March 03, 2016 / Published 8:00 AM EST / Tamara George
Working the world: career-building tips from an international success story
Meet Shibani Ahuja. Like other Manulife employees before her, she relocated to Asia to grow her career, be involved in emerging markets – and cross some amazing experiences off her bucket list.
Shibani started her career working for startups. Although the experience appealed to her entrepreneurial nature, she wanted to work for a company where she could put down roots. In her ten years at Manulife, Shibani has been in eight roles spanning Corporate to Finance to IT. But the most exciting growth has happened in the last three years, in her roles in Hong Kong and Manila. She has some great advice for those thinking of a similar path:
Ensure it’s what you really want.
If you’re thinking about moving, Shibani’s advice is to do your homework. Research the culture. Think about how your family will respond and how a move might affect your overall lifestyle. Do you have the stamina to navigate day-to-day life in a place where you don’t speak the language? Relocating isn’t just about your work life.
“Weigh the impacts of a move on different aspects of your life,” she advises. “Be objective – and don’t get caught up in the hype and excitement of a move. Really think it through first to make sure it will work for you.”
Make it clear you want to go.
Tell people you’re interested. Use your network, check for open positions and create your own opportunities.
“I’ve always wanted to work abroad,” says Shibani. “So I let people know, and they kept me in mind. One day, my colleague came back from a trip and said ‘How soon can you move to Shanghai?’” And that’s where her international journey began.
Be open to different ways of doing things.
Living in Asia has given Shibani a deeper understanding of cultural norms and expectations, and she has used that knowledge to work more effectively.
“We tend to talk about Asia in broad strokes,” she says. “But my job really drives home the fact that Manulife operates in 11 very distinct markets. In my corporate role in Canada, I realize now that I was guilty of not recognizing the beautiful complexity of each culture. Learning this and living it each time I visit a region has earned me credibility, so my suggestions are taken seriously, and I’ve been able to customize my approach for each audience.”
When North American employees move to Asia, there is always the potential of being perceived as another “corporate” layer telling them what to do. Shibani has learned that the key to earning respect is clearly showing the business units how she will help them succeed.
“When the business doesn’t understand your value, that apprehension is understandable,” she says. “It’s my job to show I’m there to help, not hinder. So I tell them up front that I won’t visit unless I’ve been invited. And I make it clear that we will collectively establish the objectives for my trip. I also do post-trip ‘health checks’ to get feedback on how I can improve.”
Travel. Explore. Experience everything you can.
Shibani has used her regional role as an opportunity to explore. Her Manila team takes her for biweekly “Shibani Eatscapades” to try local delicacies – she has tried a bite of everything, including fish eyeballs, crocodile sisig (marinated, fried croc meat) and other regional specialties.
“I take cooking classes to learn the local cuisines,” she says. “I’ve done the world’s highest bungee jump in Macau, summited a volcano, gone white water rafting in Bali, ridden an elephant, swam with whale sharks, waded through underground cave rivers and learned to surf. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. In fact, I’m thinking about extending my stay – there are just too many places to explore.”
Want more #workingtheworld stories? Read about Alvin Khoo’s tips for adapting to a new role in a new place, and see how Rika Sahara and Esther Tam have grown their careers internationally.
Work the world with Manulife.
With offices in Canada, the U.S. and across Asia, the opportunities for building a career with Manulife are incredible. Take a look at our current openings by location to find out how you can experience a new role in an amazing place – and take your success to a whole new level.