Taking the Job Abroad
Global Business Week – How Going Abroad Can Advance Your Career
By Mary Welch
Taking an international assignment could be just the boost you need for your career. But it’s not easy. Here are 15 best practices from women who took the step to go overseas – and thrived in their roles while they were there.
1. Let the family and spouse know what they will get out of it, if relocating your whole family abroad.
“They are making a long-term commitment as well,” says Jo Danehl, a British expat in the U.S., working for Cartus Intercultural and Language Solutions. “They need to know that they will gain new language skills. It can’t be all about the employee,” adds Coca-Cola’s SVP and chief people officer, Ceree Eberly, who has had overseas assignments in Costa Rica and London. “My son is very proud to be American, but he is a citizen of the world and that will help him, not only as a human being, but in his future career and life.”
2. Honesty is the best policy.
Companies need to give the relocating family a realistic view of what will happen to them, says Danehl. “The family needs details and information. Don’t take a ‘we’ll work it out when we get there’ attitude. Remember – while the executive is going to something – a new career and respect – the family is going away from something.” And get a realistic timeframe of how long you will be in the new city, says Penny McIntyre, Newell Rubbermaid’s consumer group president. “It really helps if you know it’s a three-year assignment vs. one year.”
3. Have a serious discussion with your significant other.
“My husband wonders where he’s headed next. But once the discussion of what he would do when we returned to the U.S. fell out, it was much easier,” says The Coca-Cola Company’s Therese Gearhart, who recently left Turkey for a new role as president of the South African business unit. Decide whether your partner will find a new job upon relocation, or not.
4. Make use of technology.
Whether it’s Skype, Facebook, phone calls or visits, make sure your family doesn’t lose contact with relatives and friends. “My husband, Peter, really feels the need to reconnect with family in Canada,” says McIntyre. “So when we lived in Russia, he and the children would spend six to eight weeks in Ontario, in the summer, and I would be back and forth. It was important to him.”
Adds Gearhart: “I will spend whatever it takes to make my kids and husband still feel connected. I don’t worry about the cost of a plane ticket.”
5. Make sure the family gets what they need in terms of safety, education and support.
“You can’t jazz it up,” says Newell Rubbermaid’s McIntyre. “A relocation is like a roller coaster ride, especially the first time. And, while yes, it’s a real adventure, there are also downsides.”
6. Sometimes you have to put your children’s wants before your own.
“When I was transferred from London to Atlanta, my son didn’t want to go,” says Coca-Cola’s Eberly. “He loved his high school and his life there and it was too traumatic for him to pick up and leave. So now he’s at his school, but as a boarding student, and we fly back and forth to see each other.”
7. Make sure the family understands that they are moving for the parent’s job and that will probably mean the parent will be working 40 to 60 hour workweeks.
8. Realize that your first assignment may not be a glamorous one.
“My first assignment was in Latin America,” says Eberly. “You don’t just get London or Paris right away.”
8. Find networks for your spouse.
There is a belief that the wife would have an easier time finding other corporate spouses than a husband would but that isn’t necessarily true. “First of all, my husband made the decision to be a stay-at-home dad,” says McIntyre. “He had a realistic understanding of what that meant. He is picking up the burden of the house and kids. But he always finds his own networks. When we were in London, he would go hiking with friends. He gardens and has a great golf game.”
10. Take advantage of virtual support groups.
Many companies have online bulletin boards and virtual support networks for spouses and children. In the same vein, many large cities have similar online bulletin boards for expats announcing social and professional events. Join a country club and get involved in your kids’ school activities.
11. Stay plugged into women’s networks within your company.
Be able to talk over any challenges with women in your company who are or were in a similar position. Maintain contact with the home office. Have a mentor or close friend who will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening. That way you won’t feel as if you are “out in the cold.”
Coca-Cola’s Ceree Eberly with her son in London.
12. In your new location, have a sponsor – not just a mentor.
A sponsor will open doors for you and your family, such as making important business and social introductions. In some Asian societies, it can make a whole lot of professional difference to have a local “connector”.
13. Have the new house set up before the family arrives.
“We are moving from Turkey to South Africa,” says Gearhart, from the Coca-Cola Company. “My family is going to the U.S. for two weeks. After they leave, the movers will come, take everything and then set it up in our new home. I don’t want them involved in the move because it will depress them. I don’t want them packing their stuff. I want them to come to South Africa and all their stuff is already in their new rooms.”
14. Appreciate family support back home.
“Don’t underestimate the support from your parents, siblings, in-laws and friends who will take your kids for six weeks in the summer so they can reconnect with family while you work,” says Gearhart. “They are there to help you and don’t forget it.”
15. Have the mindset that “you can be happy anywhere as long as you are together as a family,” says McIntyre.
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