Skip to main Content
Search site

Search site

Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals

Search and filter articles

Career development

Career advice for job seekers

How can global exposure help my HR career? 20/05/2014

Why is global HR experience so important, what are the pitfalls of moving abroad and how can international insight help accelerate your career? Mary Appleton speaks to top recruiters to investigate.

How can global exposure help my HR career?

Click to jump to section

  1. HR as a global function
  2. Enhance your skill-set
  3. Increase your cultural awareness
  4. Advance your career
  5. Downfalls of international moves?
  6. Keep on the pulse
  7. Returning to the UK
  8. Top tips for making a move

HR as a global function

As businesses broaden their international horizons, it’s crucial for senior executives to have a global mind set that’s aligned with the aims of the company, while being sensitive to the needs of the cultures in which they operate. This ability to act global and think local arguably lies, fundamentally, with HR.

“Globalisation has gone from a theme to reality in the last decade,” says Graeme Read, MD of global recruitment firm Antal International. He explains that in today’s business climate, SMEs to large corporates are either dealing with customers and suppliers internationally or have their own international operations. The need for HR professionals with international experience is now a prerequisite in most job specs.

Alex Raubitschek, operations director at Advantage Professional, agrees. Across the globe, HR is becoming an ever-growing requirement. "Any international exposure you gain will increase your standing by strengthening your personal creditability and marketability. The proven ability to work across cultures suggests an HR professional who has an open mind and wide perspective, while also being able to adapt to and understand a variety of global HR issues,” he says.

Hydrogen’s 2011 report Global Professionals on the Move found that individuals working in the HR, finance, energy and clinical research sectors rate international experience more highly than their counterparts working in other sectors.

Dr Claudia Jonczyk, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at ESCP Europe, comments: “How are you to recruit, evaluate and attract people in an increasingly global workplace if you don’t know the different rules of engagement in respective national job markets? It’s essential to understand that newcomers (from abroad) need to learn to deal with cultural differences and understand what makes them feel welcome and stay engaged.”

Enhance your skill-set

According to Stephen Menko, director of Ortus HR, global experience is the perfect way to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive industry. Having international exposure not only broadens your horizons, but equips you with a unique understanding and skill-set that’s highly sought-after.

“Gaining knowledge of non-UK legislation through the globalisation of HR policies and increased exposure to multinational strategies and line management are huge benefits that broaden your appeal to a very wide group of potential employers,” says Menko.

Barney Ely argues that as well as giving you a broader base of knowledge and experience to draw on, spending time internationally can also help to demonstrate to any future potential employers that you have the ability to adapt to diverse workplaces, perform well under pressure and are highly motivated. He believes that global experience can often be the kick-start for your career.

David Owens, managing director of HR Partners in Australia, adds: “Global exposure shows flexibility; it shows you place a high value on your own skills development, you can step outside your comfort zone and pursue career advancement and experience beyond your own shores.”

Increase your cultural awareness

As well as the tangible benefits around skill augmentation, global exposure can also result in an appreciation and awareness of other cultures, values and markets, notes Alex Woolgar, managing director of Inception Partners. He explains that having these broader values allows you to build up the sensitivity and necessary skills to operate in an international landscape, as well as a greater understanding in the complexities and developments in international economies – which Woolgar views as a ‘valued attribute’ to any potential employers.

According to Jonathan Wiles, managing director of Michael Page Human Resources, global exposure also allows you to learn new cultures, legal systems and HR procedures. Therefore, this can not only make you better at your own job but also make you more aware of how others work.

Julie Nicol, director at Digby Morgan Dubai, explains: “Once you’ve gained exposure to different working regulations, you can begin to understand what motivates different client groups.”

Advance your career

The varied experience and skill-set gained abroad can help you to broaden your commercial insight and outlook, which Joanne Chua, director at Robert Walters Asia, feels is ultimately ‘invaluable’ for your future career development.

Graeme Read believes that if you’re looking to develop your HR career to a more senior level, international experience can often help fast-track this. He says: “International exposure can accelerate your promotion prospects, lead to enhanced reward packages and career development as one tends to face a myriad of challenges in a shorter timescale than the equivalent HR role without international exposure.”

According to Julie Nicol, once you have an appreciation of different cultures at work and an understanding of how to support growing businesses in emerging markets, you position yourself well to take on senior change/HR transformation and strategic HR roles. 

