The Real Poop
If you’re looking for a job and come across a position in international sales, chances are you immediately glom on to the word “international” and start thinking of how awesome it would be to get paid to travel to exotic destinations. And while you probably will see all kinds of neat stuff if you follow this particular career path—the Taj Majal, the Eiffel Tower, toilets set in the floor so you have to squat in order to do your business—the whole “sales” component of a job in “international sales” is, you know, kind of important.
If you’re in sales, then your job is to keep your clients satisfied while bringing in as much revenue for your company as possible. International sales, then, has an added level of complexity: you have to deal with the fact that your client is located on another side of the world from you, may not speak English, and adheres to cultural norms that are different from yours. This is a facet of “international” that you may have forgotten to consider…but it’s the facet that matters. That whole getting-the-chance-to-eat-at-Sukiyabashi-Jiro thing is just gravy.
If you decide on a career in international sales, you need to be good at several things…like selling stuff (duh). You have to be a stellar communicator in order to overcome any language and/or cultural barriers that pop up…and they will pop up. You need to be capable of building excellent relationships with customers from all over the world who, upon occasion, will adhere to cultural norms that annoy the heck out of you. Finally, you have to be willing to put up with the awful aspects of international travel, like super-long flights, unidentifiable foods, pickpockets, and showers the size of sardine cans.
Not only does a job in international sales normally require a four-year degree, but there are specific skills you can pick up as an undergraduate that can help you jump feet-first into this career. Did you study Mandarin in college, to the point where you can claim fluency in the language? Did you focus your studies on a particular part of the world, like Latin America or the Middle East? Have you somehow managed to acquire ties to a network of people in a particular country? Expertise in a foreign language and/or region, in combination with connections abroad, can make you more desirable to an employer and more effective in performing your job.
Let’s talk perks. On the sales side, if you’re good at your job, then there will always be someone who wants to hire you, who’s willing to fork over lots of money to lure you away from your current employer. On the international side, not only can you experience new and different cultures and see places that most other folks have never even heard of, but you’ll get to meet interesting people and build relationships with them while also expanding your knowledge of the world.
And maybe you’ll get to work for a company that believes in letting its employees fly business class. Business class is awesome.
But don’t go feeling all warm and gooey inside just yet: the cons of working in international sales are myriad. There are many days where you’ll be exhausted because your job is go-go-go-go-go and you’ve traveled through so many different time zones you’re not even sure what when you’re in. There are many days where you’ll feel frustrated because traveling abroad can be a real pain in the rear, especially if you’ve eaten a bad scallop or two.
At times you’ll feel lonely, either because you’re missing out on what your family’s doing back home or because you don’t have a family in the first place. Constant international travel isn’t conducive to healthy long-term relationships…and you should watch out for those couplings of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am variety, because you could get stuck with an STD and you don’t want to be peeing needles during a week-long visit to Moscow.