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Do foreign assignments advance your career?


Do foreign assignments advance your career?

Do foreign assignments advance your career?

Not necessarily, says Rouen Business School professor

September 2011
— In an increasingly globalized world, professionals with international experience would seemingly have an edge on their competition when it comes to reaching the position of CEO. But recent research conducted by Burak Koyuncu of Rouen Business School and Monika Hamori of IE Business School show that executives with international assignment experience take longer to reach the top echelon.

Published recently in the International Journal of Human Resource Management, the study sampled CEOs of the 500 largest corporations in Europe, headquartered in 22 countries, and 500 of the largest American companies. Among these CEOS, 32 percent had international assignment experience (40 percent in Europe and 24 percent in the US).

Results show that the more assignments these CEOs had and the longer they spent outside their home organizations, the slower they reached the CEO position. According to the authors, international assignments remove professionals from their headquarters’ social networks, which could explain the negative impact of international assignments. The foreign divisions of other companies often represent the periphery, a place far from headquarters’ resources and information.

The results also show that changing employers after repatriation does not speed up a CEO’s ascent to the top. Assignments that started at a later career stage and assignments at an organization other than the CEO’s current employer are especially detrimental to the speed of ascent to the top.

Yet, international experience is becoming more important in the generation of freshly appointed CEOs. Only 7 percent of newly appointed CEOs in 1993 had international experience, compared to 18 percent in 1998 and 44 percent in 2003.

"While it’s important for professionals to obtain international experience, those who embark on fewer assignments, have assignments that last for a shorter time (one year or so) or gain international experience by staying in the company headquarters and periodically visiting foreign divisions may reach top positions faster,” said Koyuncu.
The authors advise putting the terms of international assignments into writing before departure.

They also recommend staying in constant contact with the home office, to visit it frequently and to encourage visits from headquarters personnel in order to stay active in the social networks of their employer.

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