Careers advice: Managing global career transitions

28 June 2022

The WBS alumni community is made up of ambitious Change Makers from all over the world.  Many of you will have made or are hoping to make big career transitions to new geographic locations, roles, organisations, and industries.

However, making an international career move means significant change for individuals, as well as their partners and families. Although some high-ranking roles will attract formal relocation support, many global expatriates do not enjoy the benefit of this, so how can you prepare yourself to successfully manage such significant change?

Issues arising from international career moves

Sometimes the issues are personal and internal: you may worry about whether you’re  up to the big new role, or working in a different language or culture from your own. Sometimes the feelings of family members can be a stumbling block, for example when a spouse or child doesn’t like the idea of a major relocation.

Often the problems are overwhelmingly practical, as an international career move involves changing literally everything about your life in one fell swoop - jobs, home, cars, schools, and friends to name but a few. Occasionally the issue can also be the new culture or new colleagues. For example, when a new arrival finds it difficult to assimilate to a new culture, or feels unwelcome by their new team.

Although some people are able to overcome such challenges without support, many people struggle to do so effectively which can undermine the success of the international move and lead to its eventual failure. When it comes to personal career transitions, there is no one blueprint for success, but this issue has attracted research by numerous writers and academics.

Harvard Business Review recently reprinted an article on this subject by Professor Linda Brimm. She provides a useful framework for approaching such transitions through navigating what she refers to as the Seven C’s.

The Seven C’s

  • Complexity

Do you want the role? Can you get it? Will you succeed in it? How will it affect your career in the short and long-term? Are there other opportunities within or outside your company that you should also consider? What will your partner think? How would a move and a new role change your family relationships? Will they enjoy living overseas? Many professionals in this situation feel overwhelmed by the number of variables to consider.

Some respond by seeking simplicity and, as a result, either revert to the status quo (which can limit professional growth) or ignore problematic aspects of the change to make the decision easier (but not necessarily wiser). Both coping mechanisms can be counterproductive. 

  • Clarity

It's important you understand and prioritise the issues to reduce your concerns about them. Carefully consider all the factors at play by thinking about and listing the pros and cons on your own, talking to all the affected parties, and seeking dispassionate third-party advice, both personal and professional, from those with your best interests at heart. 

  • Confidence

To feel capable of managing the change, you will need just the right amount of confidence. Too much confidence and you risk missing key or newly emerging information. Too little, and you’ll be paralyzed in the face of the difficulties. Belief in oneself is mostly conditioned by life history but it can be developed by small actions, such as connecting with someone who offers personal support, resolving even minor problems associated with the change, or envisioning a successful outcome. 

  • Creativity

When confronted with problems, you need to be creative with your problem solving. Test your ideas and solutions with members of your professional and personal network.

  • Commitment

Once you have a plan, the next step is committing yourself to it. This can be hard but is necessary for change to happen. 

  • Consolidation

Focus on your new situation and let go of some of your old life as you adapt. This will help new possibilities to flourish, and will help you settle into your change.   

  • Change

Change is difficult, but for Change Makers who want to succeed in today’s business environment, it’s inevitable and you need to live out that change.

Linda Brimm concludes her article with the following advice: ‘For those wondering how to progress through the Seven C’s, the best (if somewhat unsatisfying) advice is: Move as fast as you can. Take as long as you must. But stick to the process. Executives who have mastered it find that it becomes the cornerstone of their resilience and success.’

A multinational team of experienced Careers Managers within WBS have created a Career Management Course which is available to all alumni. This course includes a module on ‘Working in a Global Environment’, which looks at managing virtual teams, managing across cultures, and making an international career move.

WBS offers lifelong careers support and resources to alumni. Please contact