Is It Time to Tune Up Your Skills to Compete Globally?

Is It Time to Tune Up Your Skills to Compete Globally?

While the hard skills that are in demand in your field may land you a job faster than soft skills, it’s the soft skills -- such as the ability to collaborate in a multicultural, often transnational setting and adapt to new cultures and business processes -- that can take you places you never thought possible, including out of the country for work.

“Some people are very adaptive -- they’re conscious of differences in cultures and can do well” with bridging those differences, says Colleen Garton, a San Diego-based global work consultant and author of Managing Without Walls.

Failing to tune up your skills to adapt to new cultures can be a mistake, not just for your career, but for your team, Garton explains. “The members of your extended team may feel a little uncomfortable,” she says. “You may be doing something that’s upsetting a whole bunch of different people, and they might not tell you.” In those cases and for those who don’t “handle the unfamiliar or ambiguities very well,” cultural training is a good idea, she says.

In a global work setting, flexibility, an open mind and collaborative abilities will make the skills you currently possess that much more valuable to your employer. But there are ways you can add to your skill set to become more effective in working with customers, suppliers or coworkers in other countries.

International Immersion

Language training programs are a wise idea. To work in France, clearly you need to learn some French. In other countries, such as the Netherlands, Singapore or China, you can get by on English for an extended amount of time. In Japan, your lack of cultural familiarity may prove even more challenging than not being able to read the road signs.

“There are skills that are more valuable in a global marketplace, like a language -- that’s the most basic one,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm based in Chicago. “If you find yourself doing a lot of work in China, but you don’t know the language and think that over time that’s the place where you will continue to be engaged, then to take the time and start to learn [Mandarin] would be very valuable.”

Beyond language training, managers who plan to tackle foreign assignments or whose work requires them to collaborate with customers, coworkers or suppliers outside the US can enroll in executive education courses. These programs, offered by universities, can be as short as a day or scale up to organized trips to foreign countries.

Watch Your Timing

If you’re thinking about retuning your skills so you’ll be more employable in the global labor market, consider the timing. The sooner you upgrade your skills, the better your chances of leveraging your reskilling investment. “The worst time to reskill is when you’re out of work and between jobs,” Challenger says. “Finding a job takes a tremendous effort -- and it needs to be all-consuming, something you focus on getting done.”

Here is a three-step plan to gauge whether retuning your skills is a good career move for you.

  • Identify the Hot Skills in Your Field: If you’re a C++ programmer and employers covet Java skills or you’re a dental hygienist who works with older technology, you know you need to put updating your skills high on your agenda. In a global context, if you’re used to working with American techniques, you would benefit from learning ISO standards in your field.
  • Calculate Your Return on Investment: How much time would you need to devote to reskilling? What, if anything, are the trade-offs? What would it cost you in terms of tuition, day care, travel, missed work? Do the math. If the hot skill pays 50 percent more and makes you employable in a field you like, the investment could pay for itself immediately or in several years.
  • Determine If Your Skills Are More Valuable Elsewhere: Read job boards to help gauge the demand for your skills locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Use the Salary Wizard to obtain salary reports based on zip codes -- maybe you would earn more in Dallas than in Des Moines. Also look at multinational companies -- they generally pay higher and provide opportunities if you want to move elsewhere. Depending on the nature of your skills, it’s not always necessary to leave your hometown to market yourself to companies or customers in other regions.

You should also assess your aptitude for a global career. Free, professional assessment tests such as DNL Global’s Global Ready? quiz can help you determine whether going global will be an easy adaptation for you or a stretch.

[A frequent public speaker on topics such as the globalization of work and social networking, San Francisco-based Rusty Weston blogs about career-management issues for My Global Career and Fast Company.]