What is the biggest downside of accepting a leadership position overseas? 

That is a question I am getting more often now as senior healthcare executives search for employment in a job market that is contracting due to mergers and the realignment of the “heads in the bed” business model. 

If it is not your company sending you, the answer is simple:  beware of the out of sight, out of mind phenomenon.   

Al Khubeirah hospital in the city of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Shutterstock

Great Advantages

Yes, working overseas as a senior executive has many advantages— from the actual work to the cultural experiences through daily life routines as well as travel to neighboring landmark cities —  but if you are not assigned by your company,  you must consider your re-entry strategy after the two or three-year assignment to avoid an otherwise wonderful career experience becoming something of an anchor around your neck.

While you are gone, your name and your professional reputation for past performance, will fade from view.  That reality, coupled with the fact that some recruiters or potential employers will just assume that your work knowledge is out of date and that the overseas experience is not relevant to current domestic business conditions, typically untrue, can present some tough hurdles to overcome.   

Not All Overseas Opportunities Are Equal

Not all overseas job opportunities are equal.  The cache of working in some countries is not the same as others so when an international recruiter comes calling, do your homework, ask a career coach for input. 

I know several executives who had very successful overseas experiences but they struggled to find leadership jobs when they returned the US.  Three were forced to accept additional overseas assignments to continue their career and one, in frustration, took early retirement eight years ahead of his planned date.

The out of sight, out of mind phenomenon can be beneficial if you are dealing with an unfortunate public career misstep. Two to three years overseas will all but wipe away those issues provided they were not too serious.  But finding work back in the US is not automatic, regardless of your success with that foreign experience.  

IMPORTANT: Have a Career Brand Management Plan

The secret to successfully returning to the workforce in the US  is to have a career brand management plan that you begin implementing when you first arrive at your new foreign post.  Your plan will require regular attention to maintain your band presence with recruiters and potential employers in the US but it can be done. 

Overseas work can very rewarding for the executive and family but having a well conceived exit  and repatriation plan is essential unless the assignment is meant to be a career capstone.

We are here to help.  If you questions or ideas about the job market and career management that you want to discuss, let us know:   CareerTransition@JohnGSelf.Com W


  1. Working overseas can be a smart career and personal move
  2. Not all assignments are good ones and not all countries are desirable for your career brand.  Seek advice.
  3. You must have a plan to nurture your professional brand while you are out of the country.  You must also have a repatriation strategy that begins the day you start your overseas assignment.

We are here to help.