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What Can I do With a Degree in International Business?

Colleagues around a table share documents
Colleagues around a table share documents

As more businesses expand their markets across the globe, the field of international business includes an increasing range of jobs in many industries. There are roles for professionals who specialize in all aspects of business, from accounting to sales and finance, allowing for almost limitless career paths.

In this Article

What Do International Business Professionals Do?

International business professionals many times are the public face of their companies abroad. They act with knowledge and cultural sensitivity to shepherd deals and transactions that benefit both parties. All the key elements of success in business at home apply to success in business abroad: strong leadership skills, ethical behavior, expertise in your field, and adaptability to evolving technologies.

As the U.S. becomes responsible for a smaller percentage of total global business, it also creates more opportunities for companies to expand in other countries, says Ralph Jagodka, MBA, EdD, professor of business management at Mt. San Antonio College. "Because of globalization, in a lot of ways, international business is infused in almost everything we do."

An international business professional's job description will vary depending on their role and employer, but tend to include:

  • Assisting exporters in preparing shipments for international deliveries
  • Determining the best way to adapt existing products and services for a global marketplace
  • Adapting business practices to build better relationships with professionals in other cultures and countries
  • Creating sales and marketing strategies that meet the needs and interests of prospective global customers or partners
  • Developing and implementing an international business plan
  • Negotiating and approving contracts with global partners
  • Hiring international employees and managers
  • Identifying and analyzing global market trends

Your need to travel, or even live, overseas depends on your position, responsibilities, and your organization's needs. Some international business jobs don't require travel. However, traveling is often necessary if you're involved in roles that bring in new clients and maintain relationships.

"You often need to be able to travel to another country to establish relationships," says Jagodka, who has extensive professional experience in international business management in the private sector. "True international business is still relationship-oriented, meaning that you need to be able to meet and talk to the other folks. You need to be able to put boots on the ground in their country to see what's going on so that you can effectively communicate and effectively work with and negotiate with your counterparts."

Some international business jobs don't require travel. However, traveling is often necessary if you're involved in roles that bring in new clients and maintain relationships.

After you've established relationships, newer and better virtual communication options have made it more acceptable for people to use virtual tools. As a result, you may be able to extend the amount of time between visits.

"Once you have the relationship, there's a lot of work you can do remotely, perhaps via Zoom or Skype or Line chat," says Jagodka. "A large part of your need to travel depends on the nature of your relationship and the business that you're in."

What Career Paths Can I Take in International Business?

Your degree in international business will play a big role in the positions you can pursue. With an associate degree, you'll be ready to work in entry-level positions such as clerk and bookkeeping roles. A bachelor's degree will prepare you for management opportunities in areas such as human resources, training, and hospitality, plus sales and customs brokering.

Your management opportunities can increase with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), the most popular degree awarded in business.

With a bachelor's degree, an MBA, or a master's in international business, you can pursue many roles. Here are some to consider:

International Marketing Director


What They Do:

An international marketing director is responsible for increasing a company's global sales and market share. They must identify, plan, and evaluate marketing campaigns for company products and services. International marketing directors are also responsible for overseeing the budgets and contracts related to marketing plans across global markets. They often work across other departments, including sales, art, product development, and public relations.

An international marketing director usually travels a lot to monitor the success of marketing plans in different countries.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Interest and awareness of international markets and trends
  • Creativity and the ability to innovate
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to organize and manage details of multiple projects at the same
  • Thorough understanding of marketing strategies and practices in different countries and cultures
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills

Business Development Director


What They Do:

A business development director helps a company grow by identifying new business opportunities and sources of revenue. This may include new markets, new partnerships, or new ways to expand revenue from existing markets. Business development directors often attend events like international conferences to network and identify new business opportunities. Nurturing relationships with current partners is also important for finding strategic ways to expand in existing markets.

A business development director usually travels a lot to establish relationships with new clients and maintain current ones.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • An understanding of buying patterns and trends
  • Excellent analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills
  • Strong leadership and management skills
  • Ability to establish and maintain professional relationships across cultures
  • Strong skills in persuasion and negotiation
  • Proactive approach to sales and business growth

International Trade and Customs Manager


What They Do:

An international trade and customs manager handles all aspects of a company's compliance with international trade laws and regulations. They establish internal procedures to ensure that the company complies with international laws and avoids litigation and penalties. International trade and customs managers also oversee logistics, supply chain management, and payments for import and export operations.

These managers may travel to key markets abroad several times a year to maintain relationships. Some may live abroad as a company's connection in a foreign market.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Ability to communicate across different cultures
  • Strong networking abilities
  • Excellent analytical and detail skills
  • Interest and knowledge of international laws and business requirements
  • Comfortable working alone
  • Strong multitasking, record-keeping, and problem-solving skills

Import/Export Agent


What They Do:

An import/export agent organizes and manages international shipments. They serve as the middle person in the purchase or sale of products between domestic and overseas companies. An export agent works in the country where the product is produced, while an import agent works in the country where the product will be sold. They can work for a business or open their own company.

