Every now and then I'll catch a headline relating to the bleak prospects for graduating MBAs. As they are turned away from Wall Street in droves, they're suddenly pursuing such previously unimaginable careers as teaching.
In their recent BusinessWeek column, "Options for MBAs Without Jobs," Jack and Suzy Welch described what they saw as the "three-forked road" jobless MBAs currently face: settle, go crazy (keep knocking on doors until you find the perfect job), or start your own business.
Well, as I commented on their column, there's another alternative: move overseas.
Even unconnected expats find work
I've been living in Ho Chi Minh City for the past two years. I moved from San Francisco because I knew Vietnam's rapid development would provide opportunities to advance my career. The possibilities of obtaining an international executive MBA through the University of Hawaii and exploring business opportunities were also attractive.
As I'm getting ready to head back to the U.S. and graduate, I can certainly relate to the anxiety other MBA graduates have about finding the right job and paying off their student loans. As I write this on my laptop, I'm overlooking a bustling downtown intersection from a Wi-Fi cafÉ in HCMC. I know I'll miss living here, although part of me wonders if staying put might be a better idea as I contemplate finding a job back in the U.S.
Looking back on my experiences while living and working away from home, I can't say enough to urge other newly minted MBAs to consider the enormous advantages of such a path. It's not too hard to find a job overseas if you choose your destination wisely. There are plenty of expatriates in Vietnam who arrived with nothing more than two suitcases, then landed positions.
As for experience, I didn't have an MBA before coming, although I started my program soon after landing. With a few prior contacts and some early networking efforts, I secured a job in which both my management skills and native English-language abilities would serve as assets.
Ho Chi Minh City: No "Hardship Post"
During my time here, I've developed skills in a second language and learned how to communicate and motivate in a cross-cultural environment. I've gained immeasurable skills working in a dispersed team and have seen firsthand the impact of globalization and digitization on an emerging economy. I sometimes feel that I'm living in Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, particularly as I've been working for a local firm that serves U.S. e-commerce companies.
Outside of work, I connected with a burgeoning community of young technology enthusiasts, most under the age of 25, who were reading the likes of Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki, organizing local BarCamps, and Twittering all day long about it. During holidays, I traveled to far-flung tropical paradises by bus, train, ferry, and boat. Most important, I've enjoyed innumerable experiences with neighbors, co-workers, and new friends. The hundreds of photos on my laptop can't do them justice.
On top of all this, I've enjoyed the perks of living in a country with an extremely low cost of living. I've saved enough money to pay off a sizable portion of my undergraduate student loans and credit-card debt. (On a side note, I also noticed that BusinessWeek ranked HCMC the ninth-most-difficult "hardship post" in the world—I couldn't disagree more!)
Drop your reservations and make some
So here's my advice to MBAs and non-MBAs: Don't be afraid to move overseas without an offer in hand and then search for jobs on the ground. But bear in mind that trying to find a job overseas is a life decision, not just a way to escape the doldrums of a depressed economy. Arm yourselves with patience, humility, and a sense of humor and optimism. Most of all, relish the fact that boundless opportunities and adventures await you.
At some point you'll just have to book that plane ticket, schedule that garage sale, and figure out how to pack everything you think you'll need in two suitcases. Too many friends I know talk about their desire to move overseas, but can't seem to get past their reservations to actually make any reservations. If you need a safety net, rent your apartment or house for a year and let a car-less friend borrow your wheels.
Challenges will be plentiful until you're on your feet, but they're surely outweighed by the countless personal and professional benefits you'll reap, as I have seen during my time here. When the economy recovers or it's time to return home, you'll have international business experience under your belt and a new world view to boot. Heck, you might decide not to go back at all.
Is it a little crazy? Sure. But if you can summon up the courage and get past the usual excuses for not going, the payback is huge. The paycheck might not be so bad either. And really: Is it any crazier than braving the U.S. job market now?