Are you cut out for life as an expatriate?

Are you cut out for life as an expatriate?

The success or failure of an experience as an expatriate is critical, both to the individual employees and the company that employs them. New research by Management Professor Jean-Luc Cerdin (ESSEC) and Marie Le Pargneux (IPSOS) – "The impact of expatriates’ career characteristics on career and job satisfaction, and intention to leave: an objective and subjective fit approach", published in The International Journal of Human Resources Management – helps identify the key personality traits that impact feelings of both career satisfaction in the long term and job satisfaction in the short term of employees that are expatriated within an organization.

Three key variables help explain international mobility success and in a context where personal values, beliefs and aspirations are increasingly just as important as the sequence of jobs held by individuals, these career characteristics matter. So what makes a good candidate for expatriation?

Would you describe yourself as “self-directed”?

Individuals who demonstrate a capacity to self-direct and adapt by learning new skills, who enjoy being proactive and appreciate new experiences display what Prof. Cerdin calls a protean career attitude.

“If this describes you, expatriation will likely increase your feelings of both job and career satisfaction since individuals with protean career attitudes generally learn quickly, adapt easily and are therefore compatible with the characteristics of international mobility,” says Prof. Cerdin. “That said, what’s important from the perspective of organizations is that these individuals can also display weak organizational involvement, and may be more likely to leave their job while abroad.”

Do you feel closed in by “boundaries”?

Mobility is twofold and can be described as both psychological and physical. If you value both types of mobility you display a boundaryless career attitude. This generally describes individuals who are stimulated by the new experiences and new situations they are confronted with.

“You might think that these individuals would thrive as expatriates,” says Prof. Cerdin. “Surprisingly, expatriation tends to have a negative impact on the “boundaryless” individual’s career satisfaction. In addition, these individuals can be easily attracted to other organizations in the host country which offer the possibility of encountering ever new situations, challenges and people.”

 Are you looking to check a box on your résumé?

You may find the prospect of expatriation attractive because you perceive it as a preliminary step towards promotion within a multinational organization. If this is the case, you might have what professor Cerdin calls a Careerist Orientation. These individuals are so focused on potential obstacles to their future promotion that their objectives can even oppose those of the organization.

“Careerists don’t fare well as expatriates,” says Prof. Cerdin. “They tend to grow anxious about their future career development as they feel ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Careerist orientation is indeed negatively and significantly related to career satisfaction and to job satisfaction, and positively related to desire to leave.”

This study provides directly relevant implications for human resources practitioners as well as for individuals planning to embark upon international mobility. Prof. Cerdin suggests that both individuals and organizations use online evaluation tools which would help them discover which career characteristics would contribute to their success in an international assignment. He argues that the skillful management of expatriates returning from their assignment is also crucial, so that seeing successful experiences of others who have returned home will enable expatriate to see a positive connection to their own expatriation and their career as a whole. 

Further Reading:

"Qualified Immigrants' Success: Exploring the motivation to migrate and to integrate. ", published in Journal of International Business Studies 
"The impact of expatriates’ career characteristics on career and job satisfaction, and intention to leave: An objective and subjective fit approach", published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management
"Réussite de la mobilité internationale : l’impact des caractéristiques individuelles liées à la carrièrepublished in Question(s) de management

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