Best Practices for Selecting International Assignees (Part 1)

Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

This is the first of two installments on the subject of assignee selection.

A recent question, “Please share ideas on best practices for hiring candidates for an immediate international assignment” triggers a few thoughts.

First and foremost, the organization must definitively establish that it is not possible to recruit local nationals in the location where the job is based. Hence sending a foreigner as an International Assignee is both necessary and can be sufficiently justified to obtain assignment country work and residency permits. If so, then…

Recruitment must focus first on the technical skills, experience and educational requirements for the position. Other than clearly noting the work location and anticipated duration of assignment in recruitment communications, do not begin with the fact that an international assignment is involved – that comes later during the process of screening candidates. Recruitment should be based on the best methods necessary for finding prospects with the required background and job capabilities. If the candidate is not technically qualified for the position, all else is moot.

Once technically qualified candidates who are willing to consider the assignment have been identified, then the additional factors driven by the fact that the job involves an international deployment must be addressed. It’s well known and documented that beyond technical qualifications and willingness to go, there are a number of additional factors that are critical to assignment success.

Proven practices include:

Use an assessment and selection team. Include line executives responsible for the function in which the position is situated, staff that have depth of knowledge of doing business and living in the country where the position is to be based, HR staff including internal Talent Management, HR business partners at home and host, and International HR. Potentially, outside consultants with depth of expertise in global assignments, assignee selection and country-specific expertise can add a lot of value. Manage the team so they can perform their respective roles well and are empowered to collaborate.

Seek candidates that have a demonstrable record of successfully completing similar international assignments. Put a strong preference on success in the target country, secondary preference in culturally similar countries, third preference for other locations. We should emphasize the concept of demonstrated SUCCESS. There are many former assignees that were not successful but can tell good stories about having been assigned abroad. If they didn’t succeed in the past, how can we be assured that they’d be successful given a “second chance”? Sometimes, individuals who did very well studying abroad, working in the Peace Corps, or other similar endeavors in the target country can be good prospects even if they didn’t work in roles similar to the assignment job. The key is finding individuals who understand cultural differences in a practical way and know how to get things done in the assignment location.

Put strong preference on those who are fluent in the assignment location language. Don’t give credence to the old saw, “Well, they all speak English in the office.”. The reality is that they speak the local language with one another and do so all the time outside the office. Your assignee will command much greater respect and be much more effective if he/she can communicate in the local language.

Use validated intercultural adaptability and intercultural competence assessment tools. Assessment tools can be quite valuable in helping “weed out” those who really aren’t suited for the assignment. We don’t recommend using such tools as a sole basis for  “go / no go” decisions but they do add a great deal to the discussion and to the prospective assignee’s decision process. They also provide excellent input for developing intercultural training programs for the selected assignees.

Be sure to utilize someone who is certified to use the tools and has demonstrated competence in administering them. Many instruments are available and they range from quite good and very useful to, well, just the opposite! One must conduct due diligence to be sure they’re using reliable instruments and a competent assessor.

Include the accompanying spouse/partner in the assessment process. Their ability to adapt and flourish in the assignment location is critical to the success of the assignment.

Consider the candidate’s post-repatriation career prospects. By definition, an international assignment is temporary.  Will the candidate play a role and have qualifications that could provide long-term contributions (aka, ROI) to the organization after the assignment? If so, they should be evaluated on the basis of how they can best be utilized by the broader organization after the assignment with those having greatest potential for long-term contributions given preference.



Include the candidate’s spouse/partner in the process. Even if the spouse/partner will not accompany the employee on the assignment he she plays a critical role in whether or not the assignment will be successful.  Without spouse/partner support, the assignment is doomed to failure. Assignments of all types put tremendous stress upon families. If their issues are not properly addressed, the assignment may well fail. It’s imperative to deal with family issues to the extent possible.

By applying the steps discussed above, and those we’ll discuss in our next post, organizations can optimize their selection of assignees that are likely to achieve the company’s objectives and maximize the return on the significant investment associated with international assignments.

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