Is International Experience Valued? Domestic vs International Talent


As globalisation continues to develop and the global economic order shifts, international work experience is becoming increasingly important for senior executives. Many corporations are looking outside of their own failing domestic markets to the booming economies of other regions, and require executive talent that is capable of relating to and understanding these markets. However, finding an executive with a culturally diverse work history is not as simple as having a year or two abroad in the relevant nations. This article will discuss some of the issues at hand, drawing inspiration from over 40 responses to a discussion of this topic within the AESC/BlueSteps LinkedIn group and the recent 51st AESC Annual Conference in New York.

International Executives

First of all, it is important to consider what role the company are looking to fill. For domestic organisations with little focus on interacting with the international market, domestic experience may be far more valuable than international. As an example, if a local insurance company are looking for a domestic business development executive, a candidate immersed in US insurance over the last three years may be a better choice than one just finishing an expat assignment working within the European market.

However, providing the returning expat can demonstrate up-to-date industry knowledge, and considering that the majority of domestic economies are made up of diverse populations and workforces, the latter candidate may actually have the advantage. In addition, if this executive has demonstrated success in understanding and operating within foreign cultures, this indicates that they will be able to adapt quickly to new working environments, and be able to learn new laws and domestic market operations without difficulty.

This example demonstrates the varied opinions voiced within our LinkedIn group and at the AESC Conference - international experience can be a great addition to an already established career in the domestic market.

New Markets, Native Talent?

So what does this mean for organizations looking to expand into new markets and send domestic executives abroad? Well, as many respondents pointed out, hiring a US Citizen to work in Brazil (who has limited experience there, despite an international portfolio), may not fair as well as a Brazilian national fully immersed in the customs and business practices of the target markets. At the recent AESC Annual Conference, Ian Davis, Senior Partner from McKinsey & Company, highlighted that it took his firm 9 years to build up to their current status in China, and they have utilized many Chinese consultants and native talent. Davis described a long-term process of adapting business processes, while training expat talent over long periods of time to operate within Chinese markets.

Finally, we must remember that globalisation will likely force organizations and executives to look internally at their own processes, rather than dismissing others as a ‘different way of doing things’. After all, globalisation is not just transactional interaction between nations but also cultural flow and transference. Those that can successfully complete this constant cycle of review will take advantage of any international experience, and the benefit will shine through to business partners and hiring managers. It is likely that companies and individuals who are unable to adapt to an increasingly global environment will be left behind.

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This article was written by Christian Pielow from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.


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