As an ambitious student or a recent graduate, you’ve probably taken advantage of many opportunities to travel the world. That’s fantastic because there’s nothing more liberating than stepping outside of your comfort zone and exploring new countries and cultures. If you enjoy travelling just as much as I do, you may even hope to continue your international adventures in your new corporate career.
Taking a vacation in a new country is one thing, doing business effectively in a new culture is another. You really have to learn the business etiquette of the country you’re visiting to make sure you give the best first impression on your international business trip. Here are 4 important things I want to share with you that I’ve learned on my international business travels.
- Pack a formal business suit.
This may seem quite obvious to some, but it’s surprising how common the formality gap is in international business. Some cultures are used to more conservative business attire, while others are more relaxed. If you’re travelling to Europe or Asia on business, assume a higher level of formality than what you’re used to in the US. Pack a dark coloured suit (navy, black, or charcoal) with a crisp white or light coloured shirt to wear to business meetings. Men, you can add charm to your outfit with a stylish tie, and unique buttons or cufflinks. Women, you can add sophistication with a chic scarf and a pair of elegant closed-toe heels.
- Learn what is punctual.
Punctuality is paramount to giving a good first impression. What you consider to be “on time” can often be late or super early, depending on what country you’re going to. The Swiss are known to be exact with their time, like the Germans and even the British. But from my experience living in France, “on time” can often mean 15 minutes late. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been thanked for arriving for a 2:00 business meeting at, believe it or not, 2:00! Research punctuality in your international destination to find out how early (or late) you should arrive for your business meetings.
- Use the appropriate forms of address.
When you arrive “on time” to your business meeting wearing the right clothing, you don’t want to ruin your great first impression by addressing Monsieur Dupont as casual Maurice! In most Western countries, its common to address others in business by their first name; being Australian, this is what I’m more accustomed to. But in many European and Asian countries, you could highly offend the other person if you addressed them in such a casual manner. Before your international business trip, practice addressing people by their title (Mr., Ms, or Miss) and their last name. It’s also a great idea to learn the last names and first names of the people you’ll be meeting so that you can impress and better connect.
- Loosen the grip of your handshake.
In Western business cultures, we’re often taught that a firm handshake is how you project confidence and power in the business world. As an ambitious professional, you probably take particular care to convey this exact image when you greet somebody for the first time. But did you know that in other cultures the firm American style handshake is often interpreted as overpowering and sometimes controlling? Unless this is the first impression that you want to convey, I suggest loosening the grip of your handshake just a little when you’re greeting people for the first time in international business.