Joanne Chua agrees. “Global exposure is definitely a prerequisite for many HR roles at the director level,” she explains. If you’re looking to progress your career to this level, Chua says that you’ll need an impressive regional and functional track record, as well as significant people management experience. International mobility is usually essential too. She believes that gaining exposure to different markets will definitely boost your portfolio and open the door to new job opportunities that offer potentially larger markets in your career progression path.

Adds Jonathan Wiles: “Candidates who can illustrate they have a better understanding of global environments are generally more favourable considerations for higher level positions.”

Downfalls of international moves?

While there are many benefits to international exposure, it’s important to be aware of the potential problems you could encounter. Graeme Read warns that if your exposure is too prolonged or focussed on only one country, there’s a risk that you could become pigeon-holed into a ‘country expert’ which could count against someone seeking a more regional role.

Juliet Braunstein, executive search consultant at HR Professionals, points out that working across time-zones could impact your personal life, and you may need to undertake regular long-haul travel which could prove exhausting. There’s also the possibility that you won’t be received as well in another culture.

David Owens argues: "If you’re away from your home market for a significant period of time and your learning is not kept up, your career could suffer. If you allow your HR knowledge to flat line, this could, upon return, show up as a period in which you have progressed less quickly than your on shore competitors. Keep checking that there’s something in it for you, that you continue to develop and that you keep learning; a distance learning course can be very helpful in this regard.”

Keep on the pulse

The development and maintenance of a strong professional network, both within domestic and expatriate communities can never be underestimated and will frequently aid a smooth return to the UK job market, advises Raubitschek. “Keep one eye on the UK recruitment market, in terms of trends and changes in all aspects of the profession, not least employment law,” he says.

While Julie Nicol advises: “Focus on what you have gained: more exposure to senior management and a true understanding of supporting business needs in a fast-growing, emerging market. Make sure you attend HR forums and networking events while abroad.”

“Bear in mind that there will need to be a consistency to your CV in terms of the positions worked and time spent in each role,” adds Joanne Chua.

Returning to the UK

How easy is it to return to the UK once you’ve completed your period of work abroad? “It should be relatively easy to find a job in the UK once you have gained overseas work experience,” says Barney Ely. “This will put you ahead of many candidates who have not had the opportunity to develop their skills and experiences as broadly.”

Comments Juliet Braunstein: "Although some employers may query the currency of your knowledge around local legislation and political issues (if relevant), these technical aspects are easily re-learnt – if not on the job, then through a formal short training course." She asks: “If you as an employer have the choice of two candidates, both identical in every respect except one has international experience…who do you think will give you the most value for money?”

Top tips for making a move

 

Top tips for HR professionals who want to relocate

Jonathan Wiles, MD, Michael Page

Alex Raubischek, OD, Advantage Professional

Julie Nicol, Managing Consultant, Digby Morgan - Dubai

 

Tip #1

HR culture is not the same in every country

In some places HR is in its infancy. For instance, in South East Asia many organisations are only now learning about the importance of talent management, succession planning & change management. Take time to understand your new country’s HR culture and choose one that you can transfer your skill-set.

 

Be sure: Moving abroad is a massive commitment, so make sure that it is the right move for you, and more importantly, being done for the right reasons.

 

Visit for at least a week, so that you can meet recruiters face to face and be on the ground for 1st interviews. 

Tip #2

Research

Don't rely on other people's impressions. It’s normal to experience culture shock when you move to a new country. Plan ahead and speak with others who have already been down that road – sometimes the simplest tasks such as grocery shopping can become frustrating and difficult.

Be prepared: In addition to the usual study of the company, role, aims and ethos, make sure you spend time looking at the culture, politics and legal situation of the country you intend to call home.

 

Do your research in terms of costs of living, salary expectations, schooling and cultural differences. Research local HR regulation and employment law so there are no surprises (the Middle East is not as "PC" as the UK, and you need keep an open mind!) 

 

Tip #3

Work-life balance

Are you seeking an overseas assignment to achieve your long-term career aspirations or is it more of a lifestyle change? It’s important to work out the professional balance between your career and lifestyle.

 

Be confident: Always a key attribute in a competitive job market, confidence will not only help you secure that ideal role, but will also help your transition into the new position and country that much easier.

 

Be patient & flexible. Don't expect to walk into your dream job, you need to gain local exposure first so expect a sideways move that will lead to longer term career progression. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Appleton, deputy editor, Changeboard

Mary Appleton, deputy editor, Changeboard

Mary is deputy editor of Changeboard