Selecting Candidates for Overseas Assignment

selecting candidates for overseas assignment


Given the level of investment required to enable effective international working, organisations have to see the value and return in their global mobility programmes.

International assignments have the potential to impact all aspects of an individual’s life – their family, their career, their health. While HR and mobility departments focus on building and maintaining the Policies, Procedures and Processes that facilitate effective global mobility – it is critical not to lose sight of the fourth, pervasive ‘P’ – People.

And for Millenials and Gen Z workers, who together now make up the majority of the workforce, international experience remains highly desirable, and competition for overseas placements are  is likely to be high. This makes it important that employers optimise their selection process to choose the right individuals for the assignment.

It is incumbent on employers to ensure they are supporting their people throughout the process – starting at the outset, by selecting the right candidates for overseas posts.


Candidate selection criteria

Developing the right selection criteria will determine the impact of the assessment exercise.

Focus on achieving objective insight into candidate suitability and capability in relation to the specific demands of the assignment.

Issues that have the potential to prevent a candidate from pursuing an assignment should be identified early on in the process. You are looking to establish if and how you as an employer can support individual employees’ requirements in undertaking an international post. Identifying deal-breakers will ensure you are not pursuing no-goers, saving cost and time, and allowing you to focus on those candidates that do meet your requirements.

For example, selection criteria could cover:

  • Technical – what are the specific skills, qualifications and/or experience required for the assignment?
  • Leadership – what level of managerial or leadership experience and/or capability is needed?
  • Linguistic – what, if any, language skills are required for the post?
  • Flexibility – how adaptable and willing is the candidate to meet the demands and cope with the upheaval (or adventure!) of an international posting?
  • Personal – does the candidate’s personal situation present any issues, or deal-breakers?
  • Eligibility – is the candidate (and their dependants) precluded from or ineligible to meet the immigration requirements of the host country?


Common reasons for overseas assignment attrition and failure

The extent to which an organisation is willing or able to support or be flexible to employees’ individual needs will dictate the approach to dealing with issues raised during the selection process.

Common ‘deal breakers’ or problems can include:


Spouses and dependants

Naturally employees’ spouses and dependants play a significant role in an employee’s willingness and ability to undertake an international assignment.

Primarily there will be eligibility considerations, dictated by the local immigration rules of the host country.

Reluctance for personal reasons may derive from a spouse’s own career aspirations; concerns about children (disruption to education and friendship groups); elderly relatives requiring care and support; or, as is becoming increasingly common, whether they can bring a beloved pet.

Faced with any of these issues, employers may choose take a solutions-driven approach to supporting the employee in taking on the overseas assignment. Financial support for spouses and dependants is costly, and an area of support employers are increasingly moving away from. But in instances of exceptional talent where the pool of suitable candidates is limited, issues such as spousal support could tip the balance for the employee in favour of the assignment.

For example, if a spouse intends to stop working while on assignment, this can have implications financially and emotionally for the family unit. Would you provide financial or career support to spouses who have left employment to follow their spouse on assignment?

Or where an employee has responsibility for an elderly relative, the employer may offer to extend home visits during the assignment, or support the elderly relative(s) to accompany the candidate on assignment.

Whether pets can join on assignment will depend on the local laws, which could allow certain breeds and species only, or require specific vaccinations and special travel and quarantine arrangements to be made. Research will be key here.

As a broader-brush approach to addressing personal issues related to overseas assignments, employers are seeing the benefit of training as a valuable means of supporting employees and their dependants to prepare for the assignment and the associated upheaval.

This could include language training and cross-cultural training. Online training for example is preferred by younger generations, to be accessed ‘on-demand’, which in the long term is also a more cost-effective and consistent solution for employers.


Linking Talent & Mobility

A fundamental requirement of effective candidate selection is close alignment of talent management and global mobility. Clarity of objective around the assignment itself – for example, does the post form part of strategic succession planning? Or is it meeting an operational need (e.g. opening new regional headquarters)?

One tactic to enable the link between career development and mobility programmes is to operate formal pools of candidates, segmented by skill set, experience, salary level, risk factors.

Again, clarity of process and selection will ensure expectations are managed, and that objective and effective candidate selection meets the specific assignment goals.


Salary & support package

What financial support is available to meet the specific needs of the assignment and the candidate? And to what extent are reward packages needed to incentivise key employees to take up overseas assignments?

Expectations of salary and support package relating to an overseas assignment should be managed from the outset. For example, remuneration may become more of an issue for candidates whose spouses’ intend to give up employment to join them on assignment.

For you as an employer, using candidate selection assessment will provide insight into the motivators and non-negotiables employees are seeking as part of an overseas assignment. Aligning this with the commercial objectives of the post will provide insight into relative candidate suitability.



The location of the assignment will also have a bearing on the attractiveness and suitability to candidates.

Again, eligibility candidates will be determined by local immigration rules, which are becoming increasingly protectionist across the board and governments seek to preserve the right of their respective domestic labour markets. There may be requirements for example to attend health checks, criminal background checks.

Language, culture, climate – candidates and their dependants will attribute varying degrees of significance to these characteristics and the wider experience or an assignment beyond the role itself.

Assignments to emerging markets for example are increasing in number. While travel to these areas creates new areas of risk, it appears the millennial cohort has a strong appetite to gain professional and life experience within different cultures.

Your selection process should draw these preferences out.


Repatriation issues

The motivator here is to avoid instances of returning employees leaving soon after overseas assignment, and taking their experience with them – inevitably impacting the return on the employer’s investment in the assignment.

While employers generally recognise the importance of providing support to returning employees, the mistake is to leave this too late in the assignment – typically in the final stages in the run up to homecoming.

Repatriation should feature from the outset, as part of the assignment preparation stage. Be open and transparent about links between gaining international experience and career development. What progression opportunities will be available on return? What are the timescales involved?

Keep open lines of communication throughout the assignment. This should involve HR as well with the individual’s direct team in the home location.

Ultimately, employers should seek to offer returning employees certainty about their position and their prospects within the organisation.


Need assistance?

A formal approach to candidate selection for overseas assignment will enable employers to operate more effective global mobility programmes, while maximising return on the organisation’s mobility investment. Contact us for guidance on global mobility programme management and best practice.

Last updated: 2 December 2023


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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