Skills for international business

Five skills needed for international business success

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Gone are the days when a job was a job for life – long gone. [Contributed by Rotterdam School of Management]

Where baby boomers or Gen Xers might have seen their careers play out in a single role or company, today’s global professionals are expected to have the awareness and flexibility to adapt to change and uncertainty – and to adapt fast.

Top international employers are looking for first-class business and technical chops. But they are also looking for the soft skills and a can-do attitude that will see you develop and grow beyond the role, perform well in different scenarios and deliver impact across departments, functions or geographies.

“Big international companies expect their top talent to move around,” says Joep Elemans, Head of MBA Careers Services at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). “The expectation is that you are open to different cultures [and] to the different ways business is done around the world. And that means being ready to step outside your comfort zone.”

For those seeking to do an MBA, an appetite for complexity and variety is a given, says Justin Sheehan, RSM MBA career coach.

“Our students come to us looking to challenge themselves in an environment where there are international peers, players and competitors and everything is up a few levels.”

Channelling this into the development of rounded skills is part of the coaching experience, says Sheehan. “Of the 20 core skills that employers seek in MBA graduates today, 17 are soft or interpersonal skills.

So, keeping that advice in mind, just what do recruiters look for? And what are the skills that you need for a successful career in international business?

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Five skills for international business success

1. Communication

Whether it’s your oral, written or presentation skills, your ability to put across your ideas to people of different functions or cultures is key to mobilising and aligning others – and that includes your boss. Senior management is increasingly looking to top talent to challenge the status quo. Be prepared to consult with your boss and improve your capacity to influence and negotiate. The “yes men” and “yes women” days are well and truly over.

2. Resillience and adaptability

Be prepared to fail and learn from mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, especially when you are working across different business units, different cultures and different time zones. Nurture your ability to get back in the saddle and move on. Being adaptable to changing circumstances is a function of what Sheehan calls “staying hungry – that undercurrent of restlessness that keeps you constantly striving and pushing forward.”

3. Collaboration

If people enjoy working with you and find you likeable, you get things done better and faster. Collaboration opens you up to understanding a diversity of dynamics and psychologies, meaning you not only relate better to other people, but you inevitably broaden your own perspective – as well as your capacity to adopt new approaches to solving problems.

4. Creativity

Creativity – the famed capacity to think outside the box – is highly prized. Your capacity to innovate, to think like an entrepreneur, to reframe problems and to see opportunities and methods for improvement will not only add value, it will help your career to evolve over time. In today’s constantly changing environment, being able to unshackle yourself from established solutions or practices means you are better positioned to respond swiftly and decisively in your decision-making.

5. Self-awareness

Know yourself, and figure out what you are passionate about – but it is important to think about the long term, too.

“At RSM, we dig into students’ pasts as a way to unlock clues to the future,” says Sheehan. “Looking at what you enjoyed or not, and why, helps you to be more specific about what you want, what interests you and the environment you will be comfortable in.” 

Self-awareness is also a fundamental part of leadership. Sheehan explains, “People who are able to stop, dig deep and be specific about what they want are those who tend to be able to motivate others, and those who tend to achieve more.”


If you’re thinking about making an MBA a part of your preparation for a successful international career, why not visit our MBA page and discover the on 17 June and discover the benefits and career services that will help you realise your goals.

Our team of experts is also on hand at all times to review your CV and discuss the best options available to you.



Contributed by Rotterdam School of Management

Rotterdam School of Management

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