One of the biggest opportunities today is working in overseas markets.
These jobs are rising fast as the trend toward globalization continues, and the Harvard Business Review estimates such positions will skyrocket as baby boomers retire; few of the younger generation are willing to take on the long hours these jobs typically entail.
This means lots of opportunity for people who want to work hard and in exchange benefit from a very steep learning curve that can pave the way for lots of career flexibility in the future.
For some these jobs will be too time-consuming and culturally challenging. David Everhart, regional practice leader for Asia at the recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, warns that in order to succeed in overseas markets you should probably be a patient person with a high tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
But Jamie Sugar-Butter and Morgan Sugar-Butter make the prospect seem like a big party.
The sisters – ages 23 and 25 — work at importing company Acme Merchandising and Apparel. They both do business overseas for the majority of their work. And while they live in Boston, they travel in Asia one third of the year. Here are their tips for working in Asia:
1. Expect weird names.
Funny coming from the Sugar-Butters, right? But in fact, their name, which is actually each of their parents’ last names combined and hyphenated, draws little attention in Asia. First of all, few people they deal with know what the name means. But on top of that most people the Sugar-Butters deal with have selected English words to use as names when dealing with Americans, to make it easier for them. So the Sugar-Butters run into people with names such as Cinnamon, and Apple.
The names are surprising, surely, but it’s a constant reminder how hard people are working to make sure the Americans are comfortable with them.
2. Put respect above everything else.
In China the Sugar-Butters are careful to tell everyone they don’t eat meat. Only seafood and vegetables. “The meals are really long and there are so many courses and it’s so disrespectful to say no,” Morgan says.
So the time they were served platters of what seemed like the fish’s reproductive area …they ate them. Well, Jamie did. Morgan realized Jamie didn’t know what she was eating, so Morgan slid her share onto Jamie’s plate.
3. Get a good translator.
People will not respect you if you don’t have a good translator. Usually the Sugar-Butters use Skype’s messenger system because the people they communicate have software that translates messages in real time. “But you can’t use slang in Skype,” says Morgan. “One word can throw the whole conversation off.”
But when they travel, they handpick their translators carefully.
“We have one who speaks Mandarin and one who speaks Cantonese. You have to have someone you would trust to handle negotiations,” Jamie says.
She said they also always use male translators. “When we walk in the room to do business, everyone expects to see a man come in with us. If we’re alone, they wait for the man to come in the room.”
4. Distinguish between differences in culture and differences in values.
The Sugar-Butters spend a lot of time trying to figure out who will be a good business partner. They have a lot of understanding of cultural differences. For example, they will travel for days to visit a factory in inland China just to show respect to the factory owner.
However they have a good nose for bad values, as well. For example, at a trade show a vendor would not talk to their translator because they thought he was of too low a class. Once the vendor realized that the Sugar-Butters and the translator were with a major company, the vendor was accommodating. But by then it was too late. The Sugar-Butters would not do business with him.
5. Stay healthy.
The hours for working in overseas markets are out of sync with most workers in the US. Morgan, for example, works 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Skype. One of the best ways to cope with erratic hours is to have a set exercise regimen. They spend a lot of time doing pilates at Boston Body when they’re home, and it’s one of the things they miss most when they travel.
Their exercise regimens are also a source of perhaps the greatest culture shock the Sugar-Butters face.
“In Asia they’re not into exercise,” says Morgan. “It’s impossible to find a gym, and if you run outside, people are like, `are you okay? What are you running from?’”