Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, will form 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020. It’s a demographic coveted by advertisers and intensely written about by sociologists and political commentators alike. I’m technically a Millennial, though just barely, and I am personally skeptical of much that has been theorized about the motivations, hopes, and dreams of my generation. With 80 million of us in the United States alone, it seems somewhat problematic to make sweeping generalizations about any group so large.
Yet, one statistic from a recent study of Millennials that does not surprise me at all is this: 70 percent of Millennials around the world expect to hold an overseas job assignment during their careers. Studies also consistently show that Millennials place a higher premium on a job they find personally fulfilling over one that will make them rich. How are we Millennials supposed to land these do-good global dream jobs we want?
The recently updated second edition of Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development, by Sherry Lee Mueller & Mark Overmann sets out to answer this question. Mueller and Overmann present a compelling account of not just how young people can break into a career that will take them abroad, but also suggest that more time should be invested by each of us in reflecting on what we really want to do in the world. The book seeks to help young professionals get ahead in the global marketplace and cultivate the skills required of emerging global leaders.
The book opens by acknowledging what most young people entering the workforce already know: the precise definition of an “international career” is elusive. In our global economy, the distinction between “domestic” and “international” has become increasingly blurred. Mueller and Overmann define the field as those careers committed to, “building more effective communications, to tackling global problems, and to creating the web of human connections so critical to existence in the twenty-first century.” The authors believe these individuals are united by one common quality: they are all idealists seeking to have a positive impact.
Working World is organized in two parts. In Part I, Mueller and Overmann outline ways individuals can shape their career philosophies. The authors share their own professional and personal experiences in different historical eras. As a seasoned global engagement veteran, Mueller advises young professionals to identify a cause they feel passionate about, and then carve out a place to affect real change in that space based on the trends in a particular period. Mueller believes it’s best to define a career path “from the perspective of your place in history.”
Overmann, who provides a young professional voice, is very honest about his career path being one that is less strategically planned than Mueller’s. Less focused on finding a place for himself in history, Overmann placed more emphasis on his micro-level impact. He recalls his first years after finishing his undergraduate studies, working in a series of jobs that were seemingly disconnected. He assures readers that even if they don’t have a clear vision for their career trajectory at every turn, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts. “I have no regrets about these choices. They not only gave me an array of diverse learning experiences that have shaped me in positive ways, but they also led to where I am now,” Overmann reassures readers. He urges young professionals never to doubt the inherent worth of variety in professional experiences.
The juxtaposition of Mueller and Overmann’s worldviews and experiences presents divergent perspectives to guide the reader’s exploration. Each author challenges the other’s assumptions and approaches, which encourages the reader to engage in a similar exercise of self-reflection. The message to globally-minded young professionals is clear: there is no single path to success. Careers will likely take unanticipated turns, and there is not a magical one-size-fits-all approach that can be universally applied.
Mueller and Overmann also seek to arm young people with tips on how to incorporate professional best practices into their career quest. These include the art of networking, the value of mentors, and the challenges of adapting to the changing dynamics that define most 21st-century career paths.
In Part II of the book, Working World highlights interviews from leaders in the field, directing readers to actual resources for young professionals to explore. Pearls of wisdom come from CEOs of nonprofit organizations, presidents of higher education institutions, and senior staff of Congressional offices, along with more junior professionals whose career paths are likely similar to many readers.
Allan Goodman, President of the Institute of International Education (IIE), for example, shared what he believes to be crucial competencies for thriving at any job. “I think good writing skills and the capacity for empathy are the two most important traits you can bring to the workplace,” said Goodman, “whether it’s public or private, whether it’s domestic or international.” In this section, readers will find tangible opportunities and useful guidance, which complements the philosophical reflection and advice in the first part of the book.
Working World is not simply a how-to guide for young professionals looking to get into the global engagement space. It passionately calls young idealists to thoughtfully craft their careers, to find personal fulfillment, and to make a contribution to the greater good. In the book’s introduction, Mueller and Overmann allow Howard Thurman’s famous quote to make their point for them: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Seeking to forge careers that foster social good in a globally-connected world, Thurman’s sentiment is perhaps the closest anyone has come to defining a Millennial manifesto. The millions of tweets on #bethechange are a testament to the number of Millennials inspired by the Gandhi-attributed quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mueller and Overmann’s Working World is a useful primer for young professionals taking purposeful steps to becoming the change they want to see.
Matt Clark is Program Manager at the Center for Citizen Diplomacy where he designs and implements global engagement projects to promote and celebrate person-to-person interactions across cultures. Matt has coordinated and hosted international conferences that explore opportunities for enhanced collaboration between thought leaders in K-12, higher education, community-based exchange programs, and cultural organizations. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Drake University and serves on the Board of Directors for the United Nations Association of Iowa, is Vice President of the Japan-America Society of Iowa, and represents the JET Alumni Association as the Iowa Chair.