Making an International HR Move

October 22, 2013

For some, arriving at an airport in a foreign land with a suitcase in one hand and the address of your new office in the other would be the start of a great adventure. For others it is the precursor to waking up in a cold sweat. Changing roles is a challenge on its own without the added pressure of changing country, culture and language, but for many senior HR professionals international mobility can be a career defining advantage.  

As we return to some semblance of normality in the economy, companies are committing to quality over convenience and are increasingly willing to look across regional and global markets to find the right people. The best person for a role in Frankfurt might be based in Paris or London or anywhere else for that matter. Now is a better time than ever to consider options outside your own borders. 

 International mobility is already a part of life for many readers and for others might technically mean driving an hour along the Autobahn. But for those who are first considering a career abroad here are some thoughts and ideas.  

What experience is necessary?

As you might expect this varies widely according to how much familiarity with local markets and languages is required. The more exposure to international environments the better. If planning your career towards overseas work try and get involved with international projects or even secondments. But sometimes just being the best person for the job will suffice.  

If languages are necessary, be realistic. An A-level taken 10 years ago will not help in a business environment and being able to bring a rusty language “up to speed” in two months will be irrelevant if you cannot survive the first two weeks.  

What is really important, though, is to really know why you want to work in another country. Muttering about wanting to try something different will not lead to a plane ticket. For those with less experience, persevere. Everyone I know who has really wanted to make it abroad has ultimately achieved it.  

How hard can it be?

International moves do need to be carefully thought through. It really is not the right option for some people. Although travel and communication around the world are convenient and cheap you will still be removed from previous social and support networks. Remember that if you are travelling with partners or dependants the dislocation can be harder still for them. Many companies’ global mobility teams now will provide fantastic assistance including support for families. It takes effort, but do your homework and plan how to integrate either into an expat or local community and you and yours should be fine.  

What are the benefits and the risks?

There is no doubt that having an international aspect to you resume is very attractive to head hunters and employers. If you combine this with languages then, well, call me already! On the other hand there are a couple of things to consider. Staying in a country for 20 years can make coming “home” feel like going abroad all over again. Some markets are much smaller than others. If you need to change jobs, choice locally could be limited.  

Ultimately though, as with any job change, do your due diligence, talk to people who have been there and done that, ask the questions (even the really obvious ones) and you could be setting yourself up for a fantastic chapter in your career and your life.  

Finally, good luck, bonne chance, viel Glück etc…