give up. I’ve applied to dozens of jobs all over the world, walked away from opportunities, and truly followed my heart. Be curious, persistent, and smart about your international career hunt, and you’ll land the job of your dreams–however far from home it may be.
Elaina Giolando is an international project manager and digital nomad who’s lived and worked in more than 50 countries. She writes about global careers, unconventional lifestyle design, and meaningful travel on Life Before 30.
They tell you to travel when you’re young and able. To explore the world and connect with our greater humanity, and in so doing become a better person — to “find” yourself. What they don’t tell you is this.
1. You are an idiot, and idiots ruin everything.
It’s not your fault (what is?), you’re just young, inexperienced, ignorant of the world outside your field of vision and the artificial glow of your smart-phone. Your brain hasn’t even fully developed until your twenties have plateaued and started rolling toward thirty. The years are not yet your friends and your ill-thought actions turn idyllic country-side villages into backpacker strip malls. Places like Vang Vieng in Laos, that were literally ruined by wasted twenty-somethings.
2. Pearls before swine.
You are too young to truly appreciate the experience of travel as your youthful arrogance and lack of experience compounded by hormones will keep your attention on yourself instead of that Burmese family waving you over to witness their youngest child getting his head shaved as he is initiated into full-fledged monkhood.
3. You’re not going to “find yourself.”
You won’t “find yourself.” You’re already there. The “you” you are looking for is an ever-changing version of your personal narrative. So whatever problems you’re facing now will still be there when you’re on the beach in Thailand getting your face pressed between your knees as a Thai lady gives you a massage. Travel isn’t an escape, it’s life.
4. You won’t figure things out.
You’ll be too busy drinking cheap beer with those guys or girls you just met. Your hangover will turn the next day into a recovery day then by nightfall someone will offer you a drink and the cycle continues, because screw it, you’re on an island and the only thing you’re wanting to figure out is how to avoid diarrhea for the next few days so you can keep the party rolling. (Hint: avoid late night street meat).
5. Your “friends” won’t want to hear about it.
While you were trekking through the Himalaya most of your friends were working hard, financing their cars, having babies, putting a down-payment on a house and fighting for careers because they know that is the only valid path in life. They’ll wonder how you can afford to travel when all you do is bartend. With this in mind, they’ll have no follow-up questions to the standard, “how was your trip?” They won’t care, and who can blame them?
6. It will make you dissatisfied.
After seeing poverty, your conception of what we really need to be happy has been smashed, and the answers for everything you had before are null and void. The Truth becomes elusive and the search consuming. You are dissatisfied with the status quo, but are faced with the difficult choice of fighting for something better, or joining the system that’s there. Because you’re in your twenties, you haven’t yet chosen your Truth, and that first fateful step is the hardest.
7. You will see all of your friends get married on Facebook.
They’ll all have kids and impressive-sounding careers, too, while you’re still sleeping on couches and living out of a suitcase.
8. Good luck finding a job!
The longer you travel the more dated your job-skills become, making it harder and harder to find a “real job.” Life becomes a continuous job-search, filling out applications, tweaking your résumé and interviewing for positions you don’t want. You will end up working in the service industry and confronted by horribly entitled people, daily. Alcoholism ensues.
9. Life after travel is a bummer.
After over-stimulating your impressionable brain abroad, it’s now on idle, and you’ll be bored as hell. Still young and without kids, you’ll want to abdicate responsibility in favor of temporary measures, meaningless jobs and habitual escapism.
10. You are a sheep.
You want adventure, but you’re too young to know what that really means and how to have it. To you it’s parties and pub-crawls, package deals and “eco-volun-tourism.” Experiences chopped up and parceled out to eager, bright-eyed backpackers walking up and down the same damn backpacker streets in cities everywhere. All of it merely a checklist of sights and supposed experiences documented on a phone that never lets you get lost. Herd mentality will keep you firmly on the backpacker trail, paved by selfie-sticks and happy hours as that fifty-something over there just woke up early and witnessed a glorious sunrise in a town no one’s ever heard of.
11. By your 30s, you have everything figured out.
You have a career, disposable income and plenty of vacation time you’re going to use traveling the world with your family, because everyone uses their vacation time. You’ve found your Truth making second guesses and existential crises a thing of the past. You’re comfortable in your skin and have quashed your youthful idealism. Because by 30, everyone’s a responsible adult, and the world is grateful.