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What makes an employee successful abroad

If an employer wants to send an employee to work at a foreign branch, how does he select the best candidate?

In his dissertation entitled 'Crossing borders with personnel selection, from expatriates to multicultural teams' psychologist Stefan Mol examines which selection methods offer the greatest chance of success. Research often focuses too much attention on the candidate’s level of adaptability, whereas it is wiser to look at potential work performance. Mol will take his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Thursday, 6 December 2007.

Stefan Mol looked at how the selection of personnel can be improved at a workplace where expatriates from various nationalities have to work together. Most psychological studies into the issue place great emphasis on forecasting the candidate’s ability to adapt to the culture of the host country. Mol discovered that this ability says little about the employee’s ultimate performance. It is wiser to look at personality traits that could predict work performance, according to Mol.

Mol examined a large number of character traits to ascertain whether they are linked to the work performance of expatriates. From this it emerged that the so-called Big Five are the best predictors: extroversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness (a combination of meticulousness and trustworthiness) and friendliness. Openness turned out not to be a predictor of an expatriate’s work performance. These conclusions largely support the findings of studies conducted among non-expatriate employees.

The Big Five personality traits are however less effective in predicting the willingness to be deployed abroad. In that case it is recommended to look at the candidate’s specific international experience in the past, such as travel experience or having a multicultural circle of friends.

Mol also conducted part of his research in South Africa, where he attempted to predict the training performance of aspiring police officers. It emerged that in this environment the prevalent culture plays an important role in the assessment of performance at the workplace. The reported differences in performance were attributed more to the evaluator than the candidates. Mol ascribed this finding to the collectivist culture that prevails in South Africa.

Stefan Mol’s research was co-funded by GITP International.

Yvette Nelen | alfa
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