Job Hiring 2016 Abroad Assignment
FORTUNE — For rising managerial stars, an overseas assignment can be a glamorous perk. Spending a few years abroad, largely on the company dime, sounds almost as good as a paid vacation. Almost.
But some corporations are taking a new approach to the overseas assignment and have begun to send employees abroad to work on short-term projects as a means to test how they work, and adapt, outside their comfort zones.
Companies still send executives to attractive locales like Paris, but short-term projects are often based in emerging markets where companies are looking to expand. Some businesses are even taking a page from the missionary’s playbook, sending employees on charitable assignments with the side goal of promoting their business.
IBM (IBM), for example, is sending its budding leaders to Africa and other developing markets through its Corporate Service Corps program, with the goal of seeing how these managers how operate in unfamiliar surroundings, work with people from different backgrounds, and lay the groundwork for future business by developing relationships with local decision-makers.
“This is part of operating a global enterprise,” says Tom Vines, vice president of business and technology leadership for IBM. “Leadership has to be more than just a class and more than just a webinar.”
IBM vets its employees for performance and leadership qualities before selecting candidates to work on an array of projects in areas such as education, health care, and economic development. IBM has sent teams to Egypt, India, Kenya, and Nigeria, all strong growth regions for the technology giant.
In Kenya, John Fredette, a Boston-based IBM manager, joined a team last March for a month-long pro-bono consulting project with the Postal Corporation of Kenya.
“Our goal was to work with the postal corporation to add financial services to what it offers customers,” says Fredette. “We ended up giving them a roadmap so the postal corporation can add services like issuing passports, which people now wait in line for at government offices, to make better use of their locations around the country.”
He had to present the team’s plan to the Postal Corporation’s national board to persuade them, he says, “that if you don’t change the [company] mindset, it will become irrelevant. It was dicey to say that to them.”
Too short for its own good or just right?
Since its launch three years ago, IBM’s Corporate Service Corps has sent 1,200 employees to participate in more than 100 projects in 23 different countries. And its model has been adopted or adapted by other corporations like Dow Corning and FedEx (fdx).
Few programs are as large as IBM’s, which selects around 500 employees to participate each year. The teams, usually between eight and 12 members, spend three months preparing for their trip, a month on location, and two months back at their home office wrapping up their work and sharing their experiences with other IBMers, typically through blog posts and public appearances.
Many companies argue that these short-term projects abroad help them respond to the demands of an increasingly global work environment, but leadership development experts have given mixed reviews to this approach.
Rosabeth M. Kanter, director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, praises such short-term projects as “cost-effective ways to build skills and relationships in a diverse team.”
IBM’s model, she says, “mirrors the way people increasingly work: thrust into new situations that require them to learn and react fast while adjusting quickly to different styles and cultures.”
A drawback, notes Kanter, who wrote Super Corp, How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, is that: “People don’t learn a country in depth the way they would on a longer-term assignment.
“But they learn how to learn about countries,” she adds. And, “sometimes the projects demand innovation that isn’t possible in more routine business work.”
Taking the costs into account
Briefer assignments also allow companies to provide leadership experience to upcoming managers without the family disruption and major relocation expenses of a long-term international move.
Also, studies have found that there is a high rate of departure for executives that return from assignments abroad and find themselves off the management track or out of sync with the culture at company headquarters. Brookfield Global Relocation Services’ annual trends survey for 2010 found that 38% of executives surveyed left their companies in the first year after their return from an assignment abroad.
Devising a relevant experience for each employee is key, says Michel Buffet, a managing partner at Fisher-Rock Consulting, which specializes in organization change and talent management. “There’s a trend toward moving to short assignments, and customizing the experience for each employee,” he notes.
Still, companies are not likely to abandon traditional overseas assignments any time soon as it allows companies to quickly address talent shortages in different parts of the world, says Haig Nalbantian, a director at Mercer, the global consulting firm.
“But we are seeing more concern at companies about the impact, given the high costs such moves incur,” says Nalbantian. “A number of recent clients have talked to us about substituting shorter term assignments…. It has to be a balance.”
“It’s a struggle for every company,” agrees Ed Hannibal, who leads Mercer’s North American mobility practice. In a survey last year, some 30% of some 462 Mercer clients said they were using shorter term assignments, he says.
Charity with a twist
FedEx is launching its own take on IBM’s leadership program. The company recently completed a pilot program in Brazil for its new Global Leadership Corps which “marries the Peace Corps with business,” says Tess Smith, a human resources manager for the company.
