Employers looking for candidates who will stay long term

Failing to pick the right personality type is the biggest mistake companies make when hiring workers from western countries.

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ABU DHABI // Failing to pick the right personality type is the biggest mistake companies make when hiring workers from western countries, according to a consultant who specialises in expatriate relocation. Neil Jacobs, of the international consultancy YSC, said a positive outlook and adaptability were most important. Experts such as Mr Jacobs are in demand by companies seeking to avoid the pitfalls that cause many expats to fail as employees.

Staff recruited from abroad can cost considerably more than equivalent staff based in a company's home country. They often take much longer to adjust to overseas workplaces than to new domestic jobs, and some return home. Andrea Martins, founder of the UAE website ExpatWomen.com, said the factors that make expat life appealing include money, the excitement of living in different cultures, a new professional challenge and more responsibility than at home, being able to eat out every night and having staff to attend to domestic drudgery.

But she also noted the drawbacks in the UAE, such as the soaring cost of housing, the heat of summer and sometimes less-efficient workplaces and higher levels of bureaucracy. Yvonne McNulty, an Australian academic, said expatriates also must also consider the happiness of "trailing spouses" - partners who follow them but do not have jobs themselves and can end up lonely and unhappy, desperate to go home.

Mrs McNulty became an expert on the problems of "other halves" when her Scottish husband was transferred to the United States. She now runs a website (thetrailingspouse.com) and lectures at US universities and advises companies on the issue. Susan Macaulay, a Canadian who runs the amazingwomenrock.com website, became a trailing spouse in 1993, when she and her husband, Bob, moved here. "It was a big adjustment when I first arrived," she said. "I went from being a director in a communications agency, where I was very busy and had a lot of responsibility and a lot of authority, to taking care of the home.

"I was quite isolated. I wasn't happy until I started working." Older workers whose children have left home are often more open to overseas postings, as are the Generation Y workers, born roughly from the late 1970s, who have grown up conditioned to rapid change and opportunity. "Once people arrive in a new country, most go through what I like to call the culture-shock cycle," Mr Jacobs said. "The first stage is excitement at being in a brand-new place. At that stage the differences are more exciting than what people know they've left behind.

"Maybe a month later, that can change to frustration or even hostility. At this point, the differences become more pronounced. It's at this stage that homesickness can start - boredom, starting to miss people back home, especially for people in faceless hotel rooms or apartments. "For those who get through that stage, there begins a gradual adjustment, where instead of working against the differences, you start to embrace them. The final part of culture shock is total integration."