What does a global HR professional do? A little bit of everything. Individuals being sent abroad by their companies have many questions and need a variety of services coordinated, from getting the correct visas and figuring out salary and tax status to obtaining settling-in services, housing assistance and cross-cultural training. HR professionals are responsible for pulling all of this information together and making sure that all of the necessary hurdles (like visas, for example) are taken care of so that expats have a smooth transition into their new work and living environments.
Some organizations use their internal HR staff to provide such services, but many contract these services out to global relocation firms, which are usually based in the US. But whether you are working for a specific company that provides information and support to its own employees or an organization that specializes in global relocation, you need a certain core skill set that is slightly different from that of an HR generalist.
Here's a brief overview of the most important qualities a global HR professional must have:
Strong Attention to Detail
You will be dealing with paperwork and legal documents like visas and leases that are often in different languages and subject to different conditions and laws. Thousands of dollars are at stake, so you'll need to be organized and detail-oriented in order to deal with the challenges unfamiliar bureaucracies and languages may present.
Patience, Perseverance and Interpersonal Skills
There is often a great deal of anxiety associated with going abroad, and you must handle the concerns of expatriates and their families with care and concern. In most HR jobs that don't involve issues like relocation, you’ll tend to work mostly with the employee. In this case, relocation is a family affair, so patience is critical when dealing with cultural issues in countries different than your own. It's not always easy to navigate an unfamiliar system when assisting employees with finding housing, schools and other services, so perseverance and strong interpersonal skills can make all the difference in making sure that everyone is comfortable with what lies ahead.
Good Time-Management Skills
Sometimes individuals are sent abroad quickly, so time-management skills and the ability to work well under pressure are crucial. You never know when you might have to drop everything to assist a senior-level executive who must be sent abroad -- tomorrow. The challenge here is dealing with different time zones and cultures where urgency has a much different connotation than it does in the US.
Global relocation specialists traditionally have a background in HR, and many have some international experience. While the job can offer many rewards, it can be very stressful and frustrating, especially when you're dealing with red tape or a demanding employee. But as many global HR professionals will tell you, the chance to work in an international setting far outweighs the challenges and frustrations.
If you're interested in learning more about a career in international HR, the following Web sites may be of interest:
- Check out Monster.com job listings for the following job titles: account manager, global relocation specialist and international human resources professional.
- The Society for Human Resource Management has an International Institute of Human Resources Web site, which offers information on global HR positions, a member directory and country-by-country research on HR issues.
- The Worldwide Employee Relocation Council focuses mainly on domestic and international employee relocation. Check out the Center for International Assignment Management, where you'll find State Department travel advisories, bulletin boards on relocation and publications on living and working abroad.
- GMAC Global Relocation Services’ Web site features resources for spouses of expats, career development programs for global HR professionals, and tax, labor law and cost of living information.
Learn more about human resources careers.