Being posted overseas – risks and opportunities

An overseas posting can look like a perfect opportunity to leap-frog up the corporate ladder and enjoy a great lifestyle on the way. But there are risks to consider

To get to the top of a multinational company it is almost essential to have international experience on a resume. A Coca-Cola executive has to know what it is like to run a major manufacturing operation in another country. A global media company expects its leaders to know, in practice, the meaning of the phrase coined by the creative agency Bates Dorland: ‘Think global. Act local’.

A posting in the developing world can set an employee up for the next rung on the ladder. It can also give that employee the opportunity to prove his or herself in a very testing environment. But if the company decides that he or she is not fast-track promotion material, the employee can be left dangerously exposed a little further down the line.

Dream posting or dead-end job?

Jeremy Johnson, a management consultant with more than 30 years of professional experience, says he has seen cases where people have taken a succession of postings in the developing world, only to find they cannot get back into the mainstream.

‘You might find that the staff you’ve been employed to manage aren’t as well trained as you would have liked and the technical environment isn’t as up to date as you had hoped for,’ Johnson warns.

‘While you’re struggling in a backwater, your peers are riding the ever-changing trends in the [domestic] market,’ he adds. ‘You could end up an expert in the ways of specific countries. But when it comes to an assessment of your employability elsewhere, you could be found lacking.’

‘If you decide you’re not going to make the top and end up back on the employment pile at 40, with a string of overseas postings behind you, your life can suddenly become quite hard if you want to settle back in your home country,’ Johnson concludes.

Keep in touch

There are ways to help bulletproof a career. People should think strategically, as well as tactically, how a posting in another country will add to their skills-set and experience.

They should remember to keep a network of contacts alive, keeping them informed of any achievements and amusing them about challenges in new territories. And without exaggerating, mention what lessons have been learned that would be of value elsewhere.

Above all, people should maintain a professional profile back at home, whether or not that is where they see themselves returning. A good example is the former head of BBC news-gathering, Chris Cramer, who joined US TV news organization CNN in Atlanta. Cramer’s name is regularly in the UK TV trade press, either in reference to developments at CNN or commenting on industry trends and events, serving as a subtle reminder to his former employers at the BBC and others back in the UK.

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