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Self‐initiated expatriates and their career success

Lan Cao (Leuphana University in Lüneburg – Institute for Strategic HR Management, Lüneburg, Germany)
Andreas Hirschi (Leuphana University in Lüneburg – Institute for Strategic HR Management, Lüneburg, Germany)
Jürgen Deller (Leuphana University in Lüneburg – Institute for Strategic HR Management, Lüneburg, Germany)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 3 February 2012



This paper aims to provide conceptual clarity by distinguishing self‐initiated expatriates (SIEs) from company‐assigned expatriates (AEs), and skilled migrants; most importantly, it introduces an overarching conceptual framework based on career capital theory to explain SIEs’ career success.


This conceptual framework is based on a review of the relevant literature on SIE, expatriation, career studies, cross‐cultural studies, migration, and other related areas.


Protean career attitude, career networks, and cultural intelligence are identified as three major types of career capital influencing SIEs career success positively; the predicting relationships between these are mediated by cultural adjustment in the host country. Cultural distance acts as the moderator, which highlights the influence of macro‐contextual factors on SIEs’ career development.

Research limitations/implications

The current paper applied career capital theory and did not integrate the impact of family and labour market situation on SIEs’ career development. Further research should test the proposed framework empirically, and integrate the impact of family‐ and career‐related factors into a holistic approach.

Practical implications

When constructing international talent acquisition and retention strategies, organizations and receiving countries should understand the different career development needs and provide SIEs with opportunities to increase career capital during expatriation. Furthermore, the current framework suggests how to adjust to the host country in order to meet career development goals.


The multi‐level and sequential framework adds value by identifying specific types of career capital for SIEs and providing a conceptual underpinning for explaining how they interact and foster SIEs’ career success. Moreover, the framework embraces SIEs from both developed and developing economies.



Cao, L., Hirschi, A. and Deller, J. (2012), "Self‐initiated expatriates and their career success", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 159-172.



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