During this particular project, FedEx employees helped Afro-Brazilian youth in Northeast Brazil prepare for college-entrance exams, teaching English and helping them obtain scholarships, according to Smith.
Candidates had to be nominated and recommended as high potential performers — a vetting process similar to IBM’s. But Smith notes that the FedEx program “is much less direct than IBM’s. It does promote our brand, but it’s not set up to get new business.”
Dow Corning Corp. began its own program last year, starting with a cook stove technology project in Bangalore, India, to give its employees a chance to learn about working in emerging markets.
“International leadership experience is valuable, and people want to sign up,” says Ed Colbert, the company’s global director of talent management. Last year, 100 director-level employees applied and 10 were selected to participate.
“Short or long-term, it’s much more valuable if an employee [goes] outside his normal comfort zone. The key for the employee is immersion.”
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Wanderlusters, rejoice. If instead of applying for boring entry-level jobs on LinkedIn you’ve been reading through every travel blog out there, longing to be on the road, then you’ll love this– a list of jobs that will actually PAY you to travel. Read on to see which ones may be a good fit for you.
1. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
One of the most popular jobs that people who want to travel will do is English Teacher. Almost every country in the entire world is looking for English teachers, and in some places, they’re DESPERATE to hire teachers with or without experience. That being said, a large portion of these jobs require some sort of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification from a reputable organization, but this can even be done online from the comfort of your own bed. Typically, countries that are in need of English Teachers are willing to train and pay for visa (such as some countries in Asia and the UAE) while for some of the more desirable locations (like Italy and Spain) you’ll be required to at least have your TEFL certification before applying.
Some perks of the job — you often don’t need a ton of experience to land your first position, you can choose to go anywhere in the world, and you usually don’t have to know the native language of a country in order to teach there (although some language skills are always helpful for your day-to-day business and your sanity in a foreign country.) Salary is largely based on your chosen region and particular position, but there’s no doubt that this could be a rewarding and enlightening mission, should you choose to accept it.
How to get your TEFL certification and find open positions:
• Here’s our guide on how to get your certification to teach English abroad.
• Websites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe are constantly updated with job opportunities around the world.
• Some TEFL certification organizations offer job-search assistance, so be sure to take advantage of that.
2. Cruise Ship Staff
If your idea of traveling is less about solid ground and more about the open sea, joining a cruise ship staff may be the perfect option for you. There are countless types of jobs dealing with the cruise ship industry, so, if you don’t get seasick, there’s a good chance you can find a position that suits your fancy. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has a gift for performance, maybe you can get a musical gig; if you’re into cooking, well, the guests need to eat! While there are seasonal positions available, do keep in mind that this job may involve long periods when you can’t see your landlocked friends. A lot of cruises do, however, make frequent pit-stops on their journeys, which could allow you to see countless new cities and countries and potentially be a part of the excursions offered by the cruise company.
How to get a cruise ship job:
• Websites such as All Cruise Jobs are great resources that post jobs all over the world.
• It’s also a good idea to check out company websites directly for current postings– try Carnival Cruises and Princess Cruises.
3. Tour Guide
What about becoming a tour guide in the city or region of your dreams? There’s a couple of ways that this could go– you could based in one location and offer your typical city tour or you could be a tour guide that travels from country to country leading excursions. It definitely helps to have some living experience in the region so you can bestow your infinite wisdom on your lucky customers, but qualifications vary and a quick learner with excellent people skills are the most important thing. You may find a position that’s a full-time job with a set income, or you could be giving “free tours” and relying on tips from generous attendees. That’s when you’ll have to break out the real knowledge and spunk if you intend to make a living off of it.
How to find tour guide jobs:
• The “Work for Us” page on tour operator websites. Try New Europe Tours, Bus2alps, Contiki, etc.
• A general web search on Indeed or Google is always a good way to go too.
4. Peace Corps
If you’re at a point in your life that you think you’d like to really give back to the world, then maybe the Peace Corps is right for you. Keep in mind that this can be up to a 27-month commitment, and in a developing country where you may or may not have most of the modern luxuries that you know and love, so this is definitely not for the weak-willed wanderer– but it can potentially be an incredibly rewarding experience. Assignments range from teaching English to school children to working with sustainable development and disease prevention. While you’ll only make a modest living during your service time, you’ll be granted a reacclimation stipend upon your successful completion and will return to the States with priority recruitment opportunities in the State Department for a year. Not a bad deal — and you’ll have made a difference along the way.
How to find out more about the Peace Corps:
• For information on what it takes to get into the Peace Corps, check out the