Why Employers Love Globetrotters
As a former recruiter, I’m often approached by family, friends and, more recently, complete strangers for hallowed advice on the mysterious art of job-seeking. At this stage, I feel like throwing up a PowerPoint presentation anytime someone mentions the words “resume” and “layout” in the same sentence. As summer approached, many of the questions inevitably turned to the issue of travel, and the effect this may have on potential job applications in the fall. Can you justify leaving your current job in order to go traveling? Does a gap in your resume make HR alarm bells ring? Is travel only for hemp-guzzling wannabe hippie-types and/or cruise-loving retirees?
All too often, young people associate travel with a lack of personal direction. If they book a flight to Nepal to “find” themselves, surely others will think they are lost. In reality, there is absolutely no reason why a holiday, Himalayan hiking trip, or cross-European cycling challenge should make you fear the disapproval of future employers. In fact, here is why they will love you for it:
The Tourist Must be Decisive
Whether you’re just out of college or have spent the last few years working (or just giving the impression) under the watchful eye of a supervisor/manager/professional hawk-impersonator, it’s safe to say that you probably haven’t had the opportunity to make THAT many independent decisions. At least, not very big ones. You’ve generally always been either nudged in the right direction or forcefully pushed onto the right path, which does not leave you with much evidence of critical decision-making skills. Employers LOVE decision-making skills. Now imagine yourself in a foreign country, where barely anyone speaks your language and you definitely do not speak theirs. Your phone has just suffered a major coughing fit and is no longer cooperating with your pleas for help. You don’t have a paper map with you, mainly because you’re exploring, not time-travelling, and you’re a couple of hours away from your hotel. What do you do?
It’s not likely that this exact situation will occur, but it’s safe to say that the majority of people on extended trips abroad will suffer some sort of personal mishap. These can range from the tragic to the downright hilarious, but it always boils down to the same idea: you are in an unfamiliar location, things didn’t go to plan, and there is no one to show you what to do.
Nothing teaches resourcefulness and snap decision-making like a good, old-fashioned crisis, and nothing helps a manager sleep better at night than knowing there is someone on the team they can count on in the event of a full-scale meltdown, or even just a tiny volcanic hiccup.
Communication is a Handy Thing
Losing one’s wallet may seem like a pretty big deal to most people, not least because of the administrative hassle that goes along with it. You should probably report it lost or stolen to the relevant authorities, cancel your credit cards, recite a eulogy for the $50 you had just withdrawn from the cash machine, ask a stranger for bus fare home, and so on. Now imagine the same thing happening in the middle of Uzbekistan. Things just got interesting.
Buzz-words like “body language” and “effective communication” may be entirely over-used these days, but never underestimate the value of knowing how to convey a message without the luxury of having a fluent anglophone on the receiving end. Not only does traveling force you to awaken your inner thesaurus (“I’m looking for a bracelet. Wrist-jewellery, you know…..an arm-necklace?”), but it also teaches you about the myriad of cultural quirks that can present real obstacles in a world where cross-cultural communication has become an everyday thing in the workplace. What may be polite in your country, may have the complete opposite effect in another.
Do you know not to give a thumbs-up signal to a Thai client, or that smiling inanely at a potential Russian investor could possibly lead to a very brief meeting? Boom, you are valuable.
The Art of Negotiation
Negotiation is rarely a skill that young people have developed to a high level, and that usually has something to do with age and confidence. It takes chutzpah to practice the art of bargaining in many parts of the Western world, but in countries further south and east, it is just an everyday part of life.
Nothing teaches negotiation more effectively than an afternoon at the Istanbul or Marrakesh markets. It may take a few hours and more than a few embarrassing rip-offs, which will leave you holding nothing but a small, tin incense lamp and the fragmented remains of your dignity, but soon enough you will learn to stand up for yourself, both personally and financially. You will get used to setting a price for yourself beforehand, and learn how to keep enough control of the conversation to ensure that you pay more or less what you planned, and that both parties walk away satisfied.
This skill is invaluable in any field of work, and the sooner you learn it, the more dramatically you will stand out from your peers. In any employer’s eyes, you’re a rare find.
If the above reasons weren’t enough for you to decide to take that trip to rural China, ask yourself: is an employer who is not all that keen on travel really the employer for you? If you see yourself taking more life-enriching trips in the future, I would recommend you stick with employers whose eyes are open to the benefits of globetrotting. And luckily enough, you will be exactly the person they are looking for.
Eva Baranova is a wandering European nomad, formerly an HR Recruiter, currently based in sunny Malta. Her specialties include startup recruitment, unsolicited career advice, and spaghetti bolognese.