An import/export agent may travel a lot to different markets. While they may live at home, some agents may reside overseas where the bulk of their responsibilities are.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Knowledge of inventory management and project management software
  • Understanding of complex international trade compliance requirements
  • Strong networking skills
  • Excellent analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Understanding of finance and budgets
  • Ability to maintain accurate records

Translator


What They Do:

A translator converts written communication from one language to another. They often work with legal, business, and scientific texts. Translators must maintain a document's style, tone, and structure while interpreting cultural references, slang, and unique expressions. Their work may require the creation of a new document in the target language or the creation of subtitles for a presentation.

A translator may live domestically and travel occasionally to practice their second language.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Active listening and speaking skills
  • Attention to accuracy and details
  • Time management skills to meet deadlines
  • Strong writing and editing skills
  • Fluency in at least two languages
  • Ability to grasp new technical, legal, and business terms quickly

Foreign Currency Investment Advisor


What They Do:

A foreign currency investment advisor counsels customers on finances, including international investments and transactions. They help firms maintain profits by avoiding the risk involved in currency fluctuations. They also achieve company objectives by monitoring markets to gauge optimal times for international mergers, purchases, and investments.

A foreign currency advisor usually lives domestically and travels occasionally to gauge the economic conditions of a specific market overseas.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Flexibility and initiative
  • Strong math and analytical skills
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • Ability to present complex financial concepts in clear language
  • Interest in politics and other factors that affect global economies
  • Knowledge of a foreign language

Foreign Sales Representative


What They Do:

A foreign sales representative acquires and maintains a company's global accounts. They pursue prospective customers to expand a company's business and nurture relationships with existing customers to increase sales. Foreign sales representatives spend most of their time communicating with prospective and current customers via telephone calls, online correspondence, and teleconferencing.

A foreign sales representative travels frequently to make sales. Some may live overseas in a country where a company has a large local or regional customer base.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Confidence in representing a company's interests
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Knowledge of a foreign language
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Assertive personality
  • Strong negotiation skills

International Management Consultant


What They Do:

An international management consultant helps firms establish or maintain success in international markets. They help companies take advantage of international business opportunities and analyze their operations to propose ways to improve. Their recommendations may include ways to improve business administration by reducing expenses and cutting waste.

An international management consultant travels frequently overseas to consult on projects. They may live abroad and travel to different countries from their home location.

Skills and Qualities They Need:

  • Strong analytical and decision-making skills
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Strong creative problem-solving skills
  • Strong critical-thinking skills
  • Fluency in a foreign language
  • Knowledge of business economics and finance

Where Do International Business Professionals Work?

Here are a few of the workplaces and related positions involved in international business.

Banks:

Auditor → Bank officer → Foreign currency investment advisor

Import/Export Businesses:

Import/export agent → Supply chain manager → Global logistics coordinator

Multinational Manufacturers:

Foreign sales representative → Procurement manager → Business development director

Consulting Firms:

Business analyst → International management consultant → Risk and compliance consultant

International Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs):

Health economist → Training and development manager → Translator

Electronics and Technology Companies:

Global technology leader → Information security analyst → Information technology security and risk director

Transportation Industries (Shipping, Airlines, and Rail):

International trade and customs manager → Logistics manager → Operations manager

Advancing Your Career

Education, experience, and professional credentials all can make you more marketable and give you an edge in any career path in international business. Jagoda says advancing also requires mastering the technical and cultural skills particular to your position to communicate effectively within your organization and externally with global partners.

No matter your role, the following skills and expertise can help you stand out in a career in international business and boost your salary.

  • Certification

Professional certification is proof that you've mastered a specific body of knowledge and skills. It can help demonstrate your expertise and your commitment to your career, as well as an interest in lifelong learning beyond formal education.

Two common certifications relevant to careers in international business:

  • Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP)
  • Certified International Trade Manager (CITM)
  • Language

Knowing a second language can help distinguish you from other job candidates and give you an edge. It shows that you're willing to make an effort to communicate with people in their own language, which can strengthen your international relationships.

"With a language, you learn how to communicate with people, but you also learn about their culture," says Jagodka. "You learn the nuances of negotiation and you learn a lot of things that are extremely important and very valuable as you want to communicate more effectively. A lot of people can use a phone app or Google Translate, but translation isn't the same as interpretation."

  • Technological Skills

It's difficult to advance in any area of business if you don't stay current with technology. While face-to-face communication helps to establish relationships in international business, technology is crucial to managing transactions, projects, and information. You'll also use software to analyze problems and devise solutions.


Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Ralph Jagodka, MBA, EdD
Professor of Business Management, Mt. San Antonio College