Building an international career – one job at a time

Since graduating UCU, alumnus Diego Centurion’s career has taken him all over the world. Diego discusses the nitty-gritty of global career-building, and explains how to take the wheel of your international career.

Diego Centurion
Diego Centurion, UCU alumnus

A mobile community

A few days ago, I joined an alumni networking dinner organized by Utrecht University at a hotel in the heart of Beijing. As I looked around the room filled with Chinese returnees, long-time expatriates and current exchange students, I felt both different and perfectly at home. As an alumnus from Peru, formerly in Singapore and preparing to shift base to Berlin, I certainly meet the quota for the colourful and unusual. And yet, in my experience international mobility has become a common denominator for many graduates and young professionals.

Adapting to constant change

This trend is not fuelled by the halo of glamour that hangs around the idea of a cosmopolitan lifestyle, but rather by the need to adapt to the uncertainty and constant change that dominate the business world. Bluntly put: people are going where the jobs are, and international careers are a testament to that reality.

It starts with a network

The summer before my graduation from UCU, I had the chance to intern at the ILO, the UN agency that promotes decent labour practices, at its headquarters in Switzerland. I was assigned the task of organising a high-profile conference for global companies held in London later that year. This assignment gave me the chance to start building a network amongst corporate citizenship professionals. I became interested in the industry impact of development policy, and upon graduation joined Heineken, followed by ABN Amro. Sadly, as the bank began to crumble following its acquisition in 2008, so did my career prospects there.

Occupation curiosity

Thus, with the global financial crisis about to hit and scattered work experience under my belt I made my way back to South America. Having gained first-hand experience of the perils and limitations of corporate employment at the tender age of 22, over the next few years I sampled jobs in other areas; international cooperation with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, network management with the ILO in Argentina, account management with an export broker, and academic research with a business school. This occupation curiosity – for lack of a better term – and an unrelenting drive to find more ways to apply the range of skills I acquired though a liberal arts education, laid the foundations for an international career.

Mix-and-match skillset

After laying a solid professional base and with a clearer idea of the kind of work I wanted, I decided to pursue a business degree in the UK. I then joined Commerzbank in Singapore as a regional talent management specialist, working across multiple locations in Asia, pitching products to internal clients and liaising with head office in Europe. All of these tasks were made easier by tapping into past experience, although some seemed unrelated at first glance. As it turns out, common phrases like “everyone has to be a salesperson” are not mere platitudes: to remain employable you need to integrate all of your knowledge, picking and combining skills from different fields to meet the demands of the modern professional environment.

Taking control of your global career

My most recent career transition took me to China, where I have been operating as an independent change management consultant for the last year and a half. Being self-employed gives me the flexibility to work anywhere I want. Soon my girlfriend and I will be heading back to Europe. My aim is to refocus my career on breaking into the fast-paced tech landscape in Berlin engineering culture and scaling bespoke talent strategies. I am confident that with the right skills, professionals can find a way to crack most markets. Not least by leveraging your network in the international professional community - maintaining ties to global communities such as UU alumni can help you access new locations and open up opportunities to show what you can do.

Diego is moving to Berlin. Would you like to meet him for a coffee, let us know!