Help me transition from finance to international management
December 10, 2012 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about a career-change into international management. What steps should I take over the next year or two that will make me an attractive hire? Details below the fold...

I've spent my entire 12 year career in finance, with a specific focus on Asia for the last 5 of those years. During this time I've acquired a very specialized skill-set that makes me very employable in a small niche market, but these skills are otherwise completely non-transferable outside this niche.

For various reasons, both personal and professional, I've decided that I'd like to make a career change. I'm much more interested in working for a real business that provides real economic benefit, as opposed to the paper-pushing of Wall Street.

In particular, I'd like to get involved with international management. As I mentioned above, I've spent the past 5 years focusing on Asia, and I really love the interaction with people abroad, navigating foreign business environments, and just generally immersing myself in other cultures. While I'm not looking to relocate abroad, (I'm in the US,) I'm perfectly fine with extensive travel.

So what do I bring to the table, given that my primary skill-set is totally non-transferable? Well, for starters, a good portion of my current job involves reading and analyzing country- and industry-specific economic and strategy reports. What else? I'm good at synthesizing data points and information into a coherent thesis. I enjoy strategic planning. I'm a good decision-maker, and am comfortable working under pressure.

All of these things are good, but most would probably fall under the category of "soft skills." What can I do now that will make me a stronger candidate 18-24 months down the road? I intend to stay at my current job for at least another year, but I do have plenty of unsupervised downtime. I'd rather not spend the 2 years and enormous sum of money that business school would entail, but I may be open to the idea in some circumstances.

Any advice the hive-mind can provide is greatly appreciated!
posted by Guernsey Halleck to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure exactly what you specificially mean by international management, but perhaps you are already qualified for other types of jobs, such as international risk analyst, intelligence analyst, international site selection analyst, etc. It might be a good idea to talk to hiring managers in those industries to see whether they think there is any education or experience you need to supplement your existing experience and skills before they'd be interested in hiring you.
posted by Dansaman at 9:47 PM on December 10, 2012

There are a number of places which offer "global MBA" qualifications - the top ranked one is, I believe, INSEAD. Even if you are not planning to take one of their courses (if you are - save up) you might find it interesting to look at what they teach, what sort of jobs graduates go on to do and what their entry criteria are. For example they insist that all students should be able to speak at least a second language to a reasonable level of proficiency.
posted by rongorongo at 11:51 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you do informational interviewing of people who have positions you would like? Seems like these will be the best sources of information regarding "what skills do I need".

Can you become involved in professional organizations that include people with the type of job you'd like? Seems like this might be a place where you could gain/develop those skills.
posted by elmay at 2:54 AM on December 11, 2012

INSEAD is a one year MBA program with a campus in Singapore so it might suit you for a career change. I know a lot about it if you want to memail me. I also work in asset management and am an American who's been living in Asia for a long time. Happy to answer some questions.
in Asia for a long time.
posted by banishedimmortal at 4:52 AM on December 11, 2012

I contemplated doing this in 2005. Basically I figured out that about the only thing I could hired to do at a corporate without some intermediate step was Investor Relations. Although that wouldn't have been very hard to do.

I'm sure if you are a trader type or an analyst type - I'm the later, but if there are companies you have a good relationship with the next time you visiting one of them try to bring up the topic. I suspect people do it all the time.

But especially non-US companies have sort of an innate dislike/distrust of HF-y folks.

Also I'd think there is sort of an inverse relationship between the sort of company you would want to work for and the sort of company that would get excited about someone with a pure finance/investing background.

Have you thought about shifting to a different sort of buy-side job? Maybe a friendly activist shop? Or something very long-term focused?

MeMail if you want. I've gone through this before and at the end of the day I just found myself a niche that I love.
posted by JPD at 6:23 AM on December 11, 2012

In my (mostly European) experience I have found the type of people who do the jobs you are after go through a career stage of being project managers. They might have started out as technical specialists of one sort or another but eventually they find themselves running corporate projects which span more than one country. Often these people are from polyglot countries such as the Netherlands or Switzerland - but certainly they have a characteristic of speaking at least 2 foreign languages- and they will have worked in the countries where these languages are spoken. Because the projects that they run are usually strategically important it benefits these people to have an MBA (and it benefits them even more if their employer contributes time and/or money toward their achieving this goal). Because they need to get others to do what they want without having the line management power to demand that they do so - they need to have good consultancy skills. If they are successful then they are good candidates for board level positions in international organisations.

My suggested "shopping list" in order to land such a job is therefore:
1. Study a foreign language and culture to the point where you could use it in a business context. If you already speak one foreign language then pick another. Study in your target country if possible - even a 3 month intensive course could be enough to start making a difference.
2. Look out for an employer who could give you international project management experience and possibly subsidize you to take an MBA. Being able to learn on the job will save you a lot of money - and probably give you better experience.
3. If you are finding it difficult to land a job as described above then consider paying for your own MBA course. One advantage of doing this is that you can get started sooner and choose exactly where you want to study - but be very careful to choose an institute which has proven record of landing people like you into the type of job you want.
posted by rongorongo at 12:23 AM on December 12, 2012

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