A Basic Game Plan for Expats

image2Qualified employees willing to go on assignment to some of the more challenging global locales can be an invaluable asset to an organization. Particularly those willing to fully immerse themselves in the host country.

But what does “immersion” mean? How long can the employee expect the assignment to last? In some instances, longer than expected. Although shorter assignment types have become more common in many instances, in others, a longer stay is required. For example, many leadership positions require an assignment in China. But to effectively understand this complex market, an employee should be willing to remain there for several years.

This can have its drawbacks, though. One is that longer assignments can make an employee “invisible” back home. Although coworkers and business associates may keep in touch via email and social media, it doesn’t make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction. The employee can gradually become less known in the home office, which is why it’s all the more important to maintain connections.

To accomplish this, and to keep their careers on track, here are several strategies assignees can employ:

Cover all your bases: Before accepting an assignment, be clear with managers about the position you’ll return to once it’s up – you don’t want to be caught by surprise if restructuring has occurred in your absence. Not only do you want to be clear about the assignment length, but you’ve also got to have Plan B. What happens if the assignment doesn’t work out? (For whatever reason.) What if you’ve got to return home? Specifically detail your concerns in advance and get every possibility in writing.

Keep in touch with mentors and connections and stay visible: Communications tools like Skype are helpful, but nothing compares to meeting in person. If possible, schedule face-to-face meetings at least twice a year with key colleagues and mentors. Visit and be seen at your company headquarters at least four times a year.

Be true to your long-term goals: Sometimes longer-term expat managers become more connected to the overseas office than to the one back home. This can cause a disconnect when the assignment is up, as they can find themselves returning to a position that has changed during their absence. So always keep the end in mind.

Keep your eye on the prize: A long-term assignment can be challenging, but putting in the time can be well worth it. Working experience in any of the world’s emerging markets will give you a major edge over other colleagues. And with good planning, you just might return to the executive suite.