First published on Linkedin by Sir Martin Sorrell, Cheif Executive and founder of WPP – follow Sir Martin here for access to further commentary.
I recently became one of the “Leading Lights” for the British Council’s Generation UK: China Network, which aims to encourage more students from the UK to get experience in China – and shows them how to make the most of this in the job market and beyond.
International experience is high on any employer’s wish list these days and at WPP – where we employ more than 200,000 people worldwide, including over 14,000 in China – it is no different. Our companies receive hundreds of applications every day, and constructive international experience helps a CV stand out.
Why do we care about international experience?
In a world becoming smaller every day through globalisation and digital connectivity, we need people who can demonstrate they have what it takes to succeed in this environment. Increasingly, employers are looking for knowledge of markets beyond the West, an international outlook and the willingness to be mobile.
1. Knowledge of new markets
The map of global business is being redrawn, and fast. The traditional powerhouses, the mature economies in the West like the US and the UK, have been joined by the BRICs and other rapidly growing markets such as Indonesia, Egypt or Argentina as important territories for international companies. People with experience in these economies are best placed to support companies in seizing new opportunities and extending their global reach.
China is a case in point. Despite fears about a slowdown, last year its economy expanded by an amount equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland. Global businesses can’t afford to turn their back on an $11 trillion economy.
Getting experience in China is one of the best investments you could make in your future, as Mandarin language skills and an understanding of how to operate in the People’s Republic become increasingly important. As I’ve previously written, recent research suggests that China may the best place in the world to start a career right now.
2. Global mindset
Modern businesses need a workforce that is able to communicate, influence and build connections with people from all over the world. Although language skills are a key part, a global mindset extends well beyond this, into understanding subtle cultural differences, having a more open and flexible approach, and knowing how to deal with an international environment.
Numerous studies show that employers consider these transversal skills as central to recruitment. The European Commission’s Erasmus Impact Study, for example, found that 92% of surveyed employers look for them in candidates.
Finally, as new markets develop around the world, more and more employers want their people to work outside their home locations to learn new skills, make new connections and identify new opportunities. As PwC says in its report Talent Mobility – 2020 and Beyond, “a huge increase in the number of employees working outside their home location and critical shortages in talent in specific markets and disciplines have pushed mobility up the boardroom agenda.”
International experience demonstrates that you are effective in different environments, you possess cultural agility and you are happy to move around. WPP has more than 3,000 offices in 113 countries, and people who can move seamlessly and operate wherever they are placed are invaluable.
The more-than-20-year-old WPP Fellowship programme aims to create exactly this type of person by giving Fellows experience of different fields and different business cultures across the world.
Successful applicants to the scheme understand that to move upward, you often need to move outward.
The Generation UK: China Network is a British Council initiative that aims to connect all UK nationals with China experience to continue and deepen their engagement with China. The Network supports student employability and skills development, and provides a platform for all UK nationals to further their business, academic and entrepreneurial connections to China. If you are a British national with experience in China, join the community here. More information on the initiative can be found here.