What does an international stint bring to your career?

Packing your bags for a job overseas can give a major boost to your career, confidence and way of working. 

That’s exactly what IT professional Nathan Stewart, 32, found in 2007 when he left behind his IT banking role in Australia for a project manager gig at Transport for London in the UK. Stewart, based in Sydney, Australia, worked there for two years before joining risk management firm Aon UK in another project manager position.

While the first role concentrated on business operations, the second focused on strategy and transformation, giving Stewart exposure to a number of specialist areas and a range of European clients.

“Relocating overseas forced me out of my comfort zone of familiarity and into ambiguity, which compelled me to set ambitious goals and chase after them,” Stewart says.

A global mindset

With the world becoming increasingly globalized, companies are looking for candidates who can thrive in new environments, understand cultural differences, and communicate with people from all walks of life. The big win for most professionals working abroad is gaining a global mindset that lets them contribute different ways of thinking to the business. 

When Stewart moved to London, he said he was exposed to new cultures, languages, values, laws, regulations and labor conditions. This was a far cry from the geographically isolated Australia, where it is less common to gain a broad set of experiences in such a short period of time. 

“This diversity opened up new considerations and challenged how I approached my work – in order to adapt, I needed to learn quickly and be proactive in building my knowledge,” Stewart says. “In addition to accelerated development, I established a global network of contacts, colleagues and advocates, who I regularly call on to knowledge share and take counsel.”

Boosting your confidence

Gaining a newfound confidence in your professional life is another key benefit to working overseas.

The nature of taking on an overseas role means working with people from a range of backgrounds. Those who worked in smaller teams in positions back home may suddenly find themselves in the thick of it, managing an assorted set of stakeholders all with competing priorities. This is a great experience to have, as employers appreciate workers who can take the reins in difficult situations without second-guessing themselves. 

As Stewart says, “Having international experience gave me a diverse way of thinking, which has been invaluable after moving into a senior management role where I am making high-level decisions on a daily basis and handling the needs of employees from different areas of the company.”

Bringing skills home

Moving abroad can give you a boost on the competition by learning new ways of working and gaining insights that are not present in your local market.

When returning home from an overseas position, it’s helpful to take an inventory of your learned knowledge and skills and think about how you could apply them to local roles.

After coming back to Australia in 2011 to join the Commonwealth Bank as an executive manager of IT service management, Stewart used his newfound relationship management skills to excel.

“I regularly draw on my international experience when executing my duties and influencing others,” Stewart says. “My time overseas has been the most valuable investment in my career to date, even above education.”

Moving overseas for work can expose you to new ways of doing business, cross-cultural experiences, and ultimately raise your confidence for future roles that require a broader base of skills.

So whether you are feeling stifled in your current role or simply looking for a new challenge, taking a leap of faith and moving abroad could open you up to a world of opportunities and give you that edge above the rest.