Working abroad in Corporate Affairs. Good for your career? Or just for your soul?

While we’re fighting Covid-19, a slowdown in the jobs market is inevitable.  This will be frustrating if you were ready to make the next move in your career. However, now may be the ideal time to reflect. When we get to the other side and the world starts spinning at full speed again, perhaps a role abroad could be the right next move.

We worked on a few searches last year for roles based in mainland Europe. They were exciting jobs with innovative organisations.  They were well-paid, with generous relocation packages and global scope. This got me thinking.  International ‘sheep-dipping’ is a well-trodden route for generalist, fast track senior execs: a few junior roles then overseas for a couple of years in a challenging in-country position. Then back to the UK before another overseas role in a more senior position. And so on. The CVs of many top-flight CEOs have this internationalist, peripatetic feel. By the time they reach the top, they have often worked at a country and at group level, gaining valuable experience along the way.

But does international experience matter as much for Corporate Affairs specialists as it does for generalists? Will it be right for you? I think this depends on three things:  your ambition; your personal circumstances; and your resilience.

Ambition – how driven are you, and where do you want to get to?

Ambition takes effort. Working abroad takes effort. But, in the right job, there is a real return on the investment: an international perspective; new networks; the chance to practice (or learn from scratch) a new language. The result? A CV that is sharper, different, and attractive.

Personal circumstances – kids, dogs, partners, and more.

I’m not saying that an overseas tour of duty is a young person’s game.  In fact, the senior ex-pat route is relatively commonplace in large international corporates, coming with relocation, schooling, and a whole infrastructure of support.  However, that doesn’t make the disruption go away. It’s essential to think through the implications for your family – your partner’s career, your children’s education, other relatives, housing, pets, and so on. After all, an overseas role is generally for years, not just for Christmas.

Resilience – are you tough enough?

A job in a cushy head office role in Amsterdam, Zurich or Brussels may sound like bliss, but you need to do your homework.  It’s probably going to be harder than it sounds.  The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium are not Bristol, Birmingham or Balham.  It is unlikely to be plain sailing, however great the package that comes with it.  So before you commit, it’s worth trying to get comfortable that the culture will work for you.  Easy to say, hard to do.  Do some research.  Talk to people already in the country.  Spend some time there, including with your family if they’re coming with you.

Final verdict?

It’s a crowded market and standing out from the crowd can be difficult.  Some of the best candidates we have seen have CVs with policy experience in Brussels, media relations exposure from the US or experience navigating global matrix organisations in Switzerland. They have breadth, depth, and difference. But many of them were also clear that it wasn’t always a walk in the park.  Immensely rewarding? Yes. Steep learning curve? Yes.  Worth it? Most – but not all – said, ‘yes’. Perhaps you would too.

Wayne Reynolds, Founder and Managing Director, Birchwood Knight


22nd April 2020

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