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Careers going Global

This week, we’re going global, anchored by concepts from a textbook chapter titled “Global Careers,” authored by Maury Peiperl and Karsten Jonsen (Sage, 2007).

Whether you’re pondering educational and career choice or career dilemma decisions, globalization presents implications. Peiperl and Jonsen point out that the term “globalization” is now “old hat” and almost “a buzzword” as a business term. However, they claim, the ways in which it is changing careers are only now starting to receive serious attention.

Stepping back (away from Peiperl and Jonsen), talking about globalization without associating it with downsizing is kind of like missing the elephant in the room; so at the most basic level, we can recognize that globalization has, indeed, changed the careers landscape such that job security can no longer be assumed. (Kets de Vries, 1997; De Meuse, Bergmann and Vanderheiden, 1997; Petzall, Parker and Stoeberl, 2000),

But what Peiperl and Jonsen do is address what it means to have a global career. The chapter includes much of interest, but I’d like to share just a few of the takeaways that seem particularly relevant.

Working Definition
Peiperl and Jonsen say that a global career is “one that takes place in more than one region of the world, either sequentially or concurrently.” There’s a lot of wriggle room there, so they further break that description down into four categories. Maybe you have experienced one or more of these personally — or know someone who has.

Four Types of Global Careerists
1) The “global traveler” — This is the person who travels frequently but lives and works within foreign-based enclaves and doesn’t have much interaction with local citizens.
2) The “virtual global citizen” — This employee resides and works physically in one country but interacts virtually with people from many other countries.
3) The ” ‘real’ global citizen” – The employee who crosses both physical and global borders. The “real or ‘truly’ global citizen” sees himself affiliated not with any one particular country but with the “world as a whole.”
4) “Local” or “potential global citizens” – This is the employee who stays in the same place and doesn’t travel or interact much outside her/his own country.

Do these classifications make sense to you?
Here are some examples that I’ve encountered. Some fit; others don’t. (Initials are pseudonyms).
1) The global traveler. A) LZH travels to China three to four times a year to assess production of his U.S. based company’s products. He stays for a month or so at a time and resides in hotels. As far as I know, there are no enclaves. His Chinese reports expose him to a fair amount of wining and dining, so he sees the culture but also receives assistance in navigating it. That is, he is not left on his own to fend for himself. He also travels to various cities throughout the country. I’m not too sure that LZH fits the “foreign enclave” part of this definition. B) FMD moved his family from the U.S. to China to oversee start-up of a manufacturing facility and become general manager of it. Remaining on assignment there for a few years, he did live in something of an enclave; but instead of traveling frequently, he remained mostly in that country. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who travels frequently and lives in enclaves while there.

2) The virtual global citizen. This is me — to a small extent… but it applies more to some of the people I work with. Though I work from an office in my home and rarely travel, I’ve participated in conference calls to Bangkok and Mexico City within the past month or so. E-mail communication with colleagues outside the U.S. is far more common than voice communication. Most of my work is local, but it’s not out of the ordinary to communicate with colleagues in Asia and Latin America — Europe, less frequently.

3) The “real global citizen” — This one describes the CEO of a multi-national company. He originates from a European country, heads a multi-national company that conducts business in four regions of the world, and he travels often to each. Though the company is headquartered in the U.S., it’s not a U.S.-centric company. This executive has lived and worked in six or seven countries throughout the world and always knew that he wanted a global career. It’s very difficult to think of him as being linked to any one country. He truly seems to be a citizen of the world.

4) The local or “potential global citizen” — This one is fairly easy to understand, but I wonder if it’s broad enough to capture the careerist who has no direct global involvement outside his/her own job but sees global commerce happening from the office next door. An example — the administrative assistant whose supervisor travels outside the country — but she doesn’t.

Perhaps the four classifications are open to broader interpretation. Nevertheless, they seems like a great start to describing what is meant by “global careers.”

Other ideas from the chapter:

Peiperl and Jonsen also discuss “expatriates,” a term that they acknowledge does not have a widely accepted definition. They use it to mean “skilled professionals who move across borders at the behest of their employers for a minimum of 1 year.” This would describe FMD above.

Another interesting term, “flexpatriates” typically have shorter-term assignments and could be employees or consultants (contingent workers). Interestingly, “flexpatriates” captures the trend of companies turning to contract or contingency employees as an alternative to increasing the headcount of their own human resources. For various reasons, there are people who find this type of assignment appealing and attractive – but that’s a different post, entirely.

Career Capital
Peiperl and Jonson say that “career capital” is “the term we apply to the set of assets accumulated over time as the global career unfolds.” They go on to address “global career capital,” saying that it encompasses “global knowledge, cultural breadth, language skills, interpersonal skills, cognitive complexity, cosmopolitanism, and system skills — as well as “a global network and global track records.”

The chapter addresses much more of interest than has been mentioned here and is well worth a read if you have access to the book. The intent in this post has not been to present a comprehensive look at the parameters of a global career – but, rather, to introduce issues that deserve consideration if you are thinking that some type of global career might be to your liking. The authors’ classifications give you a framework for considering what features of a global career might be appealing to you — to the degree that you have the opportunity to make choices.

But as we have discussed before, choice may be more of an illusion than we believe it to be. To those who have global careers not of their own choosing or satisfaction, Peiperl and Jonsen’s ideas may help you think about why, why not and what to do about it.


Want to know more?

De Meuse, K, Bergmann, T, Vanderheiden, P. (1997). Corporate downsizing. Journal of Management Inquiry, 6, 168-176.

Kets de Vries, M. (1997). The downside of downsizing. Human Relations, 50, 11-50.

Peiperl, M. & Jonsen, K. (2997). Global Careers. In Gunz, H. & Peiperl, M. (eds), Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Petzall, B, Parker, G, Stoeberl, P. (2000). Another side to downsizing: survivors’ behavior and self-affirmation. Journal of Business & Psychology, 14, 593-603.

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