Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Managing the pitfalls of taking an overseas assignment.

Paris-based Stephen Gates, a senior research associate at the Conference Board, recently asked 152 HR managers with international work experience to identify the pitfalls of an overseas assignment. The survey's results appear in a recent report titled "Managing Expatriates' Return." Here are the key findings:

What's the single biggest problem for people who are working overseas?

Coming home. Almost 80% of repatriated executives say their international experience was not valued by their companies. The basic problem with a global assignment is the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality back at corporate headquarters.

How can expatriates keep in sight?

Get a mentor -- someone who can keep you connected with the home office. If you're an expat at 3M, you must make an annual return trip to discuss your future with a designated mentor, who helps you keep track of company developments and job openings. Royal Dutch/Shell has "technical mentors"-- people who review technical developments and recommend the types of skills training you'll need when you return. If you don't have the technical expertise to keep up with people at the home office, you're in trouble.

How should people prepare for their return to the home office?

We found that operating managers typically haven't budgeted for an expat to return. And once budgets are set, it's difficult to squeeze someone back in. You really need to identify the key people who can help bring you back, make sure these people know you're actively seeking a position when you return, and mobilize the process yourself.

Coordinates: "Managing Expatriates' Return," $100 for nonmembers; orders@conferenceboard.org

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