Why Provide Candidate Assessment for International Assignments

Posted on July 15, 2011

Why Provide Candidate Assessment for International Assignments

“We would like to provide Candidate Assessment for our international assignees, but…”

    • With a limited budget, we have to prioritize. Maybe next year…
    • If assessment isn’t predictive of whether the assignee is likely to succeed or fail, what is the value?
    • The fact of the matter is that we typically send employees based on their performance to date, technical skills, or for leadership development. There usually isn’t much question of who we want to send.


There are a variety of reasons why organizations hesitate to assess candidates for assignments abroad. However, there are also significant advantages to candidate assessment that are worth considering. More often than not, a company does have a pretty good sense of whom they would like to tap on the shoulder for an international assignment based on their existing succession planning and business planning processes…

    • the high potential manager who needs a global rotation to assume greater leadership responsibility,
    • the engineer who has the technical expertise to fix what’s broken or transfer key knowledge and processes to a target geography, or
    • the solid performer who seems to be the best person available to open a new marketplace.


These individuals may have already expressed an interest in such an assignment. The momentum easily builds to send the employee on their way, many times with family members in tow.

Possible Benefits

What a holistic Candidate Assessment can do for the organization and assignee family is provide a “time out” for the assignee to:

    • deeply reflect and consider all facets of life – professional, personal, interpersonal, family – that may be impacted by being away for an extended period (e.g. health concerns; spouse/partner career; children’s schooling; aging parents; a long-distance relationship; pet care; etc.);
    • heighten self-awareness through the use of various assessment tools, facilitated dialogue and exercises; and closely evaluate personal/family fit for this kind of change, to this particular assignment location, at this point in time;
    • consider the realities of living in the proposed assignment location, including local business practices, infrastructure challenges, and living circumstance
    • gauge his or her cross-cultural competence and identify steps that can be taken to develop international acuity;





There are various approaches to Candidate Assessment, including the use of a wide variety of assessment tools and practices. Exercises may include case studies, DVD clips, strategies for cultural adjustment, or a mind map of factors that might impact the assignment. While such exercises can yield rich information, there is no silver bullet, no fool-proof pass/fail predictive assessment that can yield a “go” or “no go” outcome. Still, an effective self-assessment process can improve the odds of the individual or couple making an informed decision that is in the best interest of all parties.

The results of any Candidate Assessment process should not be used as the sole criterion from which an assignee is selected, but should always be considered alongside other performance indicators such as previous international experience; performance history; knowledge, skills and abilities specifically relevant to the assignment responsibilities; etc.

Candidate Assessment is most effective when it is positioned as self-assessment. Companies are sometimes hesitant about the self-determination that the Candidate Assessment process typically facilitates for employees, fearful that it may result in an “opt out” whereby candidates remove themselves from consideration. However, it is essential to enable the candidate to make an informed decision in order to avoid later negative consequences. If, after participating in the Candidate Assessment process, the candidate decides to move forward, it is with increased confidence, motivation and preparedness. On the other hand, if their choice is “not the best move for me/us right now”, they are likely to save the company a substantial investment of money, along with potential damage to relationships with clients and subsidiary employees, by avoiding a potential failed assignment.


Failed Assignments

A failed assignment is commonly defined as an early return, but other shades of assignment failure include: sub-optimal performance levels, when the employee is surviving the assignment, but not flourishing and not achieving assignment objectives; blunders in the host location that may cost the company time, money, and face, and are difficult to recover from; lost opportunities; marital difficulties or divorce; and other scenarios that erode assignment value and could perhaps have been prevented.

The inability of one or more family members to adjust to an international assignment is the reason most often cited for an employee’s early return. Candidate Assessment is most effective when spouses/partners are fully included as the key stakeholders that they are. The Candidate Assessment process can facilitate the couple’s communication and raise awareness of each other’s goals, concerns, and needs related to the prospect of moving to a new country. This candid exchange can be eye-opening and insightful for all concerned, and can serve as a springboard for the couple’s continuing dialogue throughout their assignment.


Assessment Outcomes

Whether it is an individual or couple going through the Assessment, the process culminates with action planning. At this stage, after several hours of self-reflection and serious contemplation of the international assignment decision, the participant(s) typically have a good sense of what requires further thought, what kind of additional support they might need, and what the next best steps will be to prepare and to better ensure their own success.

The employee should also be encouraged to follow up with a designated company representative, typically a senior level human resources professional, to relay his or her “take-aways” from the Candidate Assessment experience and to discuss next steps from the company’s standpoint. The employee might wonder about the value of spending a day, plus time for pre-work, to complete the process, especially if a departure date is in sight, and the pre-departure countdown clock is ticking. However, on the other side of the Assessment, the employee and organization frequently remark that it was time well spent, with considerable gain.

Given the potential downside of a failed assignment and the potential upside of success, organizations need to weigh the pros and cons of Candidate Assessment, assess organizational readiness to adopt such a process, and ultimately make an informed decision to “go” or “not go” forward with the investment.



1 Brookfield Global Relocation Services and National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). Global Relocation Trends 2009 Survey Report.


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