Attention Students: Learn 5 Key Skills to Get Your Career Started in International Business


International was the word I grew up with.

Back in the late ‘70s in the midst of the Cold War, I always dreamt of seeing the other side of the globe, of visiting fascinating countries, of being different. Even when we learned how to hide under our school desks in case a nuclear explosion hit the city, I continued to dream of understanding other people through learning their cultures.

Skill #1: Learn English and/or another foreign language; it will be one of the best investments you make in your life.

I instinctively knew that the only key to success was learning a foreign language. English was my choice. And English alone helped me to get into the university of my choice, find my first job, travel around the world and pave my way to another language, Mandarin Chinese.

When I came to China as an exchange student in 1990, one of my new English friends told me: “practice, practice, practice.” Even if you sound ridiculous and feel totally embarrassed, go on and talk, he advised. And talked I did.

So if you are thinking of an international career, and if your native language is English, don’t let it stop you from learning another language. In fact, it is not a choice anymore; it is a must to building a successful international career. Look what Tim Ferris, author of bestselling The Four Hour Work Week is saying about effective language learning:

Skill #2: Study the history and cultures of countries you would like to work with.

The next element of success in your international career is your openness to other cultures and genuine interest in someone else’s life. Human beings are inherently social creatures.  So, you must learn about the world, immerse yourself in the history of other countries and study their cultural heritage.

This knowledge will serve you throughout your entire career.  You can use it to begin meaningful conversations. You can spark up stalled negotiations with a carefully thought-out story in another language. You can make peace by knowing cultural sensitivities.

See, for example, what Sheikha Al Mayassa, a supporter of cultural diversity in Qatar, says about how art and culture create a country’s identity at:

Skill #3: Master your public speaking skills.

With your foreign language mastered and embellished by knowing foreign cultures, you can do a lot.  Yet, to become successful, you will need advance the next skill – your ability to present yourself in public.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen so many young and promising graduates or young professionals who lost their perfect chance for a job or promotion just because they could not handle public speaking. Yes, for some people it is scarier than death itself. Yes, some people tremble and can’t open their mouths in front of a crowd of five high school students. Yet, I am absolutely convinced that everyone can master this skill.

If this is your stumbling block, find some help. Even kings need help. Do you remember the movie The King’s Speech? Come on, wouldn’t you say that poor King George had it worse than you?

The best advice I have for you is to join Toastmasters International. This group is known for its unique approach, working in small supportive groups providing constructive feedback to both neophytes and professional speakers.

And for inspiration, check this amazing speech by Ryan Avery, the winner of the Toastmasters International 2012 contest:

And yes, you can do it too when you give it your all.

Skill #4: Improve Your Business English Writing Skills.

The fourth most important skill you need to enhance is writing. And if you object to this, perhaps the German philosopher Nietzsche will convince you.  He once said, the best author will be the one who is ashamed to become a writer.”

Now I am not saying that you must become an all-out writer. Absolutely not. What I am referring to is learning Business English. By learning how to write using active verbs and short sentences, you will be able to master  copy writing (which you must!), understand how to write grant proposals (if you are interested in fundraising) and make your pitch to capricious angel investors.

There are many good books on Business English writing skills. For example, check out these books:

Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business, by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (Jan 10, 2008)

And the final skill is…

The final skill that you must embrace is not that obvious. In fact, some among you might exclaim – oh, no, I don’t even want to hear about it. Me doing what?

You guessed it right.

Skill #5: Learn Sales and Marketing Skills.

This makes a lot of people cringe. You might think about car salesmen. Oh, how people dislike them, even though they are just doing their job!

Look what Jeff Gordon, NASCAR driver did with one of these people:

I don’t want you to become the victim of a prank of this magnitude. However, with all my respect to all my non-profit friends, if you don’t know how to sell, you are not going to reach your goals. Often, you’ll get nowhere (except to Starbucks).

Learn the best from the masters and I guarantee you that you will actually enjoy these lessons. You may venture into Zig Zigler’s talks, or see what sales means for writers like Daniel Pink:

Realize that selling skills can help you advance not only your career, but also make you a more persuasive and effective communicator in all aspects of your life.

So, whether it is international business, international development or education, you will always be on the right track with your perfect English and a second foreign language, cultural knowledge and diversity, excellent public speaking, sales and writing skills.

What was your skill that help you to advance your career in international business?


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