Why That Plum Job Abroad Could Be a Rotten Move

With eight years of international experience on two continents under your belt, you figured you were on a fast track to a C-suite job.  Well, think again. Monika Hamori and Burak Koyuncu of Spain’s IE Business School examined the careers of 1,001 executives from the largest companies in the U.S. and Europe and found that the number and duration of foreign assignments did influence how fast an employee rose up the ranks—but not in the way you might expect.  Those who spent more time away from headquarters actually took longer to get to the top.  And posts taken at later stages of an executive’s career were especially detrimental to advancement. Time spent abroad with other employers didn’t do anything to help one’s chances, either.

The working paper, presented at the Academy of Management’s annual meeting, held in Chicago Aug. 7-11, makes a good case that face time still counts for a lot in corporate life.  Executives assigned to work abroad can lose out because they are unplugged from the valuable social networks at corporate headquarters—what Hamori and Koyuncu call “the out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect.”  This is consistent with previous studies that found that nearly half of repatriated executives left their company within two years of returning to their home country, largely because of concerns about career advancement.  The pair’s advice for those who have their eyes on the corner office: Go ahead and take the job in Shanghai.  But do it only for a year or two, and do it when you’re young.  And don’t even think about jumping to another company when you get back.

This article was published in BusinessWeek; August 24, 2009 issue.  It was edited by Harry Maurer & Cristina Linblad. The original paper is entitled “Career advancements in large organizations: Do international assignments add value?”