As an international business lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology, I am often asked what an international business degree focuses on and what types of jobs students might find upon graduation. In my experience, there are more misperceptions regarding the international business degree than about any of the other business majors.
Here are a few I have encountered.
Myth 1: An international business degree is perfect for me because I love to travel and am very interested in working overseas when I graduate.
Reality: While an interest in travel and work in other cultures is a great long-term success indicator, few companies will hire people to move into international assignments right out of college. For jobs that require you to live and work in another country (expatriate assignments), companies want people with skills and experience that cannot be easily found in the host country. Typically, this involves a high degree of knowledge of the company, its products and its people. So most overseas assignments and international leadership positions tend to go to people with company experience.
Selection for these types of positions is usually highly competitive, and an international business degree provides one important point of differentiation. Ultimately, the cultural awareness and business implications learned in the program will improve the individual's ability to succeed once attaining an international assignment.
At the Saunders College of Business, for instance, we require all international business students to earn a co-major in accounting, finance, management information systems, management or marketing.
Myth 2: An international business degree will give me an in-depth understanding of the world's cultures and institutions.
Reality: Depending on your source, there are roughly 200 different countries in the world. Each has its own unique culture and economic, legal and political institutions. Many countries, like the U.S., have a wide variety of subcultures that are important from a business perspective. Becoming expert in all of these areas is not very practical or particularly necessary.
Instead, the focus should be on becoming aware of how these differences affect business. Time should be spent on theory and example learning and on why an in-depth understanding of each country you plan to do business in is critical. Of course, plenty of interesting and relevant examples are used in this process. The focus is on teaching students how to find and analyze specific information on countries and cultures. They learn how to efficiently and effectively dig out what they need to know in each unique situation.
Myth 3: An international business degree will give me all the knowledge I need to work through the logistical details of doing business in other countries.
Reality: Once again, there are approximately 200 countries, each with its own unique laws, rules and regulations. Specific logistical requirements also vary greatly from company to company. To learn all the detailed information about how to transact cross-border business in all of these situations is impractical.
You will learn about some of the important areas to consider and how to get the help you need for your specific situation. Resources like the U.S. Commercial Service, the International Business Council, the Small Business Administration and private, third-party export management companies are all examples of places where this important support can be found.
Myth 4: I have not traveled much and do not know a second language, so I am probably not a good candidate for an international business degree.
Reality: The fact is that most students do not have an extensive travel background when they start an international business program. Many have not been outside the U.S. Even someone who has traveled extensively has typically not done much to analyze those countries' business differences.
Having a second language is another great indicator of success in a foreign assignment. Many companies encourage and often support employees' efforts to learn a local language prior to taking on an international assignment. Employers recognize foreign language skills as a sign of a student's cultural awareness and commitment to working in an international environment.
At Saunders College of Business, all international business majors are required to be proficient in a foreign language, for example. A second language, however, is not required for entry into the international business program and can be achieved as part of the student's program of study.
Myth 5: If I don't take an international business program, I will not learn much about doing business on an international basis.
Reality: The reality is that most curricula these days include a significant amount of material associated with international business. Teaching marketing, finance, accounting or any of the other majors without addressing the international aspects would be like ignoring the impact the Internet has had on the business world.
An international business degree provides an increased level of focus on unique aspects of global business. It is an in-depth look at the adaptations to the business principles that are taught as part of the core programs.
For instance, in marketing, it means gaining a much greater knowledge of how adaptations to products, pricing, promotions and channels are balanced against the overall economies and consistency of standardization. The same types of global programs are offered in finance, accounting and management.
While there are many misperceptions about an international business degree, one of the things that usually is well understood is the importance of being able to work successfully within a global marketplace. Small and midsize companies as well as large multinationals are interested in being as competitive as possible in the international arena. The international business curriculum definitely helps students gain the knowledge and understanding they need to achieve this success.
John Ward is a marketing and international business lecturer at RIT's E. Philip Saunders College of Business. He currently teaches global business courses in the MBA and Executive MBA programs. Before joining RIT, he spent 25 years at Eastman Kodak Co. in a wide variety of global sales, marketing and management roles. He is on the advisory board of the International Business Council of Greater Rochester.8/31/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.