How do you respond when asked, “What should I do to get my intercultural career going?” This question can come from someone who has just earned a degree in intercultural communication so they are just starting out, or someone who already has a career and wants to add an intercultural element, or someone planning to leave what they were doing and transition to intercultural work.
Having been asked that question a number of times over my long career, as well as quite recently, I am always unsure of what I can say that might really be helpful. Reasons for that abound. One is that those of us in the intercultural field have taken many different paths to get where we are, which means that there are as many ways to become an interculturalist as there are people in the field. A suggestion would be to certainly develop a game plan but don’t consider it the only game in town.
Another reason is that whatever your game plan might be, opportunities come along that you need to grab. For example, an opportunity to work with someone you hadn’t expected to work with or an unexpected project you apply for and are invited to join. I certainly did not set out to be a trainer and the first few times I ran BaFa BaFa were rather pitiful as I look back. My advice would be that you need to be open to new opportunities so you recognize them when they come along and be ready to say yes.
Make it easy for people to find you and give them a reason to look for you. The reason will be what you bring to the table. When a company or client wants someone who knows about working in Japan or Ghana or wherever you have expertise, they look to you. When they want someone who can do a session on re-entry or coping skills or cultural assessment, they think of you. Further, when they want someone who has worked in the hospitality industry or health or the military, they contact you. That is your niche. As far as accessibility in our technology-centric society, an active social media presence is becoming a must, especially for independent consultants—but really for every person or company. Blog regularly so that your website pops up closer to the top of a search when someone in your area is looking for the kind of skills and knowledge you have.
Make direct contact with people or companies you’d like to work with or for. Send an article (get it published if you can) to the HR department that you’ve written on a subject of interest for the kind of company where you want to work. Arrange for an informational interview and ask if they know a company that might be a good fit for your talents. (Be sure to have researched their company and identified the reason why they might need you.)
Network. Network. Network. Join and stay in touch with the intercultural network. If the intercultural piece is what you are interested in adding to your resume and your career, the best way to do that is through the SIETAR associations local, national, and/or regional. Attend the conferences; do a presentation; find someone to co-present with; volunteer for a committee, the conference, the Board of Directors. People need to know your name and that you are someone they can rely on to get things done. This will also help develop what you become known for—your niche
My suggestions tend to be generic and based on either my own experience or that of others I know well. I’ve focused on the intercultural pieces because that is what I know, but I am quite sure that people in diversity and inclusion, and social justice have similar suggestions. I am hoping that someone in SIETAR USA who is more aligned with the D&I and social justice fields will write to tell us some of their ideas. And I look forward to some interculturalists sending their suggestions too. I would be happy to collate the ideas and make the resulting document available and easily accessible on our website! That way when someone asks The Question, you can point them toward our combined effort.
Watch for the SIETAR USA 2019 conference registration that is right around the corner!!!
President SIETAR USA