Dear Workforce How Do We Determine Which Employees Are Best Suited for Expatriate Assignments

By Staff Report

Jun. 29, 2007

Dear Before We Send Them:

Yours is a great question, and one that is becoming increasingly relevant with the steady increase in globalization we are currently experiencing. I am happy to say that there has been a good bit of research to demonstrate the effectiveness of using assessments to determine an individual’s propensity for success in long-term overseas assignments.

It is important to open by saying that this research has clearly shown the No. 1 reason for failure in such assignments is the inability of spouses or other family members to adapt to the new environment. This is often brought on by the fact that it is hard for the trailing spouse to find meaningful work during the assignment. For this reason, one of the very first things I recommend is to have a candidate’s spouse and family go through an education and evaluation session to be sure they are up for the task. Part of this may also involve helping provide the spouse with career-development assistance and a liaison in the host country.

Besides family issues, there has been a good deal of research that has shown the importance of several other factors. Chief among these is previous overseas experience. It goes without saying that those who have successfully completed and enjoyed a previous assignment will be more likely to have what it takes to complete similar assignments. That is, provided that the individual also possesses the interest and motivation to take on the assignment.

Beyond family, experience and motivation, research has also shown the value of assessing certain key personality “constructs” that have been shown to be related to one’s ability to adapt to a foreign assignment. In the past, many companies selected workers for expatriate assignments based solely on their technical skills. This has proved to be problematic because technical aptitude alone has almost no bearing on the ability of an individual to adapt to life in a foreign culture. When asking someone to perform within a foreign environment, it is critical to attend to some additional factors. Failure to assess these things as part of the selection process can prove quite costly, as failed expatriate assignments can carry substantial economic consequences.

Research has shown that evaluation of an individual, in terms of their propensity to succeed on an expatriate assignment, should account for several dimensions. Although a full explanation of these things is beyond the scope of this article, included below is a brief explanation of these findings.

These individual skills have been categorized into three dimensions by experts Mark Mendenhall and Gary Oddou: the self dimension, which includes skills that enable expatriates to maintain mental health and psychological well-being; the relationship dimension, which includes skills for fostering relationships with foreign nationals; and the perception dimension, which refers to an expatriate’s ability to perceive and evaluate the environment. The literature also emphasizes the importance of factoring in the “cultural toughness” of the host country: namely, how different that country is from the expatriate’s home country.

A wide range of tests are available for assessing individual characteristics that are known predictors of success. In general, these tests measure things such as:

  • Expectations
  • Open-mindedness
  • Respect for the beliefs of others
  • Trust
  • Flexibility
  • Tolerance for discomfort
  • Social adaptability
  • Initiative
  • Risk taking

My advice is to look for an organization that has created and validated an assessment that covers these or similar dimensions. Discuss with them how well their assessment might work in your situation. You should look for them to provide evidence that this assessment has been properly constructed and has a good track record. There are a number of firms that I feel can definitely help you out. Good luck.

SOURCE: Charles A. Handler Ph.D., PHR, Rocket-Hire, New Orleans, July 10, 2006.

LEARN MORE: Please read a list of tips on how to minimize expatriate turnover. Also notable: What to know when sending nonexempt employees overseas.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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