Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Three Reasons Why Americans Have A Tough Time Returning From Jobs Abroad

While many people working at a multinational firm want to do a stint abroad, there is a down-side to that decision.  It is often very difficult to transition back. 

Anyone who has spent time working abroad can confirm this.

Many people who want to return discover that their existing firm has no job for them; if they come back (and most do) they often find themselves out of work. The best advice I can give is that if you are working for a multinational firm and they send you abroad, your agreement with them should be that when your tour is over they take you back. Period.  This must be in writing.  And be careful of wording which says things such as, “if a job is available” or other similar weasel phrases, especially if it is they who are sending you.

As best as I can figure, here is why it is difficult to return home and find a job.  These are things which anyone who accepts a foreign posting should think about before going abroad.

  1)  Companies in the United States actually don’t understand foreign postings
In the US, we simply don’t have the exposure to foreigners that they do abroad.  Americans are very U.S.-centric.  Many hiring managers, human resource people and even senior executives, do not understand that people all over the world basically work the same way we do here.  As a consequence, they are leery of foreign experience.

It doesn’t matter if you have worked on or with P&G, Unilever, IBM, Samsung or other well-respected worldwide brands, in this country, the experience may not be seen or understood as comparable.  

There is also an issue as to whether someone who has been abroad for a long time can re-adopt to the way we work here. I would venture to say that in the U.S., we work longer and harder with fewer vacations than comparable jobs in many foreign markets.  In many foreign postings, at the end of the traditional day, people go home; not so here.

The problems are somewhat mitigated by the fact that Americans with foreign experience are in high demand here.  While that is true, the fact is that employers want them to have been back here and re-employed here so that they are totally re-acclimated to the U.S. before being hired.

   2)  You are not physically here to interview
If you are working in Poland or Singapore, interviewing in a nearby country may be a short train ride or flight away.  But if you are in one of those countries, getting back to the states to interview may take a day or two.  That is for starters.

For reasons I do not understand, many HR and hiring managers don’t like to do Skype interviews (I love them).  True, nothing replaces an in-person meeting, but Skype or Face-Time is almost as good.

Few companies will pay your airfare to fly here for a first or second interview. However, they may pay if they are close to hiring you.

The other issue is that, even if you pay your own airfare, companies don’t want to be responsible for postponed or cancelled meetings due to client conflicts or other business exigencies. The guilt factor prevents many from scheduling a meeting in the first place. (Best to simply schedule the interview as if you were here and take your chances.)

   3)  You may not be immediately available to start work
In many foreign countries, employees must give significant notice when resigning.  Sometimes three months or more.  Your employer may allow you to leave sooner, but this isn’t always the case.

Even if your employer does allow you to leave, it takes a while to work through the logistics of relocation.  Many companies don’t want to wait for the time it takes for someone to start – often a month or so. 

Over time I have worked with many Americans who have worked abroad and they agree that these are three huge problems which they face when they come home. 

I can think of one case where a person was sent by his company to Japan.  He did really well there and ended up running their office.  After seven years he wanted to come home.  The company would only take him back if he accepted a demotion because the CEO here (the same one who sent him abroad, in the first place) didn’t know if his job in Japan was comparable to doing the same here. (He accepted the demotion, returned to work and resigned as soon as he found a new job).

If you go abroad, you need to be aware of these issues.


  1. The interview difficulties and availability to start are definite factors. However, the idea that US executives can't get their heads around what people in similar roles do abroad is frankly rather pathetic. I can understand if we're referring to a boutique agency with a largely, US domestic Client base. But anyone working today in a large, multi-national agency on P&G or IBM, who can't quickly size up the value of someone working on similar type accounts in Europe or Asia really has no business assessing talent. The best creative is being developed abroad, where cultures are much more diverse and less homogenous. I've worked with great people here and abroad, but I'm definitely a better marketer having broadened my horizons.

    1. You are talking apples and oranges. A person here who has never worked abroad has absolutely no concept of what someone in, say, Moscow or Shanghai does. They just know it isn't the U.S. I have had many US only executives tell me that.

      Unfortunately, there is still a perception among American executives that the US is better and more sophisticated. If you are currently working abroad (since you didn't sign, I have no idea who or where you are), you need to remember this when you interview. For the most part even people working within the big multi-nationals don't understand what their counterparts do or don't do.

      Having worked abroad makes many people much better marketers and advertising people; there is no question about that. And I agree, there is much better work coming from abroad.

    2. By the way, Unknown. There is something I should have said. While you are right that some executives are pathetic when it comes to their knowledge of what goes on abroad, my post is based on literally hundreds of conversations with Americans who have worked abroad and had problems coming home. I can think of one SVP who worked for one of the huge networks on their accounts in Eastern Europe. They had no job for him here so he resigned. He then was able to interview with his old agency on one of the same accounts he worked on, but the job here was purely domestic. The people he was talking to had no idea of what he did, despite that it was the same business. Sad but true.


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