Lennon has spent more than 30 years training, nurturing and placing the "best of the best" creatives in advertising. As a British native who has spent most of her career in New York, she knows a thing or two about the desire to work internationally. We asked her about the current craze for overseas work and whether a foreign assignment is always a good career move.
Campaign: One of the defining characteristics of millennials in the US is their interest in spending time working overseas. Does that international experience necessarily make them more attractive to future employers at home?
Lennon: Yes, I agree that the desire for US Millennials to work overseas is increasing. However, it continues to lag well behind that of the rest of the world. And as far as re-entry to the US – yes, the "right" overseas experience can be distinctly advantageous. Bringing an understanding of global perspective and alternative cultures and, most crucially, making sure that you are continuing to "evolve" your experiences through non-traditional methods and multiplatform thinking can only enhance your opportunities upon return.
But, if this is not managed thoughtfully and strategically, you may find yourself in exactly the opposite situation from what you had hoped for. You may have to drop a few rungs on the ladder to go back to the US. So while the desire has increased, careful thinking and planning are imperative to the success of a career move abroad.
Campaign: Where are the most popular places for US creatives looking to work overseas? Are there any overlooked cities you would recommend to them?
Lennon: Most popular are Amsterdam (by far!); London; Paris; and Asia (Japan is a favorite). I recommend Stockholm, Barcelona, Tel Aviv and South America.
Campaign: What motivates overseas creatives to spend time working in the US? Is it different than what motivates Americans to go overseas?
Lennon: Overseas creatives are attracted to the US for the speed at which the business evolves here. Whether brand-side, agency-side, design or innovation, the business in the US moves at the speed of light compared with many countries. Not to mention the opportunity to be exposed to much more far quicker, and get paid handsomely while doing it. It’s like speed-dating!
The majority of American creatives go abroad primarily to experience a more balanced lifestyle between their work, family and pleasure. Which is harder to achieve here in the US. I rarely hear anyone tell me they want to go abroad to learn something new in the context of their work – unless they are going to Japan. I think anyone going to Japan will certainly come back with a lot more knowledge about the world of innovation and design.
Campaign: What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about taking a year or two to work overseas?
Lennon: I encourage young people to travel as much as they can. Always. To be able to see the world and gather those experiences is most rewarding for your being and your creativity. However, I am particularly strict about the plan. I believe in planning the trajectory of one’s career path. You can do that with adventure and travel but, unless the dots are connected, the return could be rather bumpy. I prefer happy landings.
Campaign: Is it important to negotiate your return before taking an overseas assignment?
Lennon: If you are taking a specific position under contract – which is usually the case with a year- or two-year renewable – yes, you will negotiate for you and your family to be returned to your country of origin. I believe this is important to negotiate into your contract.
Campaign: Is it important to work on recognizable, global clients when putting in time overseas or is it enough to have that foreign office on your résumé?
Lennon: I believe a person should be judged by what they learn, what they create, how they evolve and what they bring back to teach others and share. So it shouldn’t be about the name of the place or the country where they work that leaves an impression on a résumé. It should be the person.
But if I had to choose, I would say ideally work on recognizable global clients because, unfortunately in the US, we do lend more credence to that. We feel we can better judge the work if the subject matter is familiar to us. Having said that, if you work on a brand that is not globally recognized but has been recognized within the category or industry, that can be just as good.