Moving abroad to work in a new job can be a very stressful experience, whether you are being transferred by your company or just decide to have an adventure in Mexico on your own. You can raise your odds of success by learning how to integrate into your new job in Mexico.
Kelly Ross of Ross Associates is an experienced leadership development and talent management expert who works primarily with expats. She knows all about successful job integration. Ross worked for global consulting giant McKinsey & Company for 10 years in 20 countries on three continents before opening her own Chicago-based consultancy.
“I work with many expats who are preparing to work in Mexico or other countries or are already working abroad and need career coaching,” Ross said. “I think at first, you need to get clear on why you want to do this and what it will do for you. Then you need to concentrate on learning about your new environment. I think there is a real value in doing lots of research before you move, although much of it may not make sense until you are actually living there.”
Ross works primarily with corporate transferees but also counsels adventurous job seekers who want to live and work in Mexico and other countries. She said corporate workers tend to have it a little easier because there usually is consistency in organizational practices worldwide, while job adventurers must deal with both work and cultural differences.
“Even with corporate consistency, though, integrating into a new work environment in a new culture can be a challenge,” she said. “It just takes longer when you are trying to integrate into a new role and you are joining a new team of people. You have to understand the nuance of your new environment.”
While working on her graduate degree at Northwestern University, Ross conducted research to help her understand what characteristics expats must possess to be successful in integrating into a new work environment and living abroad. She surveyed over 200 expats from around the world and determined that success is built on five characteristics: Being open-minded, adventurous, culturally sensitive, flexible and curious.
“I define adventurous as the desire for new experiences in work and life outside of work,” Ross said. “It is not just about the new job. Cultural sensitivity is the ability to understand the culture you will be living and working in and your ability to integrate into it. Curiosity is your interest in learning about the new culture, the new environment, the new job and the new people. Flexibility is the willingness to try new ways of doing things. In my research, some people called that adaptability. Finally, open-mindedness is the ability to look at a new environment with the desire to learn about it and see what is different, and be willing to see things differently.”
Ross said that the five characteristics she found are useful in helping her clients, whether they are moving to Mexico or another country.
“Part of my conversation with them is, ‘How often have you been successful in using these characteristic in other environments and how do you bring that to your new environment,” she said. “In my experience, going abroad requires us to leverage and build on the strengths we already have.”
Ross also told us that it is often the little things that trip up expats in Mexico on their way to successful integration.
“It is often little things that can become more complicated and then begin to raise stress levels,” Ross said. “Things like needing to get to the office on time each day but not knowing how to get around. If you are in a very large, crowded city like Mexico City, for example, it can really raise stress levels.”
Language can also cause stress. For corporate transferees working for American corporations who use English at all global locations, it is less of a problem. For those working for non-U.S. companies, learning Spanish usually is not an option. But Ross cautions that even if you can use English at work, cultural integration requires at least some knowledge of the local language.
Ross also believes that international job experience generally provides strong career benefits in our increasingly globalized world.
“I have learned from my own experience and my clients’ that global experience is very attractive to employers. As you think about your broader career and your resume, having lived and worked in Mexico or anywhere abroad can be a major benefit,” she said.
Ross thinks that expats who are excited about an assignment in Mexico, for example, tend to be excited about other assignments abroad, although not everyone fits every place.
“I think language really determines quite a bit,” she said. “If you are in a place where you are more fluent and successful compared to a place you struggled a bit more, it will impact your decision. In general, though, a person excited about one expat assignment tends to be excited by another. Some become so successful at both the work and cultural level that they never leave.”
But Ross admits there can be a downside if expats decide to repatriate to their home country.
“I think the returning home piece must be considered,” she said. “A lot depends on the set-up you had with your company. Did you take an assignment with an organization that guaranteed your job when you got back? Are you excited about returning to your old job after having all of these experiences? I do not think there is one answer for this. It depends on the person, the company and also the length of the assignment.”
Overall, Ross believes working in Mexico or another country can significantly enhance career success, if expats pay attention to both work and cultural integration and to the five characteristics that help create expat success.
“I would tell anyone to explore new opportunities in Mexico,” she said. “Be excited and be open to the experience. Find the job that feels like a good fit for you and just do it.”