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How To Select And Nurture Highly Productive And Fulfilled Overseas Assignees – 22 Important Guidelines

What makes a good expat?

There is a fundamental question that is being asked more and more often. Increasingly we are hearing this being asked by companies who manage their own global mobility programmes. Whilst there can be a number of factors which could influence this, we have looked at the common behaviours which help to make a good expat. The reasons can be broken down into three areas:

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Personality traits:

Whilst some degree of counselling and training can be given in this respect, some traits may be “hard –wired” and difficult to change. To be successful, as well as having the appropriate technical skills, any international assignment candidate should have some of the following characteristics:

  • Have a high degree of cultural empathy – to view an assignment, as a way of enriching his/her own experience, rather than being ethnocentric and seeing differences against their own country as a barrier to be overcome. This therefore requires not only cultural awareness – which highlights differences – but more a positive state of mind and attitude
  • Have the ability and flexibility to adjust their management and behavioural style to suit the culture in which they are working. This requires the assignee to be non –judgemental and open-minded
  • Have the ability to give feedback in a constructive and empowering manner, with respect for other people
  • Be highly motivated with a “can do” attitude
  • Have strong interpersonal skills and good conflict resolution skills
  • Have excellent communication skills – giving and receiving  feedback on an on-going basis , and displaying the sensitivity to detect non-verbal communication
  • Be adaptive to change, tolerant in new situations and enjoy new challenges
  • Be confident in networking, initiating social contact and be interested in other people, especially with locals
  • Have a strong belief in the objectives of the assignment  – to understand that it is “not just about the money”
  • Must see the assignment  as being advantageous to their career

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Family considerations:

  • Spouse and dependents should have a strong willingness to live abroad
  • Spouse and dependents need to be adaptive
  • The whole family must be comfortable in initiating social contact, especially with locals

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Company preparation:

  • It helps if the assignee already has strong work colleague relationships in the host country through normal business dealings
  • The must be a clear talent management and career path for the individual
  • Cultural awareness training is key for spouse and must be offered
  • Selection criteria should include the above “personality traits” as part of the assessment process
  • The spouse should be included in all of the softer, non technical, aspects of the selection process
  • Where possible, the company should  have more than one candidate for the job – a formal interview process will make the assignee more conscious of any shortcomings which may need to be worked on
  • There must be a corporate willingness to realise that, what may seem trivial to the Company, or even for another assignees, may be a major issue for one family in settling into a foreign environment
  • Where possible, the company should provide  a “cultural mentor” for the assignee –not just someone who appraises performance, but who has an understanding of management style etc. in both the home and host countries.
  • There must be on-going performance evaluation. This should highlight intercultural adjustment issues and not just performance against technical objectives


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