How to Prepare an Expat for a Successful Assignment Abroad

The challenge of an interconnected world is to ensure employees have the ability to work internationally.

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As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, businesses are going global. The challenge for companies today is to ensure that employees have the ability to work on an international level. More and more, companies are relocating staff either for developmental and expansion purposes or to fill a certain skill set not present in the local employee pool. Many midsize and large companies send professionals abroad, and most of them increase the number they have on assignment. However, according to a Jobvite survey, the greatest obstacle for 56% of recruiters is a lack of skilled or qualified candidates. Emerging markets are set to experience an influx of expatriates to fill the skill gaps in the local job markets. The only way to remain competitive in this global economy is to build a local talent pool with globally relevant skills.

Why Companies Send Employees Abroad

  • Expansion into new and existing markets
  • Development of top talent
  • Streamline operations
  • Develop new perspectives
  • Become a trusted brand
  • Sometimes, it’s cheaper to do business elsewhere

International assignments are expensive ventures, and they cost up to three times what the employee would earn annually at home. However, most US expats sent abroad return prematurely either due to job dissatisfaction or inability to adjust to the foreign country. In addition, those who serve their tenure do not perform as expected. It is therefore imperative that employees are prepared, trained, and managed to reap the full benefits of the investment.

Preparing Employees for International Assignments:

An international assignment usually begins long before the employee arrives at the host country:

Pre-program Assessment

This is the assessment of the assignee's family, culture, and understanding of the host cultures. The expat's goals and concerns shape the family training session. Cultural intelligence tools such as Culture Wise can be used to assess their cultural tendencies against those of the host country. Exploration of information derived from such tools provides trainees with questions for the training session.

Training Employees for International Assignments

This increases the assignee's knowledge of the host country. It includes aspects of culture, societal values, business culture, and everyday living. This training reduces the risk of cultural misunderstandings and promotes cross cultural experience.

Host Manager and local Team Briefing

This is usually done face to face; however, if this is not possible it can be done online. The country host manager and the team with whom the international assignee will be working provide insight into the cultural values and norms. Aspects such as differences in management style and communication style are discussed.

Project Alignment Meeting

A project alignment meeting is held between the expat and host manager after parties have exchanged critical information. This is to discuss factors that may affect the success of the assignment, how to mitigate misunderstandings and mutual expectations of the assignee and manager. This includes aspects such as timelines, reporting strategies, and setting goals.

On Assignment Mentoring

The expat is exposed to new situations and experiences as soon as they arrive in the country. An assignee should be closely monitored and receive face-to-face coaching. Interactions between the expat and team members are observed. This coaching depends on the duration of the assignment and the assignee's needs.

Knowledge Management

Systematic capture and dissemination of relevant documentation should be conducted. Lessons learned from the expat's assignment are not only valuable to the expat but also to future expatriates and the organization as a whole. This helps the organization avoid repeating mistakes and over time to develop best practices.

How to Manage Expatriates:

Many organizations don't know how to optimize the benefits of an expat assignment. Relocation packages which include cultural training are great. However, most companies don't have the talent management mechanisms to truly leverage on these assignments. The following are critical to managing these assignments effectively:

Strong need and the right person: Before an organization makes the decision to send an employee abroad, there should be an indisputable need for the position that can't be fulfilled by a local hire and the right fit should be identified.

Assign top notch mentors: While communication is important, it's not enough for a successful assignment. To prevent the expat from feeling adrift, mentors should be appointed to oversee the expat.

Constant Contact: The assignee should regularly update the host, home sponsors, and other relevant stakeholders on the progress as well as new knowledge acquired.

Reintegration Plan: The employee should outline skills, qualifications, and insights achieved during the assignment and come up with a plan for incorporating them in the home office or the next assignment.

Should you need additional guidance on hiring and recruiting leaders in the Americas (Mexico, Latin America, Canada or the USA), please visit us at:, or email us at:

Written by:
Barbachano International Staff


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