At its best, an overseas job offers rich cultural experiences and professional advancement along with a whiff of glamour. International work is not for everyone, though, and those considering it need to be realistic and strategic.
The idea of working abroad can be enticing perhaps conjuring images of sipping drinks at a charming Old World cafe. But the romance of an international assignment always exceeds the reality, said Mary B. Teagarden, professor of global strategy at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona.
Choosing the wrong person for an overseas job is costly, for both companies and workers. The failure rate with international assignments is quite high, Teagarden said people come home before their contracted time or they dont achieve their goals. Business is lost, and professional and personal relationships can be damaged, she said.
That is why she and her colleagues at Thunderbird have identified a global mindset attributes of a successful overseas employee. For one thing, people who thrive overseas are drawn to variety and novelty, she said. For example, ask someone what types of food or television programmes they like, she said. If their answers cover a wide range, she said, these are likely to be better candidates for an international assignment.
They also show resiliency and are willing to take risks, she said.
In Get Ahead by Going Abroad, Stacie Nevadomski Berdan and C. Perry Yeatman identify five qualities that are crucial to overseas success: adaptability and flexibility; the ability to listen and communicate well; skill at building teams and relationships; patience and persistence; and curiosity and open-mindedness. The command and control personality a hallmark of American leadership does not tend to work well cross-culturally, Berdan said.
Her book focuses on women; she and Yeatman found that the women they surveyed who worked abroad (the typical assignment was three to five years) advanced professionally at a much faster pace than women who stayed in their home countries.
That is an incentive to pursue foreign work, not to mention that being overseas is a mind-bending cultural experience, Berdan said. But how to begin?
Many people think of American multinational companies when they seek a foreign job. But cast your net wider by looking at companies based overseas, especially those with headquarters in your designated foreign country, Berdan said. Find out about these companies through websites like goinglobal.com.
And dont forget about the State Department, nongovernmental organisations and non-profit groups.
For the unemployed who are not afraid to take a risk, Berdan says, it can be effective to move to the foreign city of your choice and look for a job when you get there. (This, of course, is much easier to do if you are single.)
Do your research, and consider countries that have high growth rates overall or in a particular industry, Berdan said. China, India and Brazil are on a growth surge, for example, and tourism is strong in countries like Costa Rica and Belize, she said.
If you are going to pick up and move without a job, have at least six months of savings and be aware of visa requirements and tax laws along with personal safety issues, she added.
Expatriates are usually a small and close-knit group, Berdan said. Network with them online before you move to start obtaining job leads.
If you want to position yourself for a foreign assignment at your current company, raise your hand early and often, Berdan said volunteer to take that midnight call from a different time zone.
Of course, it also helps to know a foreign language or two, but dont let that stop you from pursuing an overseas dream. It isnt a deal-breaker at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. The company can put people through intensive language training both before and after arrival at the foreign country, said James H. Wall, global managing director of talent.
Deloittes member firms have operations in over 150 countries, and demand is strong for overseas workers in big emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, he said, along with West Asian countries like Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Like Berdan, Wall says overseas experience tends to help peoples careers. We really encourage international exposure and experience, Wall said. It creates a more well-rounded professional.