The Overseas Career Boost

Just 18% of workers say they would be very likely to move abroad for work. But they may be stifling their own career advancement. First in a series.

Published: Nov 13, 2019

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Many decisions in life end up being less scary than they seem. But the prospect of an international relocation isn't one of them.

Leaving your home country to work in another is immensely difficult. There's the regret of being far from family and friends; the mental, physical, and emotional toll of adapting to a new way of life; the endless bureaucratic nightmare of juggling visas, housing, and U.S. expat taxes; and the lurking fear that being "out of sight, out of mind" will keep you from new work opportunities and promotions. All of these factors have contributed to a stubbornly high "failure" rate among expats: No matter where they go, 42% of managers who are sent overseas end up being unsuccessful in their assignments, according to a survey by the talent management company Right Management.

When you've worked in another country, you'll find that your experience offers you new and unexpected foundations for forming personal bonds with hiring managers, clients, and other professionals.

Even at a time when many businesses run on a 24/7 schedule and technology has made it easier for people to work from anywhere, people are resistant to international assignments. According to a 2017 global survey of 11,000 professionals in two dozen countries, just 18% of people said they would be very likely to take a full-time job in another country, down seven percentage points from 2012. Many respondents cited concerns about moving their spouses and children abroad and being far away from their aging parents.

But those who've moved abroad for work for a period of a few months or several years and made it to the other side say there are definite career benefits of working abroad. Here's why you should consider an overseas post.

Your resume will become more eye-catching.

At a time when hiring managers spend just a few seconds glancing at a person's resume or LinkedIn profile, indicating that you've worked abroad immediately differentiates you from the pack. "It makes your resume stand out," says David Meintrup, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance. When highlighting this kind of experience, it's important not only to list the location of your job but to weave your global experience into your summary or headline. Stay away from generic phrases like "globally minded professional" and use more specific terms. For example, if you're a human resources manager who worked abroad, you can say something like "ability to traverse HR issues across multiple countries."

You'll find more conversational touch points.

We all know that job interviews, when they go well, tend to feel more like conversations than interrogations. When you've worked in another country, you'll find that your experience offers you new and unexpected foundations for forming personal bonds with hiring managers, clients, and other professionals. Perhaps the people you're engaging with have visited the country you lived in, or want to travel there someday. Maybe they're curious about how you learned the language, or want to know how long it took you to get accustomed to the food. "I call those moments where people want to stop and really connect with you a ‘deep dive,'" Meintrup says. "And global experience can be a frequent deep dive."

You'll have a deeper appreciation of diversity and inclusion.

One of the reasons you should work abroad is because it will open you up to entirely new languages, customs, and ways of thinking. Challenging your habits and beliefs can benefit you in your personal life and in your approach to your career-particularly at a time when firms are under pressure to improve gender and racial representation across their ranks. Bob Wesselkamper, Korn Ferry's global head of rewards and benefits solutions, recalls the practice of boards forcing CEOs to spend time overseas so they could broaden their outlooks. "It gave what was pretty much an insular single culture a leader who was sensitive to many cultures," he says. "It was the earliest example of diversity and inclusion you could imagine, this idea of being comfortable with a circumstance that is new and uncomfortable."

You'll develop key leadership skills.

Moving overseas is inherently difficult no matter where you go. Even if you have the same job, the work itself and your firm's operations are bound to change by virtue of being in a different country. Success requires you to rely on several key skills, all of which can help boost your career. Chief among them are emotional intelligence-your understanding of and empathy toward others-and resiliency, which can help you mitigate stress and bounce back from failure. It also requires adaptability, which has been shown to be a top predictor of career success: Researchers have found that employee adaptability positively affects how well people perform in their jobs, and that a leader's adaptability predicts better overall team performance. By spending time living abroad, you put all of these skills to the test, says Deb Nunes, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry: "You call upon more of these competencies when you live there, as opposed to just flying in and flying out."

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