How and why to get an international assignment.
BY JOHN SULLIVAN
Globalization is creating a need for managers with international expertise. Living and working in another country will increase your qualifications and could advance your career.
But an expatriate job can cost a company two to three times more than a domestic position, so you must sell yourself aggressively and prove that you can fulfill a need and create value for the company.
The Expat Way
Jake Krakauer sought an international assignment after he took a sabbatical from an international marketing job at a Silicon Valley high-tech manufacturer. “I‘m a marketing guy,” he said “I did not have sales experience but this would be the rough equivalent of being in the field.”
Mr. Krakauer's domestic job existed in part because some European offices had no marketing staffs and relied on the sales force for marketing. He was already traveling heavily when he approached his company with an idea: “Wouldn't it be neat if we had a marketing person in Europe?“That started the negotiations and the company eventually created the job in Switzerland because it filled an unmet need.
Given the expense of expatriating an employee with a family, more and more companies prefer to fill positions with local candidates. Being the best qualified person for the job, even if you're on the other side of the globe, is really the only way to get an international assignment.
“To make yourself a top-choice candidate in your organization, you need to understand what skills are in demand,” says Sherry Harsch-Porter of the Porter Bay Group, St. Louis, Mo., USA. “These will generally fall into the areas of specific technical expertise, management experience and a track record of project successes.” You should approach an international position as you would any other—demonstrate how your accomplishments, skills and credentials will get the job done.
Expect a challenging negotiation. Salary, cost-of-living allowances, taxes, spousal assistance, language instruction, tuition for your children, culture and etiquette classes can all be part of an expatriate package. Home leave—one paid trip home per year—is also something to take advantage of.
“One of the biggest mistakes expatriates make is not using home leave to reconnect with managers, peers and HR professionals,” says Ms. Harsch-Porter. “Staying connected while overseas is a huge challenge. Before you depart, identify key individuals with whom you will stay connected and leverage internal e-mail systems, establish video-conferencing portals and be willing to participate in virtual meetings that may fall well outside the normal working hours in your assignment location.”
The Bottom Line
Most expatriates switch employers within two years of returning home. This is a failure on the part of the company to maximize the investment in a high potential employee but could also be the employee's failure in communicating his value to the right people.
Your ultimate goal is to advance your career. Jake Krakauer is now director of marketing for a different software company and finds greater acceptance from his foreign prospects and customers. “Once foreign nationals know you've lived in different countries, they are more willing to trust that you understand their issues,” he says. “Understanding the nuances, cultural requirements and norms makes it easier, or sometimes just plain possible, to compete with other multinational companies around the globe.” PM
To make yourself a top-choice candidate in your organization, you need to understand what skills are in demand.
John Sullivan is a real-life project manager and writes and speaks on career issues.
JANUARY 2005 | PM NETWORK