How to … gain international experience

by 03 Oct 2006

Why is it important?

Global expansion has placed a premium on international HR experience within many organisations. HR professionals are increasingly being called upon to manage workforces in more than one country, and are more likely to be posted overseas.

With employment law, HR issues, work cultures and ethics varying from country to country, an overseas move can seem a daunting prospect, but it will benefit anyone wishing to make it to a senior level in the profession.

“The trick is to balance getting good domestic experience early on in your career and adding an international aspect as soon as possible, but without trying to take on too much, too soon,” explains Ewan Henniker-Smith, manager of recruitment specialist HR Professionals.

Where do I start?

Overseas opportunities may lie closer to home than you think. Check out internal options for international postings and discuss with your manager the possibility of a secondment or placement at a global office.

Sell them the benefits – it will furnish you with valuable insight into HR issues faced by overseas offices, and ironing these out may even help the workforce perform more effectively. Even if the placement is only for a short time, it will prove beneficial. Alternatively, perhaps you can make a business case for short, regular visits to overseas offices.

The other advantage of making an international move with your existing employer is that you won’t have to contend with a new company culture as well as a new country.

Ensure youre in the frame

Make sure your manager and others in the company know you are interested in an international move. Demonstrate a cultural awareness as well an interest in those countries in which your company operates. If you already speak the language (or are prepared to learn), all the better.

Individuals without a natural aptitude for languages shouldn’t be put off going for an international position as it isn’t always necessary.

Get in front of recruiters

If you work for a national company that doesn’t plan to expand globally, consider a lateral move to a global organisation that will provide an onward opportunity for an international move.

Do your research and check out the websites of multinational companies that you could target.

Put yourself in front of recruitment consultancies and headhunting companies with global branches. Make appointments with the international specialists inside the consultancies and pick their brains. They will be able to tell you about current demands and trends as well as how UK HR professionals – and their qualifications –are perceived.

Make the right move

While international experience is important for anyone wishing to scale the HR career ladder, make sure you are moving for the right reasons. Like any move, it should be a good fit for the stage you are at in your career.

Think it through carefully for yourself and your family, and consider the lifestyle as well as the financial implications.

Homeward bound

If you plan to return to work in the UK, consider how long you want to remain working abroad. While international experience is beneficial to your career, being off the UK scene for too long can make you less marketable in this country, especially given the rate of legislative and technological change.

For more information


Work Worldwide:International Career Strategies for the Adventurous Job Seeker, Nancy Mueller, Avalon Travel Publishing, ISBN 1562614908

Gestures: Dos and Taboos of Body Language Around the World,Roger Axtell, John Wiley & Sons Inc, ISBN 0471183423


By Scott Beagrie. Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.