In the global age, an overseas assignment

could be just the answer for your resume.

T HE BOSS BREAKS THE BIG NEWS: THE COMPANY WANTS YOU TO TAKE AN OVERSEAS ASSIGN -MENT. In Tokyo, say. You’ll work there for a few years, and, when you come back, there might even be a promotion in your future. But wait, you ask, what about my wife/husband? My kids? My house! Will this even help my career?

There was a time when the answer to those questions wasn’t so clear. People who took international positions 20 years ago often did so at their peril. Sure, the jobs were exciting, and the perks were many—personal drivers, private school for the kids. But overseas executives felt marooned upon their return. They were out of the loop and had trouble moving up the corporate ladder. “People just didn’t know who you were when you got back,” says Richard Sorensen.

Ah, but the world is smaller now.

Business is only getting more global, and companies—from Dell to 3M to Kohler--- —are scrambling to expand overseas. As many as 400,000 employees relocate internationally each year. “It’s probably the single most powerful means of enhancing one’s career,” says Linda Stroh, a professor of business at Loyola University Chicago.

Case in point: Marriott International. In 1990, the hotel chain had 16 hotels outside the United States and did $317 million in sales abroad. Today, (2006) Marriott employs 72,000 people abroad, and its 400 overseas hotels bring in $1.1 billion. To manage this operation, Marriott now uses about 200 expatriates. “Going off-shore can be the best thing that can happen to you,” says Jim Pilarski, a senior vice president of human resources. “You can get noticed very quickly, rise through the ranks, and move up.”

That’s certainly what happened to Jackie Fouse. Before she became the CFO at Alcon, one of the largest eye-care products companies in the world, Fouse spent nine years working overseas. She credits her international experience for her meteoric rise from corporate finance manager at Alcon, to treasurer at Nestlé, to the CEO of Swissair—all dramatic moves she made while working in Europe. She is now, at 44, the No. 2 executive at a $4.4 billion global company. “Everything else being equal—educational background, years of experience—that was the thing more than any other that set me apart from other people,” she says. Fouse speaks French and German fluently. But she insists it is the subtler management tools— sensitivity, say, to the fact that Europeans prefer a more consensus-based approach to management than Americans do—that makes those with overseas experience more effective.

SHORT STINTS. Few executives, it seems, would disagree. Nearly half of the HR professionals surveyed last year by the Worldwide Employee Relocation Council say their companies now have a formal program or system for “career-pathing” employees into senior positions that include one or more international assignments . Overseas stays are being shortened—often to less than a year—so compan-ies can keep a shorter leash on their employees. “If I were to encourage 20- or 30- somethings to do anything, it would be: Sign up for these cross-cultural projects. Be willing to travel,” says Laura Kohler, senior vice president of human resources at Kohler, a plumbing, power, and home-interior products company, where international revenues have climbed 30 percent annually since 2001. “In the future, they’re that much more likely to be a director, a manager, who has a broad base of experience to draw from when making decisions.

There’s no question globally savvy employees can have a huge impact on a business —and not only on its bottom line. When Wayne Hinman volunteered to go to Sing -apore in the mid-‘90s for Air Products and Chemicals, the manufacturer of industrial gases and chemicals was bringing in about $400 million in revenue in Asia. After a four-year stint overseeing the construction of new plants, forming joint ventures, and investing in supply chains, Hinman had pushed revenues closer to $1 billion.

MOVING UP More important, though, I were the less-quantifiable effects his work had on company strategy. In the 1990s, Air Products’ biggest customer was an American company. At the end of this year, though, for the first time, it will probably be Samsung. “We’re capturing that shift,” says Hinman. He came back to a top executive position at the company and was recently promoted to vice president of global merchant gases; now he spends a lot of his time nurturing young managers who will be working overseas in the future.

Assignments to international positions are still not without their pitfalls. They can be a major strain on dual-career families, and while companies do their best to help spouses find work while they’re abroad, 4 out of 5 are still unemployed.

For some experts, of course, the old problem of being warehoused after returning from an overseas assignment lingers. A study published last month by GMAC Relocation Services found that nearly 1 in 4 workers leaves his or her job within one year of returning from an overseas assignment—usually after getting a better offer.

Which, of course, presents those given the opportunity to work overseas with an interesting dilemma: The job maybe a strain on your family, your marriage, and your kids . It may, ultimately, even cause you to cut ties with your current employer. But as a career move, in the long run, it’s clear: There doesn’t seem to be a better choice you can make.




www.onestopcoach.org A portal to federally funded sites offering quality help. If you need human help, the site links you to a local federal OneStop Career Center.

www.rileyguide.com/prepare.html The best portal for those trying to choose a career.

www.job.hunt.org The best site for those who have a career goal and now are trying to land a job.

www.khatce.com This site focuses on careers not requiring a college degree.

www.mylifecoach.com Offers an online version of the Strong Interest Inventory. This 25-minute assessment yields a synthesis of your interests and an annotated list of suitable careers. For $24.95, you receive a comprehensive report and phone interpretation.

www.careervoyages.gov/careercompass-matn.com This takes just one minute but can be quite helpful. You simply pick your first, second, and third choices among six interest areas and up pops a tailored list of careers.

www.bts.gov Offering far more than statistics, this site is home to the federal Occupational Outlook Handbook. That contains profiles of many careers, each ending with links to additional information

http:/ftpt.si.uinich.edu/div/subject/brows/ref09.00.00/ This portal links to online directories of professional associations’ sites—for example, the American Account -ing Association or the National League for Nursing.

Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, Hotjobs.com, and craigslist.org The odds are tiny that an employer will pick you from among the millions of job seekers who troll here, but the sites do offer provide tips from the trenches.

www.lndeed.com and www.Simplyhired.com These sites aggregate job listings from hundreds of employment websites, including the big ones. You can instantly screen over 4 million job listings from one site, www.usajobs.gov USAJobs contains more than 20,000 federal government job openings. To find even more, you can search the 150-plus federal agency sites individually. A gate-way to those sites is www.firstgov.gov/Agencies/Federal/All-Agencies/index.shtml.

www.salary.com and salaryexpert.com These sites estimate salary for hundreds of occupations, adjusted by ZIP code. It’s wise to check both sites because they use different sources for their data. Basic reports are free, but there’s a $29 charge for those customized based on your experience, the size of the employer, and the characteristics of the particular job.



www.usnews.com March 20, 2006 (pgs. 52-54)

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