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A Career Made in China?

There are a number of controversial opinions about Asia as an effective place to develop your career. Everything from the belief that Asia represents a license to print money for salaried expatriates, to the fear of never being able to return to a meaningful role back home. While there is a modicum of truth in both opinions, the full story is a little more complex.

So what does Asia offer Australian executives? Actually, it may be more logical to first ask “What does a capable young Australian executive offer Asia?” The most effective way for us to position ourselves career-wise is to do the same as we do with our company’s products and services. That is, discover our customers needs, and adapt our offering to suit those needs.

So, what do we Australians offer Asia businesses? What do we have that local managers and executives may lack, creating the actual need for our experiences and skills?

Certainly in the multinational corporate community across Asia, highly developed skills in general management, sales management, strategic marketing, financial management, human resources, and other technical abilities are in constant demand.

So, do we book our tickets today and head north to exploit the talent gap that corporations are clearly hanging out to fill?

Well, not quite.

The number of truly expatriate corporate roles in Asia are diminishing. Most corporates are now running tougher, tighter organisational budgets than before, and many Asian countries are developing their skills levels so that locals are increasingly able to step up into roles that were previously available only to expatriate Western executives.

There is another factor, too. A growing number of Western executives now call Asia home. They are increasingly prepared to accept local salary packages, and are filling those skills gaps in order to remain in Asia. The attractions of a permanent home in Asia for these executives are many, but they will usually include more than one factor. These factors include the attractive cost of living; a developing and genuine love and respect for a local culture; the excitement of working in a fast-growth commercial environment compared with most Western markets; having children completing key education milestones, like the HSC or the International Baccalaureate. Many executives have married locally and are raising families.

Okay, so what does all this mean to an executive like you who is successful, smart, and wants to develop their career in another environment?

Is the path to Asia now blocked by these changes? The answer is no.

However, as in most corporate environments adapting to changing conditions in their markets, executives who are successfully developing their careers are doing so by examining and researching their opportunities carefully before deciding which path they will take. If Asia is a path that is of great career interest, then like all opportunities it must treated similarly to the preparation we made when choosing an actual career.

If we wish to express our interest in developing our careers in Asia, the key questions that would be asked of us are:

What is it about Asia that I like? How much do I know of Asia? Have I visited Asia before? Which countries are of most interest to me? Are there any countries in Asia that I would not like to work? Add a why? to each question and we see that the whole career move to Asia is a complex process.

Competition for senior roles in Asia is tightening up for Western executives, which means there will be limited time for Australians to be engaged to work in that region. However, growth in the region means that there will always be opportunities for well-prepared and intrepid executives. There are a number of things we can do right now to emphatically answer those questions above.

Learn an Asian Language. Mandarin is a tough language to learn, but by beginning to develop skills in Mandarin, we are demonstrating our commitment and motivation. Bahasa (Indonesia and Malaysia) , Korean, Tagalog (The Philippines), Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese are all languages that have significant representation in the Asia business world.

Management Studies in International Business. Especially useful with an Asian business focus, international business studies are a useful introduction to the many Asian markets and how they work.

Holiday Travel. This seems obvious, but by choosing an Asian destination that is of career interest for a holiday, it adds a significant dimension to the trip itself, and enables us to speak knowledgably on that particular country.

Develop relationships with where you want to be. If we work within a multinational company that has affiliate offices in countries that are attractive to us, we are in a strong position to begin developing contacts and networks with colleagues in those countries. This is also a devastatingly effective way to identify when and where opportunities might arise in attractive markets, allowing us to appropriately position ourselves. Equally important is that we develop relationships with colleagues who can share our desire in the right environment. That unexpected opportunity can be less of a surprise with some clever nurturing of the right people.

There are a number of other things that we can do to develop ourselves in readiness for a more challenging role, no matter what we do and where we are.

Keep tabs on the ExecutiveSurf site for more inside advice from the professionals on how to develop yourself, and your career, and have fun while doing it.

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