Failure and Other Things to Ask When Hiring Expats

“How do you handle failure?” An Asian potential hire may be surprised to hear an American job interviewer ask this “provocative” question, but some American companies ask it because they like to confront issues head on. This is a question many young Asian expats may not be conditioned to hear, coming from a culture where failure is not an option, but it will get asked at one point and it’s better to be prepared for it.

The logic for the question goes like this: “If you’ve never failed at something, how can you know where you need to improve?” It’s a good question because it sets the stage for the respondent to shake off any attempt to sell himself. The interview goes up a notch toward transparency and the need for a carefully thought-out response, considering the question can reveal a talent’s emotional maturity.

The question certainly allows foreign talents to sit up straight and be more forthcoming about their response — if they succeed in conveying it without sounding helpless. This is important to ask because when they start working, it tells the employer if the new hire will succeed in their assignment beyond their skills.

Emotionally preparedness is key. Because if one has truly learned, it’s easier for the enlightened how to see failures as opportunities. It means getting another shot for those willing to accept failure as just part of the process of achieving one’s goals. It takes courage to accept failure and that courage will spur anyone who is hungry to succeed. 

Who hasn’t heard of Steve Jobs’ story when he failed and ultimately succeeded again when he came back as its CEO. His story as a college dropout, fired executive and unsuccessful businessman did not deter him from making those iconic products and putting Apple back on top. He even liked saying,  “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”

But Jobs was an American with a local support system. Foreign talents can be left to their own devices and on top of being a foreigner, they have to step out of their comfort zone. Asking questions about failure can render them vulnerable —  or hungrier to succeed in their newfound home.

Here are some key insights about failure and how to overcome it, according to FIDI:

Wrong person for the job or place?

Global mobility managers need to choose foreign talents wisely, as they’re hires are coming from a different country with a different culture. To minimize the risk, the key is to make sure the talent is not only good on paper but is adaptable to different environments. 

Beyond their assignment, a highly communicative talent can explain in detail about his work preferences, adaptability to different work environments and his defined set of values that will enable him to perform consistently, professionally and effectively regardless of their social milieu or country of origin. 

Homesick or lack of local support?

Homesickness can exact a toll on one’s productivity. The host country has a crucial role to play. Expats needs the support of their global mobility manager, employer, even their corporate housing provider. Their role is to provide support in helping the assignee fit in, whether on a social, professional or domestic level. 

Assignees can have a busy work schedule which will leave them little time to manage their own affairs – and also distract the hosts from their obligation to support the assignee. But if one individual has a clearly defined role to support them, they will not it slip down their list of priorities.

Disconnect or have sounding board?

It is important to keep in touch with colleagues and work life back home, too. Companies are advised to assign a global mobility manager to keep the assignee “in the loop” about developments at home, even if they can easily do that themselves. They need a sounding board, whether in their host country or hometown, so they can also be better prepared for repatriation once their assignment is over.

Reluctance to share domestic problems?

While children and spouses are frequent factors in early repatriation cases, it is difficult to spot because most assignees are reluctant to share domestic or social difficulties with the employer. The employer may think one is “not up to the job,” not knowing they are distracted by the problems their kids or spouse face back home. 

To avoid this, frequent and open communication is essential. The company needs to know that the assignee’s family is coping, and it should explain the need for open communication up-front – before they even leave the country.  

Failure to plan or unprepared mentally?

Organizational needs can change instantly, with little or no warning. A potential hire needs time to prepare practically and mentally for the assignment, and the organization needs time to put the right infrastructure in place: as mentioned in the last three points, it takes time to choose the right candidate, and to put in place the people required to support them. Sometimes they get away with it; sometimes, it’s no surprise that they’re on one of the first planes home.