Business travel is both underrated and overrated. Sometimes it can be glamorous, other times grueling. In fact, if a business trip is not both glamorous and grueling, then you are doing something wrong.
Many people choose a career based on the travel opportunities that come with it. Those who do are usually in fields of work that send them to hotbeds like London, Tokyo, Montreal, or New York. Others of us aren’t so lucky; instead, we end up attending conferences in Indianapolis, sitting in hotel bars in Winnipeg or having breakfast in Baghdad — hey, not that there’s anything wrong with these places, I’m just not sure that they would top most people’s “dream destinations” lists.
The greater good
Herein lies the major advantage of business travel: It allows young professionals to visit the world on someone else’s time and dime. The disadvantage is that they do not necessarily control when and where they travel or, for that matter, who they travel with.
The bottom line, however, is that business travel needs to serve a greater purpose than one’s own pleasure. If the only thing that you bring back from a business sojourn is a hangover and more air miles, then your last trip might be just that: your last trip.
It is acceptable that you sneak in some personal time when traveling for work, but when the time comes to visit a client or attend a conference abroad, make sure you understand the explicit and implicit objectives. No one realistically expects a Marco Polo-esque expedition, but the truth of the matter is that, upon your return, there need to be some tangible results from the adventure.
No matter how busy you might be in the days or weeks leading up to your trip, you will be well-served to spend some time researching the city you’ll be visiting, even if you’ve been there before. If you are short on time, simply e-mail some colleagues and friends who’ve been there and ask for suggestions. There are also hundreds of websites out there that break down cities for all types of travelers. Make good use of your PDA and load up on maps, reviews and addresses before setting out.
It may also be prudent to check your address book to determine if there are other people you can meet with, even if the business at hand doesn’t concern them. After all, sometimes it makes sense to travel thousands of miles for just one face-to-face, but it would be a wasted opportunity to not track down other contacts, clients or potential clients who may be in the same region. In-person meetings might thaw the ice just enough to get some traction on a potential deal.
Remember your company…
Less is more
The inverse of the last tip is also important. In the past, when I started to travel for work, I had a tendency to set up way too many meetings in order to maximize my time in a city. The problem with doing this is that you tend to burn out and come back home needing time to relax and catch up. Another issue that comes with overbooking is that, over the course of any business trip, there is usually one major meeting that you need to be 100% “on” for. By setting up too many engagements, you may find yourself a bit rusty for the so-called main event, having burnt your energy on the wrong ones.
In this sense, executives are no different than athletes or entertainers; there is a time to shine and a time to take it easy. If you have one big make-or-break meeting, you need to spend some time planning, preparing and reviewing your shtick. Hitting the right notes at the wrong meeting is futile.
When a young professional joins an organization, the first business trip is exciting, something tantamount to a rite of passage. But, like anything else, traveling for work gradually becomes draining, even something one comes to dread. Just think about it: We work long and hard to achieve a level of comfort, and frequent business travel detracts from that comfort. Hence the irony of the business life: the more successful you become, the more you have to travel, but the more you travel, the less peace of mind you have. But of course, this is something that athletes, entertainers, politicians, and others all face as well.
Lonely, but not alone
When you travel for leisure, it’s usually with a girlfriend, friends or family. When you travel for work, it’s usually with a colleague of equal rank. You can let yourself go and have some fun, but there are limits to what you can do, especially if you travel with a boss. Alternatively, if you are traveling with a subordinate, then you have to check yourself even further. The worst thing you can do in this situation is come across as a loose cannon who is a bad influence.
Business travel puts a heightened emphasis on interactivity skills. One of the most successful executives of the Internet era (if we can call it that), Google’s Omid Kordestani, has a good sense of the kind of person he likes to hire and work with. What kind of person is that? One who can pass his airport test: “If I’m stuck in an airport with one of these employees, I want to enjoy my time and have an intelligent conversation if I can’t fly for a couple of hours,” states Kordestani.
Kordestani’s remark casts a new light on the repercussions of business travel for young professionals. The same way that previous generations saw their careers accelerate on golf courses and in social clubs, many of today’s business relationships are forged outside of work hours and work headquarters.
So be sure to make the most out of business travel.
E-mail of the week:
I am thinking of making a radical shift in my career path to return to what I studied in college (finance) instead of continuing to work in the field of work I am currently in (accounting). Do you think this is wise?
Independently of what you studied in college and the field you currently work in, any change in career path comes with risk and potential reward. If you studied something in college, then you obviously had an affinity for it, so you may be more passionate about it than the field you are currently working in. That being said, you need to do some soul searching and find out why you veered off finance to begin with. If you develop a tendency to flip-flop in your career, then you will always find yourself stalling. There is a lot of virtue in sticking to something when the going gets tough, though it is also foolish to stick to something you are clearly disinterested in.
In any case, the general advice I would give you is this: You should always think with your head but see it through with your heart. This way you will do what is wise but enjoy doing it.
The advice I have to offer regarding finance and accounting specifically is as follows: Accounting serves a historian function within a firm, whereas finance serves a decision-making function. In this light, your decision should be based on whether you are proactive or passive. If you like to take notes and write the history of the firm, stick to accounting. If you want to be in the driver’s seat and make things happen based on the history of the firm, then revert to finance. Good luck.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.