Singapore: A Conversation with IBM Talent Acquisition, Learning, & Analytics Leader for ASEAN Angie Hubert

Angie Hubert has spent the last two years working in Singapore as a Talent Acquisition, Learning & Analytics Leader at IBM. We speak about her story of getting abroad, how candidates can increase their appeal to international recruiters, as well as quell a few fears recent graduates might have about going abroad for work. This conversation has been edited for brevity.

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How Angie Landed Her Position Abroad
Angie’s Work Experience Before Singapore
Companies Seeking Talent to Send Abroad?
Overcoming Fear of the Language Barrier
Make Yourself Appealing to Recruiters
Are there more jobs than Advertised?
Angie’s Transition Processes
Make Yourself Appealing to Recruiters
Make Yourself Appealing to Recruiters
Valuing Life More Abroad

First things first: where are you in the world right now, how did you get there, and what are you doing for work?

I am in Singapore with my 3 year old son and my amazing husband working for IBM. I joined IBM through an acquisition, I worked for a company called Kenexa, which is an HR technology and consulting company.  IBM acquired Kenexa four years ago, so I was part of that acquisition, and I had been in the US working for that company for a long time.

One day, two years after the acquisition, I received an email that said they were building in Southeast Asia and they really needed some legacy experience there, and asked “anyone interested?” I have the most amazing husband and on a whim I forwarded him the email because we had talked about moving and things, and he responded to the email “yes!”

So that was the beginning of it! We felt like it was a good time in our life because my son is still really young so it isn’t as disruptive for him, and we were excited to mix things up a bit.

What was your professional experience before heading over to Singapore?

I have had a bunch of different roles but mostly in HR Technology, instructional design, and development. But I also did software implementation for a while and Human Resources, so I have experience in corporate HR but also in the delivery side and sales side.

Do you get the sense companies are seeking people who can work abroad?

Yes, companies are definitely looking for people willing to do this. You would think that anyone would jump at the opportunity to get placed abroad, but that really isn’t the case.

You are always adjusting to the highs and lows of the experience.

Thinking about millennials and working abroad, I really think it isn’t the age of the person or their experience. It is about 1.) Where are they professionally based on the need the company has and 2.) the personal life aspect. It isn’t just about the skills that a person brings to the table, but also about what they have going on at home. Whether it be that they have kids or no kids, the question is how realistic it is for someone to be away from friends and family and such for an extended period of time.

But I really think age and experience don’t have nearly as much relevance as company-need and the type of person that you are interviewing for the position.

Do you have any advice for someone who might be looking towards graduation and is interested in working abroad but is a little hesitant?

I think one of the things that is most scary, outside of somewhere like Singapore, is the communication aspect; being worried about getting around and getting things done when you don’t speak the local language. And to that I would say: have confidence that you will make it happen and you will find a way to communicate. Make Yourself Appealing to Recruiters In the end, we have so much technology at our fingertips that it is impossible to say that you can’t communicate. You have enough tools and resources that the language barrier doesn’t need to be too much of a concern.

From an HR perspective, how would I make myself more appealing to a company who is recruiting internally to send someone abroad? Or, things I can do while I am working at a company to help my chances to get the offer to work in an international position?

First and foremost, put it out there. Put that you want a position abroad on your resume, make it clear that working abroad is something you are interested in. If you don’t tell people, they won’t know. Don’t wait and hope and make people read the tea leaves, put it out there that it is something you are serious about and be direct and ask about what you need to do to get there.

Put that you want a position abroad on your resume, make it clear that working abroad is something you are interested in. If you don’t tell people, they won’t know. Don’t wait and hope and make people read the tea leaves.

Also, networking. Talk to people who are in positions abroad already, ask them how to get there. There are more opportunities than people realize and working abroad has opened my eyes to that fact. So get on Linkedin, put yourself out there, and let it be known it is something you want to do.

Is it true that there are more positions available than are advertised on say, job boards? We often hear most positions aren’t publicized?

It is a thing. And at many companies, by the time it is posted, they already know who they are hiring on a lot of occasions. So it is best to be there before the need is out there to the world because once it is made public, you are likely competing with hundreds of people. If you think that you can add specific value to an organization, there is nothing wrong with reaching out if you are doing it from a good place in a positive way.

Wouldn’t it be great to know you are the first person in line when it does it get posted?

You really want to get specific with who you reach out to though. Try to narrow down the industry you are interested in and the exact way that you think you can add value, just the way you would if you were selling a product to someone. But I do believe many jobs are filled before they are posted—not that you shouldn’t still apply for them anyway—but wouldn’t it be great to know you are the first person in line when it does it get posted?

