"Pin the Tail on the Donkey: Random Expat Country Selection"

When job seekers consider the idea of an Expat assignment, often, the choice of host country, is random.

Other times, a geographic goal is selected without an understanding of what this implies. Sometimes, the choice of country is based on a romantic notion, something from the movies, or liking a certain country's cuisine - I kid you not.

 The choice should be based on a candidates personal, cultural and linguisic fit.
As a Global MBA Advisor, I work with both international, MBA candidates who are job-searching in the USA and with American, MBA candidates, who are job-searching globally. This process is very complex and often misunderstood. Even if you are a Native English speaker, looking for an assignment, in another English-speaking country, this is a challenging process. Becoming an Expat is much more than just being bilingual and sending out resumes to international employers. In my personal experience, getting visa approval and meeting immigration policies, is the hardest part. Candidates often have solid job offers, which then fall through, due to immigration issues and delays.

3 questions I am never asked:

1. Am I a good Cultural Match for the intended, host country?
2. Do I have the right level of Cultural Self-Awareness?
3. What is my level of International IQ?

When candidates tell me they want to work internationally, I ask what country and how do they know they will be a strong,“cultural fit?” I recommend that everyone considering an Expat assignment, take a Cultural Assessment test. These types of assessments, if given by a skilled administrator, will help determine which countries are a match, with a candidates’ business and cultural style. At the Robinson College of Business, we purchase and administer the “Culture Active” Global assessment, for each of our Global Partners MBA’s. This assessment, shows the candidates' top international choices, based on their own cultural "fit," and which countries would be a mismatch for them. From a Global Human Resource perspective, this often overlooked step, is critical for successful, Expat Placements.

Exit interviews with Expat workers, have revealed that many of them weren’t aware of their culture-bound style of interaction and leadership, until they arrived at the host country. "Cultural Self-Awareness is the understanding that your own leadership practices are shaped by a certain environment and that there are other equally or even more viable ways of operating in other locations." Cultural Self-Awareness is a key competency to access, PRIOR to a Global assignment.

FAQ’s about Expat opportunities

Are Overseas Jobs Hard to Find?
Overseas jobs can be difficult to secure, especially at the Graduate or Executive level. Though there are many unskilled, low paying opportunities, executive opportunities are scarcer and much more competitive. Some countries also have protectionist immigration laws, which favor local applicants first. Thus, the sponsoring employer may need to provide proof to the government of that host country, that there is a shortage of locals with that unique skill-set. . It is important to research the opportunity, company and prospective host country thoroughly. We have all heard of candidates hired to “teach English abroad” in what appears to be an ideal situation, only to arrive to a host of problems from sub-standard housing, food, working conditions etc.

How Do People Find Jobs Overseas?
There are various ways to find and secure an overseas job. I often recommend to my clients, that they target Multi-National companies who have branches in the USA as well as in their international destination, of choice. Typically, you will have to work for a company at least 1-2 years, and do a stellar job, for them to even consider you for an Expat assignment. Relocating an American to an overseas post, typically can cost a company 3 times your base salary!

How many people work overseas?
According to J. Wood, of Expat Exchange, "It's hard to find a reliable number. Some say that the number of expatriates is about 30 million, and a few more than 4 million of them are U.S. citizens. The number of individuals that hold overseas jobs is said to be a little less than 20 million. "

How long do people work abroad on an expatriate assignment?
Expat Exchange also states that "This varies, based on the nature of the assignment. A typical assignment ranges from 1-5 years, with 3 years being the average for an overseas assignment. Some Expats love the lifestyle and seek new overseas jobs when their first expatriate assignment ends. Some will become career expatriates, who are in demand and targeted by overseas job recruiters. "

Does an Overseas Job Help Your Career?
"An international assignment may help your career, though many expats leave their companies after returning from overseas. Reasons vary and may include: lack of opportunities in the home country, other job offers or they may lose interest in their original, sponsoring company, " Expat Exchange.

Questions to Ponder

1. Ask yourself, are my skills and experience so unique, that I am worth this expense to the employer?

2. Am I willing to potentially risk my career and reputation on an Expat assignment?

3. How well do I adapt to change and handle extreme situations?

4. How will this impact my employability when I return state-side?

5. What are the opportunities for my family and children in the host country and how will they adapt?

Author: © 2009 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon B. Cohen, MA,CPRP. Global MBA Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist

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