Expat assignments: The positives and negatives

The idea of expat assignments often seem glamorous. Promotion, perks, new friends and adventures. But will a spell abroad actually further your career? There are many benefits, personal and professional, to an overseas placement, but there are caveats, too.

Expat assignments: The pluses

  • Being seen as a ‘global citizen’ can only be a positive. It’s no coincidence that individuals with a global outlook, and experience of working with different cultures, are sought after in leadership roles today.
  • There are learning opportunities in expat assignments. More often than not, a language. Even if English happens to be spoken in the office, you will be in a good position to learn the local language. You will need to assimilate into a different culture and learn different ways of communication. The technology may be more basic, or more advanced. Business practice and customer behavior will all be different. Keep an open mind and you could come back with many new skills.
  • An ability to adapt and to manage change are big selling points to offer in today’s global environment – and a successful posting abroad is a good indication that an individual has these skills. Working in another culture can also develop you personally; you may find yourself becoming more resourceful, more compassionate and more in tune with the feelings of others.
  • Living overseas opens up entire new networking opportunities. Provided you make the most of these, a posting is a chance to make valuable business connections. Yes, you may be out of the loop back home but an impressive set of global contacts and fluency in a language can make you indispensable to your employer – or to a different employer, should it come to that.
  • Expat assignments are generally offered because the individual has the necessary skills. It’s an investment for an employer so there is an expectation that you will perform. While you may not be at the cutting edge of the business in your company’s head office, the chances are that you will be an important player in your overseas job. Succeed in the mission and you will have leverage with your employer for further opportunities once it’s over.
  • Failing this, your CV should still be dramatically enhanced by the responsibility of an overseas placement. If you particularly like the place you have been posted and want to stay, you are in a strong position to use your contacts and look for work while you’re still in situ.
  • Working abroad can have unexpected outcomes, too. You may find your horizons have expanded so much that, equipped with new skills, confidence and language abilities, you decide to do something completely different – or not come home. Living and working in another country allows many individuals to reassess their lives.

Expat assignments: Potential minuses

  • Culture shock often rears its head. Culture shock, for you and your family, when you arrive in a new country, is normal and to be expected. When expat assignments end, the assignee is often not prepared for the ‘reverse’ culture shock which often occurs. Say goodbye to the perks you may have enjoyed, whether they included sunshine, luxury accommodation, tax-free salary, the expat party circuit, adventures you had in your new home and, of course, friends you made, and return home. You may also feel directionless at work, now that whatever the overseas mission was, has been accomplished.
  • Being overseas can be exciting and culturally enriching but it can also mean you are out of the loop. Perhaps you were on a particular career path before this opportunity came up. You took it, you came back and former colleagues have moved up the corporate ladder, over your head. When accepting an overseas posting, try to look beyond it, at the bigger picture of your progression within this company. Ask your employer for their own vision of what will happen once your assignment is over.
  • Similarly, coming back after a period abroad, particularly if you have been in a developing country, it is all too easy to find technology has moved on. Management thinking changes, as do systems and business relationships. It’s essential to emphasize the positives of your time away when you have to fight your corner for promotion. You can catch up on technology – and you have all this valuable experience on top. Make a point of keeping up with what’s going on in your head office during your absence so you can hit the ground running – or take your newfound skills elsewhere.

global assignment

Country Navigator is an online and mobile platform that will help you prepare for an expat assignment. The tool combines assessments, 100+ country guides and a range of e-learning modules.  The assessment tool complements training and coaching programs, delivering an intuitive and engaging interface for users to assess and manage their individual cultural tendencies and behaviors. Its blended approach puts people in complete control of their continuous learning experience.

As a comparison tool it allows users to compare cultural profiles and tendencies with countries, teams and colleagues on nine dimension and to receive instant guidance on how to collaborate more effectively.

The platform follows a well-proven methodology which focuses on operational realities and practical application, enabling learners to transfer new skills and knowledge to their workplace.

The cultural assessment tool and feedback information is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

Are you ready to improve your understanding of other cultures? Click here to get started with a free 14 day trial.


About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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