3 Tips for Preventing Career Stagnation after Repatriation

By Myriam Callegarin • April 20th, 2013

I will never forget a colleague’s radical transformation as an expat executive. When I first met him back in 1994, he was based in Saudi Arabia. He told me he had been developing challenging markets and moving with his family across the Middle East and North Africa every 2 or 3 years. He reported it was tough at times, but you could see he was happy with his accomplishments.

When I met him again years later, I was shocked:  After 9 successful years abroad he had been repatriated, and looked like a fish out of water. There was no suitable position for him, so he was in ‘stand-by’, spending most of his time shifting papers across his desk. Nobody seemed to care. His career was stagnating, and I could feel all of his pain and discomfort.

He was not alone

Since starting my own international career over 20 years ago I have met several expats whose career stagnated after repatriation. They were not feeling valued and recognized, and many of them left their organization. I’m not surprised to read that 11% of repatriated assignees leave their company within the first two years, as per Ernst & Young’s 2012 Survey on Global Mobility Effectiveness.

So what can you do about it?

Following are 3 tips for preventing career stagnation and increasing your chances to get a position that reflects your unique value when you repatriate.

Tip #1. Clarify expectations before departure

Before accepting the assignment, discuss with your superiors and with HR what will happen when you come back. Of course there are no guarantees, but it is important to make sure that the assignment fits into your career path, and that your management’s expectations are aligned with your own.

Tip #2. Network with purpose

Ideally, your expatriate assignment should not last longer than 2 years, so you do not lose important connections in your home office. In any case, and especially if you stay abroad longer, make sure you become more strategic when managing your relationships with key stakeholders, both in HQ and in the region. Do not underestimate this aspect, because it can make all the difference.

Tip #3. Get clear on what you really want

You get what you want when you know what you want. An expatriate assignment makes you grow at both personal and professional levels. When you repatriate, you are a different person. However, many expatriates are so caught up with the challenges of the transition that they take no time to understand what kind of person they are now, and they rely on their company to do that job for them. However, the people back in their home office either do not care about their experience, or are envious and therefore happy to see them fail career-wise. This can lead to career stagnation and depression. You can prevent this by taking the time, starting approximately 6 months before repatriation, to find out who you have become, and what you really want from your future professional life. This will help you to gain clarity and develop an effective strategy for the next step in your career.

Conclusion

As a corporate expat it is easy to assume that your company will take care of everything, including your career development. However, in most cases this does not happen.  The steps outlined in this post can help you to take ownership of your own career, so you make sure that you fully benefit from your exciting expatriate experience.

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