To Be or Not to Be an Expatriate?
The USA has approximately 6.32 million expatriates overseas.* The term “expatriate” (or “expat” for short) refers to an individual who is living outside of his/her own country. Typically, this term is used for professional workers sent by their companies to regional offices, or to their headquarters – such as Americans going to Japan for Toyota or to Switzerland for Nestlé.
Every now and then, I get the following question:
I’m 29, 5 years into my career (in a global corporate company), and received an offer for an expat assignment for at least a year in Europe (currently work in the US). How good of a career opportunity is this? Why?
Here is my answer:
This is an excellent career opportunity, especially at your age – which leads me to believe you are with PwC. The keys to advancement 10 years for you from now will be:
- Have you had any P&L experience?
- Have you had Budget responsibilities?
- How many direct reports have you managed?
- Do you have international experience?
What all these areas have in common is risk. If you have not had the opportunity to delve into risk, then your successful track-record in a fairly safe arena is not sufficient enough to promote you to a higher level of management – YOU would be too much of a risk, if you have never placed yourself into risk.
Timing. It is better that you go now when you are (presumably) single, because then you don’t have to do with the assimilation issues of a spouse. I’ve had some of my expatriates divorce because of the strain of “surrendering” their identity and network for the sake the other’s career. You, on the other hand, are widening your professional network, which is a strategic move.
Discovery. Some of my expatriates never repatriate (i.e. return to their country of origin) because they are SO happy with their new home environment. (This made it hard for me to conduct my live action research on the ROI of Repatriation). I would recommend that you take an assessment, or engage a cross-cultural coach, who can help you find a cultural (i.e. country) match for you. You are more likely to thrive in some int’l environments much more so than in others.
Intrinsic Rewards. In the short run, this opportunity is not about money. However, int’l experience usually offers “secondary returns” (i.e. rewards that are not monetary). Deciding on whether to go or not depending on whether you will be offered more compensation is an immature strategy. You gain wisdom, open your mind, learn new skills, and… a handful of my expatriates have gotten married overseas.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass – a diverse consultancy of OD experts who align processes with the Mission Statement. Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com.
©Rossina Gil, 2014
*US Department of State, 2011