College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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International Careers Workshop: Experience Required Differs with Sector


3/21/2006

Not all international careers are the same. Similarly, the preparation for an international career is different depending on which sector  -- corporate, non-profit, government, and entrepreneur -- attracts a student.

Several international units and career centers on campus sponsored two international career workshops during the annual International Week on campus, which was held in mid-March. On March 15th, a panel of professionals talked to more than 50 students about international careers in the corporate, non-profit, government, and entrepreneur sectors. The panelists spoke individually and each hosted a breakout session where students could ask questions.

Michelle Steffeny, a communication and training coordinator for Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), said that, while overseas experience and knowledge of a foreign language are highly desirable, working internationally in the corporate sector does not necessarily require knowing multiple languages.

"You don't have to have a lot of experience with international places, just the ability to learn about them," Steffeny said. She explained that being successful internationally involves the same skills as any business job: good people skills, networking, and the ability to listen and create new ideas. The difference is that those who work internationally know how to look past US stereotypes of other cultures and are willing to learn about other cultures to do their jobs better.

The international government sector works similarly to the corporate sector according to panelist Shari Stout who is currently an international trade specialist for the US Department of Commerce. She helps small to mid-size companies export products and find partners overseas. Stout also pointed to networking as a way to get into the industry and to make a difference helping clients potentially connect with customers.

On the other hand, panelist Ayo Heinegg, currently a senior research analyst for the Academy for Educational Development, said that international experience is an absolute must for the non-profit world. Heinegg described the non-profit sector as a cut-throat competitive environment and advised student who are interested in working for a non-profit to take the right path. First, she recommended acquiring appropriate skills through a college degree, then volunteering for a non-profit organization to learn project management. Next, she suggests interning at a non-government organization in the US, and then interning overseas for at least two years. She said the Peace Corps as the most popular way to network and gain that experience, but also suggested working independently.

The fourth panelist was an entrepreneur who founded her own company to bridge communication in the international world. Monica Francois Marcel, partner of Language & Culture Worldwide, helps develop critical skills and mindsets for Americans to succeed among culturally diverse workplaces, markets, and project teams, both foreign and domestic. For example, Francois works with her US clients to help them communicate and better understand their counterparts in India. This includes personal communication through emails, and translating American messages to be understood by Indians, and vice versa. Marcel also cited the Peace Corps as a great way to break into the international world and gain networking contacts.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). The Center trains future business leaders to compete in the global marketplace by equipping them with appropriate tools including foreign language expertise, knowledge of foreign culture, familiarity with the business environment abroad, and fundamentals of international business, management, marketing, and strategy.

--Sarah Judd

UIUC College of Business