So much has happened in the past few days that I feel like I could write for days about all of it (or, at least, I could if I wasn’t jet-lagged), but I must start at the beginning.

First, let me explain that one of the things my company really emphasizes is “developing your personal network,” and I would say that networking generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I choose my friends carefully. I am fairly introverted and find small talk (especially for the sake of small talk) quite draining. This doesn’t bode well for my “network.” But knowing this is an area of weakness, I have tried to participate in some company activities (such as attending happy hours even though I don’t drink).

Meanwhile, I was trying to get the lowdown on how to get a project abroad, doing several informational interviews as well as talking with anyone who would listen. There is a formal method of applying for project roles, but none of the roles were anything near my skill set or experience level. The key was knowing about the positions before they are made available in the formal process.

Each time I talked with someone they would give me advice, necessary skill sets/training, other interesting contacts, etc. I got to hear some great stories from these people, and I really appreciate that they were willing to take time to speak with me. However, the advice was often completely contradictory from one person to another. Worse still, the consistent things every person said about staffing an international project were:

  • the first thing they want is someone with previous international work experience (total catch-22) and a lot of experience (“gray hair”)
  • it’s difficult to break into the fairly click-ish group in the company
  • there’s no telling when or if you will be placed on an international assignment even if you do everything right

Yep, I felt pretty defeated about my prospects. So I tried to get closer to my objectives through my projects in the U.S. (Dept of State) and complained (to anyone) about how frustrating it was that when you are relatively young, having time and energy, the system is set so you can’t take advantage of it.

Then one morning I got an instant message from a girl in Afghanistan who I knew from a team I am on. She knew of a role in Afghanistan and thought I might be interested… And from there she helped me tweak my resume for the role, put my name to senior leadership for approval, coach me for the interview with the client in Kabul (which happened at midnight EST), and then, when I got it, gave me lots of packing advice. I really owe her a lot. It’s a long story, but here are the two funny things I take away from it.

  1. When I asked her what I might bring from the US as a token of appreciation, the only thing she could think of was to bring ground Starbucks coffee (and now we know that Starbucks hasn’t actually taken over the world, as I’m sure we all thought previously).
  2. She recently told me that when she was in the states she had talked with me at a happy hour. At the time, I apparently said I thought it was cool that she was heading to Afghanistan and asked her a bunch of questions because I was interested. The reason she sent me the instant message that morning was because she remembered our conversation. And the kicker is that I really don’t remember it. I probably had similar conversations with multiple people at the few happy hours I attended. But she remembered and unknowingly I was actually networking so “now you know the rest of the story…”

Oh, wait, you don’t.  I’ve only just gotten to Kabul.I apologize for writing such a long post without telling you more, but as someone who always said bad things about networking I had to come clean about just how far it can take you (just under 7,000 miles:)

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