Pack your Bags: Why you might want to get ahead by going abroad

Woman travelling - airportAccording to research by Mercer, the majority of companies worldwide were expected to increase both long and short-term international assignments. The research also told us that men have typically fulfilled these assignments. Global HR consultants Caroline Kersten and Sapna Welsh, the authors of Worldly Women—The New Leadership Profile, affirmed that the need for women to fulfill international assignments still persists in a recent interview with the Society for Human Resource Management. In addition, they say that men are still the first ones put on the list to be considered for overseas work opportunities.

How can you get your name on the list for a career enhancing international assignment?

Almost three quarters of the companies participating in Mercer’s study (70 percent) predicted an uptick in short-term assignments, and over half (55 percent) said they are planning to ramp up long term international assignments in the next one to two years. This trend is in line with that of previous years. As the global market becomes increasingly interconnected, both long and short-term international assignments have been on the rise since 2010.

Anne Rossier-Renaud, Principal in Mercer’s global mobility business, shared some insight into why global mobility is increasing. “International assignments have become more diverse in order to meet evolving business and global workforce needs. Relatively low pay increases in some regions and pressure on companies to attract and retain talent, have spurred many to embrace a wider range of global mobility strategies to incentivize high performers.”

As the business space becomes increasingly global, the types of assignments that are available evolve in duration, destination, and other factors, which enable more people to take advantage of mobility opportunities.

A professional advantage

Adding to this new data, Mercer’s research suggests that international assignments help executives advance more quickly, with 39 percent of companies indicating that this is true.

In addition to providing a unique experience for career development, international work assignments can give you the opportunity to gain training in technical skills that are not available locally. Companies benefit from the fluid transfer of knowledge and information between locations and the enhanced managerial abilities in specific locations.

Aoife Flood, Senior Manager of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Program Office at PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, tells of her own international work experience in an op-ed piece contributed to The Glass Hammer last year. She says, “The experience was life changing – throughout my 14 year career it is unparalleled as an experience in driving such an intense level of both personal and professional development. In essence, I know the impact an international assignment can have on a woman’s career.”

In addition to her personal experience, Flood says that the incoming Millennials are already eager to pack their bags and explore the world while they are at work. And yes, even the women too. Flood says that PwC’s research shows 69% of females from this next generation of technically savvy and unprecedented independent young professionals understand the critical importance international work can play in helping to further their careers.

According to Flood, the disappointing news is that women comprise a mere 20% of international assignees. The primary reason given by senior managers as to why women are not considered for these positions as often as their male counterparts is related to an assumption that women will not want to move their families. But, wouldn’t common sense tell us that married men with children are equally subject to these same issues? And what about the single women?

Women are changing these outdated myths, as we speak; it’s time to be ready to hit the road and turn your two-lane career route into a high-speed freeway to success.

What you need to know:

  • Long-term assignments are typically two years and ten months long
  • Short-term assignments are usually eight months
  • Long-term assignments are more likely to go to people over 35, while short-term assignments go to younger people.
  • 62% of Mercer’s survey respondents foresee increases in short-term assignments related to technology
  • 55% expect talent development assignments to increase
  • 50% expect an increase in strategic assignments

Success once you are there

The Global Mindset Institute, has established three qualities that are likely to guarantee a person’s success overseas. Without these characteristics, they say employees are more likely to come home before their contracted period is over.

  • Make sure you understand the business model and culture of the country you will be working in
  • Keep an open mind when getting to know a different culture. In other words, eat the food, dance the polka and take part in community events. It may feel strange at first, but eventually, you are a lot more likely to enjoy your time there, despite the differences and unfamiliarity you will feel.
  • Ramp up those team-working and communication skills. Working across cultural lines challenges the best-honed leaders when they are faced with the task of building social capital and creating alliances in a foreign country with differing political and social beliefs.

The opportunities for overseas assignments are definitely on the rise. With a bit of preparation and an adventurous spirit, you can find your way to getting one of these assignments at work. Stacie Berdan has a lot to say on this topic in her book, Get Ahead by Going Abroad. According to their research, 85% of women who had spent time on an international assignment felt the experience helped to accelerate their careers and 78% stated it had made a significant impact on their level of compensation. Perhaps most importantly, 95% claimed they were better leaders and managers for having worked in another part of the world. So, what are you waiting for? Broaden your horizons and you’re sure to reap the benefits of your new and expanded view of your work, and maybe even yourself too.

By Melissa J. Anderson & Rebecca S. Caum