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Selecting and appointing the right candidate for an overseas operation is vital to a company’s growth, its bottom line - and the benefits it brings to the team they are joining.  

The key to success depends upon a variety of factors, including appropriate support and information for relocating staff – both at home and abroad, and a recognition from senior management that an effective employee in the UK may not necessarily be the best applicant for a similar overseas position.  Understanding the challenges of different business and social culture, combined with the impact that a move and expat lifestyle can have on a family, must be considered carefully before any decisions are made. 

Overseas appointments are complex and costly, and employers would be wise to set aside any preconceptions they may have regarding who would be the most suitable candidate.

When looking to fill an overseas position, we advise employers to consider what business skills and personal qualities are the most important for that particular role.

Whether it is language skills, experience, family commitments or qualifications – it is important that the relevance of each is clearly recognised before the final candidate is selected.  Regardless of how these are prioritised, it is vital that the chosen person will be able to command respect, be open to diversity and above all else, be flexible.

A candidate’s private life should be carefully considered, particularly if they are married and have a family. It is important to ensure that everyone involved is open to relocating and that the whole family been given the necessary information to allow them to make an informed decision about the proposed move.  Ultimately, the onus is on the employer to offer pre-assignment planning, but the prospective employee should still conduct their own research.

Savvy employers will carry out detailed assessments of candidates to determine that their reasons for relocating abroad are sound and they do not feel pressured to accept a foreign role.  Similarly, adequate opportunity should be given for an employee to decline the relocation should they so wish.

Some companies choose to pay for candidates to visit the country, show them around the office where they will be working and advise them on where to live. They may also be given the opportunity to speak to, and learn from, ex-pats who have made the transition.

Before making any final decision, it is essential that the candidate is in possession of all the necessary facts, including the importance of learning the language, even if English is the main means of communicating.  While in most situations it is not essential to speak the local dialect, it is helpful to make an effort, which invariably is well received by local communities and business in the country they are working. 

Once the employee has been appointed and relocated overseas, the employer has an ongoing responsibility to ensure that they have the time and support to allow them to adjust to their new environment and culture. This may involve living with increased security and a potential language barrier. Just like starting a new job in the UK, employers need to understand there will be a period of adjustment and challenges to overcome, but setting in place appropriate measures will go a long way to reassure the candidate that everything possible is being done to support them through the transition. 

It is also important to remember that in the same way employees need assistance when relocating to a new job overseas, they will need further support in the form of a robust repatriation programme when they return to the UK. Many expats often find it had to settle back into the British lifestyle and require additional help to readjust.

The experience of working overseas can change how a person views the world, and how they operate in their role – often positively, but sometimes negatively, which can provide challenges for their employers when they return to the UK. Some become less tolerant of certain things and have a tendency to compare and contrast the differing lifestyles.  Many feel that their quality of life has worsened upon returning, particularly if their family finds it difficult to resettle.

The investment in resource and time to make the right appointment, the support given to the employee in preparing for and managing their role - as well as ensuring they are successfully repatriated - is proven time and again to pay dividends.

About the author

By Gustavo Aranda, Business Development Manager at Farnham Castle Intercultural Training. Farnham Castle Intercultural Training is a leading provider of global cultural expertise for business, working with business and organisations to improve business performance by ensuring that employees have the skills necessary to work more effectively in any country worldwide. Working with leading national and international companies, educational institutions and British and overseas government agencies, Farnham Castle design, develop and deliver intercultural training solutions.