Expatriate management: characteristics of successful expatriates

May 24, 2018

Expatriate management can be one of the most difficult areas for a HR professional. Research estimates that expat failure rates can be 20% or higher depending on the country or relocation. To further compound this, an article from the Economist estimates expat turnover on their return from assignment as high at 60%.

The reasons behind expat failure can be a complex mix, specific to destination, industry and support structure. However, when it comes to recruiting for an international assignment there are characteristics and personality traits that many successful expats share.

  • Adventurous: the most successful expats have always been happy to try new things, methods or ideas. Pay attention to those who have shown this characteristic in both work and personal life.
  • Problem solvers: having an ability to show resilience and adaptability, will stand to an expat as they face the challenges of their new role.
  • Self-confidence: belief in their own ability will be key in terms of reaching challenging company goals while in an unfamiliar country.
  • Interpersonal: useful in all leadership roles, interpersonal skills are particularly key when it comes to developing relationships with colleagues abroad.
  • Initiators of change: many expat posts involve change management of some kind. The greater the change, the more essential this role will be.
Once you understand the most pertinent characteristics for the specific role. There are several questions you can ask in an interview situation to understand where a candidate’s strengths lie:
  • Why do you want to relocate to [the country]?
  • Tell me about the biggest risk you have ever taken in your life and how did you approach it?
  • Was there a time when taking a risk didn’t work out, how did you handle it?
  • If applicable, outline a problem and the methods utilised to gather data and develop a strategy to solve it whilst on a previous assignment
  • In a previous assignment were there things that surprised you about how people thought or worked? How did you approach them?
  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.
  • Do you compare yourself to others? How does that impact your confidence?
  • We all find ourselves in stressful situations at work when keeping a positive attitude is most useful. Tell me about such a time and how did it turn out?
  • Tell me about a situation when you had to speak up (be assertive) to get a point across that was important to you or crucial to your customer.
  • Can you describe your relationship with colleagues on a previous assignment?
  • How many host-country colleagues did you interact with on a typical day of a previous assignment?
  • Give me an example of a time when you successfully communicated with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
  • Describe a situation where others you were working with on a project disagreed with your ideas. What did you do?
  • What impact do you feel you had in your first six months of a previous role?
  • Recall a time when you were assigned what you considered to be a complex project. Specifically, what steps did you take to prepare for and finish the project? Were you happy with the outcome? What one step would you have done differently if given the chance?
  • Have you found any ways to make a previous role easier or more rewarding or to make yourself more effective?
Once you find the right expats for your business, ensure their health and wellbeing is protected with a group international health insurance scheme.