And what about negotiating an offer to go abroad? What should I ask for, what things can I expect they will take care of?

Again, all companies are different, and even in a company like IBM, it is different depending on the scenario, what is available, and what the need is. In my experience the best way to go about it is to ask somebody who knows, who has done this already, and ask them what you should be thinking about.

While you may have 10 things you want in order to accept an offer, you should be prepared to prioritize them and know where your breaking point is. Because the company and you both know you want to go abroad. So you need to figure out: is it your top 7 things that are must-haves in order to accept? Or top 5? You should know your dream list of things you would love to have for support, but also know what you are willing to accept, in order to get to go.

And how was your transition to working abroad? Your situation is a little different from the other people who have been on 12HourDifference since you brought your young family with you.

It is definitely a different experience when you are talking about a family. Obviously, I can’t say enough about how amazing it is to have a supportive husband who was willing to quit his job to allow me to take on this role, which of course takes a lot of adjustment and we have been through a lot to adjust and get used to that change, but there are a lot of positives that go along with it.

The transition itself is really made up of highs and lows. I think me having work everyday is a different transition experience than my husband, who has been doing the more important job of raising our son and taking care of everything. I think 6 months is a fair estimate for the transition period, but you go through a lot of different emotional swings. After six months you are starting to get it, and then you go through a holiday season away from family or you miss the Fourth of July or something happens at home, and those get you back down. So you are always adjusting to the highs and lows of the experience.  

And what personal characteristics do you feel you have to be able to make it through two years abroad?

To be fair, Singapore is much more modern than some of the other Southeast Asian countries. Singapore has an amazing network for transportation so I am not joining the sea of motorbikes like in Vietnam. It is also very diverse, English speaking, etc.

But what has helped us the most is having an amazing network of friends, some who have been here 8-10 years and some who are new to Singapore. Just putting ourselves out there and meeting new people has been the best thing for us. My husband and I also say that, especially in the beginning, we felt “normal” when we were making connections and building friendships with other people. Otherwise you are isolated, so in this situation it is really important to find people to connect with, especially since other expats understand what it is like when you first get to a new country and are more than willing to help you out.  

Are there any new skills that you feel like you have gained as a result of working abroad?

It has been amazing in that regard. It has really taught me to pause a little more, stop, and not react. It has been important to me to take the time to appreciate the opportunity to work with my ASEAN colleagues; my team is very diverse with colleagues also from India, Germany, Russia, a great mix of people, and I love that.

It has been important to me to take the time to appreciate the opportunity to work with my ASEAN colleagues; my team is very diverse with colleagues also from India, Germany, Russia, a great mix of people, and I love that.

Even though you know in the back of your mind that you are in another country and need to be aware of the other cultures you are working with, it is natural to go into your normal behavior. So it has taught me a lot about pausing, listening, and asking questions.

The other thing that I remind myself constantly of is: don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t assume your question is stupid; you aren’t expected to know everything. It is better to ask what is appropriate or how a person prefers to work or what is right than it is to make it seem like you know anything. I think that when you are on an assignment you feel like you have earned the situation and you are expected to handle it. But I think the best thing to do is ask. I have had plenty of situations where I have had to say “I don’t know if this is right, can someone help me?” And I think people appreciate that honesty.

Do you feel like you appreciate your time more as being a little more special than you might at home?

Of course a lot of the day to day has changed, but also you do get into routines and you learn new ways of behaving. I think you have to be really open to those new experiences and open to new people. I will take back with me the desire and openness to try new things.

We actually aren’t even going to move back to Chicago when we go back, we are going to move to Austin, Texas despite having spent very little time there. But we are looking forward to that feeling of newness and adventure. And that is just one way that the experience of being in Singapore has changed our perspective a bit.

I also think, once you do a big move from one side of the world to the other, you are more willing entertain options that might take you to the other side of the world again. And the other thing is, we have always loved to travel, but now I think that our reach will be much farther and we will probably be looking for locations that before we might have thought were a little too adventurous. Our trip to Florida every year isn’t going to do it anymore!


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Aaron Horwath Written by:

Since graduating from the University of Portland in 2014, I have worked abroad. Currently, I live and work in Da Nang, Vietnam as the Head of Global Training at an international technology company. Through my blog, I share my experiences of working abroad to give others a glimpse into international life and help them decide if working internationally is right for them.