whole world in her hand

Preparing for an overseas assignment

Engineering’s global nature means that if you have aspirations to work abroad you’ll likely be able to realise them sometime during your career. When such an opportunity arises, it’s important to be thoroughly prepared.

Most likely help and support will be offered by your organisation but you also need to take responsibility for making sure you are fully functional in your new role as soon as possible. Whether it is a posting to mainland Europe or to a far-flung destination, it represents a huge undertaking for any individual and there are logistical, professional, social and cultural considerations to take into account.

According to Gregg Lettington, national engineering director at global recruitment firm Hays, there are two main areas on which you need to focus.

“You must look at what you need to know to work in that country but also how you are going to engage in life outside of work,” he says. “You are no doubt highly enthused about your new position and if you have as much as possible boxed-off before you go, there will be less distractions once you are there.”

Need to know

HR departments should provide all of the essential information about working in that country and particular office but also track down others at the company who have completed a posting there.

They will be best placed to provide the real insight into working in that country and be sure to quiz them on everything from dress code at work and office culture to typical working hours and general organisational life.

While accommodation is likely to be arranged for you initially, it will probably be temporary.

“So get a sense of what you want to do after this and find out what options will be available to you,” says Lettington, who underlines the importance of zooming in on the “real minutiae” that is often overlooked.

“For instance, what is the tax system, how do you open a bank account, is your UK driving licence valid, what sort of health service is available, what is the telephone number of the police, are there ATMs everywhere, what is the exchange rate and what is the weather like?”

Cultural awareness and language

It might not be an imperative to speak the language of the country you are working in but regardless of this make the effort to learn key words and phrases before you go. It demonstrates commitment to the new role and your new local colleagues will appreciate that you are making an effort to fit in. In some countries, you may face serious cultural differences and it is essential to gen up on these before you go.

Once again, HR and colleagues who’ve previously worked in the country will be able to help but the Internet is also an invaluable tool for building an appreciation of the laws of the land.

“Most people are aware of the generic cultures that exist around the globe but you also need to understand the laws that drive the culture,” says Lettington.

Social scene

You will be leaving behind key support networks of colleagues, friends and family and the potential impact of this shouldn’t be underestimated. It is important, therefore, to try to establish some networks in your new country of work prior to relocation.

This task has been made much easier with the advent of social media and websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. If you have a passion for sport or some other activity, search online for a club you can join. Internet forums can also help you to tap into an expatriate community ahead of arriving, which is likely to be one of your key social lifelines. Also make contact with your new colleagues before you leave.

Lettington reckons that as an engineer, your social life shouldn’t be confined to your own organisation though.

“If you work in engineering design, you are likely to be dealing with consultancies or if you are involved in manufacturing, you will be meeting suppliers so there will be lots of chances to engage with people,” he says. “Like many things in life, how easily you can settle in to your new life will depend on how quickly you can throw yourself into that world so take advantage of all opportunities.”

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