You might be strongly attracted by the idea of holding an executive position overseas and wonder how to go about achieving that, or you might be asked by your current employer to take on such a position. It’s important to move beyond the perceived attractiveness of such an opportunity and take a dispassionate look at the key factors involved.
Two Ways to Obtain an International Position
As I alluded to above, you might make the decision on your own to pursue international opportunities, in which case you need to be aware of the challenges in landing one. On the other hand, if your employer is asking you to take on the assignment, the opportunity is in a sense being handed to you. However, either way, you need to adopt a pragmatic approach and do your due diligence to identify the best way to go forward—or not.
Going It Alone
If you decide to try finding an executive position overseas that is not being offered by your current employer, be aware that this is not necessarily an easy task. You’ll have to devote time and attention to it while you’re continuing to fulfill your day-to-day responsibilities (if you’re currently employed).
You might decide to work with a firm that specializes in international placements, or you might do the investigating and arranging yourself, both of which take a fair amount of effort. For example, it’s critical to gain a good sense of the requirements for being able to work in a given country.That could expatriate_job_searchrequire some digging to uncover all the essential steps and execute them appropriately.
Working with a Placement Firm
As with any situation involving an agency of some kind, you need to do your best to ascertain the international placement firm’s reputation—its ethics, reliability, scope of influence, and so on. You will also want to have a serious conversation with them about what they will and won’t, can and can’t, do for you in locating and securing an overseas assignment.
Expatriate Issues to be Aware Of
You might think that landing an international executive opportunity is the big challenge and the rest is just details. However, there is a great deal more to it than that. I’ve had clients who worked overseas for several years and then wanted to return to their home country for a variety of reasons. Depending on how in-touch they’ve been with events in that country and how in-demand their expertise and achievements might make them, this transition can prove tougher than expected.
Another client found that his family (wife and children) had a difficult time with the cultural environment of his assignment because of the restrictions regarding women in that country. His employer was happy to keep him, but he wanted to find something in or near his home country to provide a more congenial life for his family. Again, something like this could be far from simple.
Defining Expectations and Avoiding Complications
Regardless of which way you secure an international opportunity, you absolutely must make the effort to get clarity on what is and is not included in the offer you are considering. While you might not be able to pin down every possible contingency, you can and should take the actions necessary to avoid running afoul of complications you could anticipate and prevent or minimize.
Those complications might include the following:

  • Poorly defined job description and no chance to talk with the person you will replace
  • Inadequate preparation for the conditions you will be living and working in
  • Lack of sufficient information about the contents of your compensation and relocation package
  • No indication of job security or job opportunities with your company when the assignment ends
  • Little or no information about the possible career advantages associated with taking the position

It’s critical to understand that you might not be able to function in the overseas role the way you have in your current career situation. We certainly live in a world where business is global in nature; however, that emphatically does not mean you can operate the same way in a country whose culture is significantly different from the one you are accustomed to as you have in your present environment. Explosive situations can and have arisen when expatriate executives ignore this truth.
Move for the Right Reasons
Ultimately, the decision to take or not take an international executive opportunity comes down to doing it for the right reasons. What makes the most sense for you (and your family, if you have one)? What will you find most satisfying personally and rewarding professionally? How does such a move fit into your overall career strategy? If you ask the right questions, you’re much more likely to have an overseas experience you can look back on with pleasure and pride.


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