Weighing up overseas secondments

by 01 May 2008

Q. I am currently considering overseas appointments within my field of HR but have heard conflicting reports if this would be advantageous or not when coming back to Australia. What are some of things I would need to consider to make an informed choice?

A. Beyond the personal benefits of exploring the ‘new’and the potential for lucrative remuneration no doubt you will be querying “what will be the impact on the continuum of my career?”

The benefits. There is the inherent opportunity to test your skill and ability in ‘unfamiliar’ environments allowing you to affirm your robust and versatile business acumen. An overseas position could be a feasible way to remain in your current industry and field yet still allowing you to keep your career fresh by applying your existing knowledge and skill in the context of differing local business and HR conditions. Again, such a situation provides a credible example of how you may adapt your style to reflect differing business and people needs, cultures, work practices and legislative parameters.

As well, when we look at the opportunities in emerging and established international ‘hubs’, there are also the potential benefits of operating within a confluence of international expertise and knowledge (be it HR or other business disciplines) within the one locale, especially in centres like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Hong Kong where there is a significant ex-pat community and international business networks.

The negatives. Negative often centre on perceptions. It could be perceived that overseas experience does not ‘stack up’ to Australian experience – for example if operating within a developing country the associated HR practice could be considered to be not on par with best practice as experienced in Australia. As well, extended overseas employment could be perceived as a ‘leave of absence’ from the Australian marketplace and of its contemporary business and HR practice.

This leads us to the issues concerning the return to Australia after overseas employment. Firstly, keep your networks in Australia well maintained – be it informational or peer networks within the HR field as well as within your industry sector. Keep up-to-date with the commercial and people issues as they happen and upon your re-entry to the Australian marketplace, be proactive in confirming your understanding and interest in such contemporary issues.

Secondly, the perceived value of your experience requires you to effectively convey this to potential employers. So the quality of your CV as an effective sales document of your commercial experience will be critical. Ensure perspective viewers of your CV appreciate the scope of your responsibilities and how you aligned your HR duties with broader business objectives – tangible business outcomes and achievements speak volumes in any language.

Moreover don’t assume employers know what the nature of the business and your HR experience was –provide details on employee base, industrial conditions as well as highlighting the critical HR and business issues you had to operate within.

Don’t assume everyone will be impressed with Dubai experience for example simply because it is ‘Dubai’– let them know why it’s impressive by highlighting practical business examples from this experience. Also be realistic about your remuneration expectations and don’t price yourself out of the market. Be informed, utilise your network knowledge and remember to be open to adjusting your expectations accordingly remembering ex-pat positions attract ex-pat benefits.

And finally, on your job-search back in Australia, be fair to yourself and allow time for things to happen. If you effectively ‘sell’ the value of your overseas experience, appreciate and proactively counteract potential negative perceptions, you will be in an enviable position as an versatile and experienced international HR practitioner.

By Chase Diehm, consultant, HR Partners