Going global: my long-term career

I have been employed in HR for the past 12 years – the last five as a senior HR business partner for an international organisation. I’d like to move into a role that provides me some global exposure on a project or even re-locate overseas. What impact will this have on my long-term career?

Q. I have been employed in HR for the past 12 years – the last five as a senior HR business partner for an international organisation. I’d like to move into a role that provides me some global exposure on a project or even re-locate overseas. What impact will this have on my long-term career? Will it provide me a step up, and if I move overseas, what are the issues about re-locating back to Australia if my current organisation doesn’t have a suitable role?

A. It’s been a long held ambition for many HR practitioners in Australia, like you, to work overseas at some point in their career. There is no doubt that many people that have taken the step to work overseas have reaped both professional and personal benefits.

When asked about his overseas experience, a senior Australian HR practitioner, David Rossiter, who is currently head of HR for the Hong Kong Health Authority, said of his move to Asia that he highly recommended it and that “spending time in another country/culture is something he’d wished he done 20 years ago!”

So, what are some of the potential career benefits that would prompt you to take the step and work overseas? These benefits include:

• It shows flexibility and a capacity to adapt to change;

• It can increase personal confidence by stepping outside of the personal and career comfort zone in dealing with new and challenging situations;

• It can provide exposure to cross cultural management styles which is a great asset; and

• It definitely provides new skills and knowledge in HR – it will tend to expand practitioners’ HR horizons

All of the above are great assets to bring to the table when HR practitioners are looking for new roles back in Australia, but it’s not all beer and skittles! The big question is: will working overseas automatically offer you an easy return back into the Australian market?

There are a number of senior HR candidates who have been overseas and returned to Australia to excellent roles, but it can also prove to problematic at the top levels of the profession to secure a good role back in the Australian market.

One senior Asia Pac regional HR director returned from five years overseas, and while he was quick to point out he would return overseas again and is very positive about the experience, he also said that on returning to the Australian HR market the response to his international experience had been mixed. He went on to say that it was hard for him to identify the companies which were likely to value the experience he had gained. As this practitioner found, there aren’t that many roles in the Australian market that have client groups outside of Australia. Obviously companies that had international capability valued his exposure, but roles in these companies are generally tightly held and there aren’t many open opportunities.

In conclusion, the general view held by people who have pushed themselves to look at overseas postings is that there is a substantial upside for HR practitioners who obtain international experience. Opportunities can open up for which you might not have been considered without this experience – particularly with regards to big international companies. Companies that have significant offshore operations greatly value overseas experience.

Practitioners that have been overseas say they generally haven’t regretted the experience for one second and insist it has been hugely beneficial to them, personally as well as professionally. So, you should consider the opportunities that you have to work offshore. The one cautionary note, however, would be that the positives gained from overseas work should be balanced against it being a little challenging to fit back into the market, particularly at the top end of the profession.

By Craig Mason, director of The Next Step

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