How should your company choose employees for international assignments? There’s a lot at stake each time you have to decide whether to offer an overseas relocation. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the cost of a three-year international assignment can top $3 million. And 42 percent of global relocations fail.

Increasing the odds that your relocations will succeed takes careful planning at all stages. That planning starts with identifying the employees that are the best fit for working overseas. Here are a few points to consider.

Do They Have the Right Mindset?

Sending an employee abroad isn’t just a matter of evaluating whether they have the hard skills for the new role, SHRM says. A global mindset and the ability to work across cultures are also important. “To a great extent, the success of every expatriate in achieving the company’s goals in the host country hinges on that person’s ability to influence individuals, groups and organizations that have a different cultural perspective,” SHRM says.

How can you identify such an employee? Sean Dubberke of RW3 Culture Wizard, which teaches cultural fluency, says these qualities are facets of a global mindset:

  • Recognizing and analyzing your own cultural values and biases.
  • Being self-aware and taking a nonjudgmental perspective on cultural differences.
  • Being open to new approaches and flexible enough to try them out.
  • Showing curiosity about the people around you.
  • Being willing to learn about different cultures.
  • Building relationships with different kinds of people.
  • Adapting your style to fit the situation.


What Role Does Language Play?

Language fluency doesn’t play into this equation in the way that you might think. We don’t believe it should be the deciding factor in whether you offer an employee the chance to relocate abroad. Instead, we advocate having strong language and cultural training programs in place so that an assignment can be based on who is truly the best fit instead of who already has the language skills.

You should also remember that even if an employee has some experience using a language, that doesn’t mean you won’t still need to invest in language training. For example, an employee moving to the U.S. may have studied English back in school and used it occasionally at work as the international lingua franca. But doing business all day, every day with native English speakers is a challenge that the employee is unlikely to be prepared for. Most expats we encounter passed a high level of English on a written English test, but were not able to hold a very high-level conversation once in the US. Writing well does not correlate always with being able to understand the spoken language.

Is the Move Overseas Right for Them?

An employee’s success or failure in an international relocation goes beyond whether they can do the new job. It also depends on how well an international move fits into the employee’s personal life — and, if applicable, the life of their family. This is something employees have to evaluate for themselves. But what you can do is help them make the right decision.

A study about employee relocation by Altair Global found that two of the biggest drains on employee productivity during an international move started even before the relocation happened:

· “Learning, researching and understanding the compensation-related specifics of the assignment/move, including tax ramifications, compensation structure and delivery, employee/family benefits and pension/retirement implications arising from the move.”

· “The decision-making process related to accepting or declining the assignment/transfer with regard to personal situations, including family/spouse, new location lifestyle, etc.”

Every employee who is offered an international relocation has to decide whether the move is right for them, financially and personally. If they make the move and then decide it was a mistake, your company takes a financial hit. So it’s in your best interest to provide employees plenty of information about the new assignment before they agree to move. Based on their survey, Altair recommends connecting employees with other expats and veterans of past international moves so they can ask questions. Altair also encourages companies to clearly explain the financial implications of the move. When an employee better understands what a move will mean for them, your company can feel more assured that the relocation will succeed.

As corporate language trainers, we’ve experts on employee relocations and happy to advise on language training and your company’s other specific needs. Contact us for a free consultation: or (800) 401-3159.