Self-Initiated Expatriate Talent

In a global market, many organizations are now seeking to recruit the talent needed to work across markets on an international scale. In some cases, this means acquiring existing companies in a new location and along with the acquisition, acquiring the company’s talent. However, in a global economy, the opportunity also exist to tap into foreign talent at home. Indeed, a recently published study in Human Resource Management Review suggests that the suggests that “self-initiated expatriates” or SIEs are an important but to date still under-researched and sometimes misunderstood source of global talent.

download2Who Are Self-Initiated Expatriates?

As the authors of Vlad Vaiman, Arno Haslberger and Charles M. Vance report in their study, “Recognizing the Important Role of Self-initiated Expatriates in Effective Global Talent Management,” SIEs are by no means a new phenomenon. People have been moving around the globe for work-related reasons for centuries. As they explain:

SIEs of some sort have been around for a long time. For example, since medieval times, craftsmen in France, German-speaking and other countries, were required to spend several years traveling and practicing their newly learned craft. This activity also involved crossing borders…Journeymen’s travels abroad were not necessarily voluntary and today’s SIE’s motives equally may or may not involve a sense of inevitability.

What is new, the authors of this new study emphasize, is the amount of scholarly attention not being paid to SIEs and the high numbers of SIEs now in the workforce. As Vaiman et al. report, “According to the United Nations Organization, 232million people were international migrants in 2013. This figure is up from 154 million in 1990. Only about 7%, or 15.7 million, were refugees in 2013. Most international migrants, 125 million, live in Europe or North America.” This means that contemporary SIEs are a diverse group. Indeed, SIEs include overseas experience (OE) seekers, young graduates, English teachers, academics, nurses, doctors and business professionals among others.

What U.S.-based Organizations Can Gain from Hiring Self-Initiated Expatriates

As reported by Vaiman et al., “In principle, SIEs have a special position in organizations, enabling them to play a bridge-building role. As local hires with non-local passports and perspectives, they are uniquely situated to facilitate cross-cultural understanding and an international outlook in their workplaces. This capability is something that organizations often strive for but find difficult to staff appropriately.” But this is not the only thing that SIEs have to offer U.S. based organizations.  Hiring a local SIE can enable an organization to acquire talent that already possesses the cultural and language skills needed to break into new markets but naturally, SIEs also frequently come with other resources, including overseas connections and access to allied local talent.

Challenges Associated with Recruiting and Training SIEs

downloadFor all the upsides of hiring SIEs, working with SIE talent also raises new challenges.

Recruitment: Traditional approaches to recruitment (e.g., campus recruitment drives) are generally not an effective way to access more senior SIEs.  Instead, organizations may need to take time out to research the types of organizations and/or networks to which SIE in their field circulate; this typically varies by nation and/or region as well as profession.

HR Screenings: Bear in mind that if you’re seeking to hire SIE talent, your screening process may not work. For example, if you regularly ask candidates to report their GPA (on a 4.0 scale), this measure may or may not be something that candidates can easily translate.  In addition, different countries and regions around the world have differently structured education systems. For example, in France but also in Quebec (a primarily French-speaking province of Canada), high school ends in the 11th grade and students then attend two years of college prior to attending university. In essence, completing the 12th year of one’s education in Quebec or France versus the United States means something different. A candidate who has completed one year of CEGEP studies in Quebec (what would be 12th grade in the United States) would be able to say that they had completed “some college,” although by U.S. standards they would technically still be in high school. This and other discrepancies suggest that traditional HR screenings may be unable to adequate handle SIEs, since the screening process risks weeding out qualified candidates but also misinterpreting less qualified SIEs.

Training: Another key concern will be how to train SIEs. After all, while they may bring especially desired skills to your organization, they may lack other basic skills one expects in a new hire. Individualizing the training process to some extent is recommended.

So what’s next? As Vaiman et al. emphasize, there is much more research to be done on both how recruit, train and retain SIEs:

Neither companies nor academics have yet given due consideration to SIEs, although they represent a significant part of the international talent pool. This is a missed opportunity. Internationally-operating organizations and SIEs share common interests,which proactive corporatemanagement of this source of scarce talent could help foster. Such management would serve both organization and SIE, helping the former more effectively manage shortages in human capital and the latter to further their careers.


June 5, 2016   Updated :June 5, 2016      

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