Location, role or industry: What's your next expat move?

If there is one thing that the audience of our East-West Leadership webinar chat with global career coach Peter Hill can immediately apply, it's the 'three-pillar approach' of building expat careers. When contemplating your next move, Peter explained, your next career jump will either catapult you upward or land you flat on your bottom depending on these three fundamental factors:

Location: Where in the world would you like to work?

Role: What exactly would you like to do?

Industry: What kind of company would you like to target?


Some people contemplate a career move from a fairly comfortable position, wishing for a mild adjustment or some fine-tuning. Others are sick and tired of where they are now, and hope for a revolution. Accordingly, they might dream of a position in the same place, function and industry (not a jump), uproot one pillar (a "single jump"), two of them ("double jump") or boldly challenge all three ("triple jump"). The more perilous it sounds, the harder the transition, Peter said at the webinar, but that doesn't mean a double or triple jump is impossible: it just takes more planning.

Expat executive blog

Returning to the world of expat careers where we belong, the most basic example we could think of is someone who would like to stay in the same industry and function, and possibly at the same firm, but pines for a new location. This is a relatively easy move for both aspiring and seasoned expats, as they already have what decision-makers usually look at first: a relevant performance record. Having said that, a word of caution: many expats (and their bosses) find out that a job well done in one place does not guarantee the same performance after a radical change of environment. When people relocate, there are lots of things they must relearn.

Those who decided to uproot themselves geographically but do not have the luxury of relocating from one to another branch of the same firm may face another dilemma: shall they stick to a function and change the industry or the other way around? At the webinar we leaned towards more focus on the job and more flexibility towards the industry. All other things being equal, it is easier to look for a sales, quality engineering or HR position in a range of industries rather than a range of jobs in a given industry. Ambitious expat career-builders must keep in mind that the more 'pillars' they uproot, the less relevant their previous track record becomes, and the more creative they must be when establishing new relationships to sell themselves in the talent market.

I know where I want to work, but not much else—now what?

One webinar participant asked us about the corporate job hunting prospects of sinologists: graduates of Chinese language and cultural studies, a specialisation so rare that my spell check insists on changing it into 'criminologist' as I type this blog. A great question: many smart job-hunters arrive in China, Japan, Korea, Arabic-speaking countries and probably many other dynamic markets with fluency in the local language but not much else to sell to company recruiters. I know a very successful people in Asia who started up this way and made it up to the C-suite (top executive level including CEOs, CFOs and other powerful acronyms), adding the product, sales and marketing, finance, legal and management knowledge to their language and cultural skills as they ascended the corporate ladder.

Peter says that the advice of a good career coach is to explore deep-seated interests and aim at the first and second pillars accordingly. As behavioural types and leadership styles pay for my bread-and-butter, I perfectly agree: personal temperament and cultural background can help our imaginary sinologist to decide which industry and position sound the most attractive: cars, pills, gadgets or hotels, selling, networking, coordinating, or working with data, to name a few of the infinite choices. Adding the intercultural element, I also remind forward-looking job-seekers to remember where they come from, which is a source of comparative advantage in foreign job markets. People think in clichés (stereotypes, if you like), and so nationality and native language can become an advantage in the eyes of recruiters in an economy like China: Germans in the automotive sector, for instance, Italians in fashion or Japanese in electronics.

Read next: Five essential qualities of China CEOs (webinar video)



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