Overseas assigments key to career advancement

Aug 13 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Executives looking to advance their career should consider an expatriate assignment, according to the conclusions of a new survey. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of participants said that more than half their top executives had been on overseas assignments.

The survey of 23 multinational companies, conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, found that, as well as transferring skills, career development is a major driver of expatriate assignments.

Lesley Lorraine, European Principal at Mercer, said that many multinationals encourage senior employees to go on overseas assignments to enhance their careers. "Overseas placements often lead to future promotion," she said, "so those that decline could find themselves falling behind other, more willing candidates."

When assessing potential candidates, companies mainly look for technical expertise followed by leadership qualities. Good organisational skills and adaptability are also sought-after qualities. However, the survey also revealed that fewer than half (48%) the participants have a formal selection process for placements. Of those that do, the majority use interviews as the main selection tool.

According to the survey, two major causes of assignment failure are the inability to demonstrate an international mindset and poor leadership skills. Change aversion and lack of networking skills were also cited as problems.

According to Lesley Lorraine, succeeding in challenging foreign environments requires an ability to think globally and to adapt to different cultures.

The survey also revealed that only a minority of companies (13%) formally measures the success or failure of expatriate assignments.

Nearly half the participants (41%) do not monitor the costs of expatriate assignments. Of those that do, all measure pre-assignments costs, half (50%) assess costs during the assignment and only 1 in 5 (21%) measures post-assignment costs. Therefore, in many cases, expatriate placements go ahead regardless of the expense to the company - somewhat surprising in the current economic environment.

"Measuring expatriate costs gives companies far greater control over assignments, and helps to ensure they get value for money." said Lesley Lorraine.

"The cost of an expatriate can be at least three times that of a domestic employee, and shareholders will want to see a return on the investment in these individuals."