Selection of Expatriates: Decision-Making Models Used by HR Professionals

By Tye, Mary G.; Chen, Peter Y. | Human Resource Planning, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Selection of Expatriates: Decision-Making Models Used by HR Professionals


Tye, Mary G., Chen, Peter Y., Human Resource Planning


Many organizations now find it essential to operate on a global level to maintain a competitive advantage (Cascio, 2003). About 80 percent of midsize and large companies have employees working abroad, and 45 percent anticipate increasing their expatriate workforce in the future. Roughly 10 to 20 percent of people sent on expatriate assignments return early, and about a third of those who remain do not perform up to their supervisor's expectations while in these assignments, both of which are extremely costly for the organization (Black & Gregersen, 1999). It has been proposed that one reason for the high rate of expatriate failure is utilization of poor selection methods (Harvey, 1996).

Despite concerns about the use of poor selection methods for expatriate assignments, no thorough assessment of actual practices and decision-making of HR professionals for selecting expatriates has been undertaken. The intent of this study was to fill this gap by determining how expatriates' characteristics, including gender, domestic performance/technical competence, extraversion, stress tolerance, and international experience, are incorporated in selection decisions.

Expatriate Success

Prior to developing valid and effective selection methods, expatriate success must be clearly defined. Expatriate success has at least three aspects: adjustment, performance, and turnover. Many researchers try to predict adjustment of the expatriate to the new culture, to new work responsibilities, or to interacting with people from the host country (Black & Stephens, 1989). Other researchers (Bolino & Feldman, 2000; Caligiuri, 1996, 1997) attempt to predict turnover or turnover intentions, because if expatriates leave their assignment early it is expensive for employers. Still others (Caliginri, 2000; Kraimer, Wayne, & Jaworski, 2001; Tsang, 2001) use ratings of expatriate job performance as a criterion of expatriate success.

Each of these criteria is likely to be of importance to the overall success of the expatriate and suggests the inherent relationship among the three elements of expatriate success. If employees are unable to adjust to their new surroundings, they may be unable to perform their job activities proficiently (Ones & Viswesvaran, 1997), or they might terminate the assignment early (Aycan & Kanungo, 1997). For example, an expatriate who does not adjust to interacting with host nationals may not be able to obtain the information needed to perform effectively or to adjust to daily life in the new culture (Black & Gregersen, 1991). As another example, an expatriate who fails to adjust to living and working in the new culture is more likely to perform ineffectively (Kraimer et al., 2001), experience stress or negative emotions, and desire an early return to the home country (Daniels & Insch, 1998; Shaffer & Harrison, 1998).

Expatriate Selection

The literature suggests that companies have not effectively predicted expatriate success, perhaps because they are not utilizing the most effective predictors in making selection decisions. Traditionally, most selection of expatriates appears to be done solely on the basis of successful records of job performance in the home country (Culpan & Wright, 2002; Harvey & Novicevic, 2002; Kealey, 1996). Although technical and managerial competence, as reflected in domestic performance records, are important to the success of expatriates, arguably, the cross-cultural aspects of the environment require other competencies for success (Schneider, 1997; Stone, 1991). Further, because most employees considered for international assignments are already a rather homogenous group in terms of professional competence, other characteristics are likely to playa role in predicting success (Arthur & Bennett, 1995).

To determine which characteristics might have the best chance of predicting expatriate success, an analysis of 65 empirical studies was first conducted to estimate associations among rations potential predictors and expatriate success. …

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