August 31, 2012

How To Pick the Right People for International Assignments

passport stampInternational assignments, or the act of sending employees to different countries on project assignments, is a growing trend. A recent study by Cartus Relocation found that 57% of the companies surveyed predicted that international assignments will increase over the next two years.

But not only are expatriate assignments on the rise, the actual assignment destinations are changing. Indeed, the Cartus survey showed (what many other surveys have pointed to recently), that destinations for international assignment are shifting towards emerging markets such as Brazil, India and China — and even Singapore has shown a resurgence in popularity.

All this change has put strain on the international assignments process, as highlighted by Chestnut Global Partners survey which revealed that failure rates for Americans on international assignments are as high as 40% — and this is often linked to a failure to adapt to different cultures and demanding workloads.

Because international assignments are typically very expensive, and of strategic importance,  failure can have far-reaching impacts on the business. It is no wonder then that companies are beginning to focus on factors to increase international assignee ROI, and one of the key methods being adopted is better candidate selection assessment, which brings the subject of expatriate hiring right to the door of the recruiter, the one who will be tasked with finding a suitable candidate.

So, in view of the kind of pressures that corporate talent acquisition may be facing, that is to hire more reliable and effective international assignees, I thought it would be a good time to outline several best practices to help you better select individuals for expatriate assignments. I have assumed that you have already assessed candidates for technical skills experience and educational requirements, as you would for any role, and have focused on selection factors more specific to international assignments.

1. Use a selection panel

It is recommended that you use a selection panel which consists of a manager from the function being recruited for, staff who have detailed knowledge of living working and conducting business in the intended assignment destination, HR staff from home and host country and international HR. Its a large team so the recruiter will need to to manage them well to get the best out of them.

2. Choose candidates that have successfully completed similar international assignments.

Recruiters should favor candidates who have succeeded in the target country, followed next by those who have excelled in culturally similar countries and your third preference should be for those who have succeeded in other locations. Failing this, also consider employees who have studied abroad or performed some other role in the country, like teaching or voluntary service etc…

What you are looking for are individuals who appreciate the cultural differences in a practical way and know what it takes to get things done within that culture and location.

3. Prioritize candidates who are fluent in the language of the assignment destination

Assignees will command more respect in the office and will be far more effective in their dealings with clients, suppliers and colleagues if they can speak in the local language.

4. Use Intercultural Adaptability Assessment Tools

There are range of Intercultural Adaptability Tools on the market which will allow you to assess the potential of candidates to innovate, lead, manage, collaborate and socialize in different cultures. This should not be used in isolation to make a decision, but should be one of many selection factors.

You may want to consider including the potential assignee’s partner in this assessment process as the failure of partners to adapt is a key reason for early termination of international assignments.

5. Provide a Realistic Job Assignment Preview

Provide assignees with a realistic job preview and let them know both the good and bad things about the assignment destination such as culture, climate, business practices, safety and security issues so they can make a genuine assessment of whether the culture will be right for them.

6. Allow candidates a reconnaissance trip

Possibly after an offer has been made, and if the destination is culturally very distinct from the home destination, (and of course if budget permits), you should consider offering candidates a trip to the assignment destination to see if they can work and live in the culture. The assignees spouse/partner should be included in this trip.

By incorporating these measures into your hiring process, employers can optimize their selection of international assignees, meaning they can select candidates who are most likely to deliver and maximize the return on the large investment that comes with expatriate assignments.

Read more in Global Recruitment

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.