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Journal of Global Mobility The decision-making processes of self-initiated expatriates: a consumer behaviour approach
Journal of Global Mobility The decision-making processes of self-initiated expatriates: a consumer behaviour approach

Journal of Global Mobility

The decision-making processes of self-initiated expatriates: a consumer behaviour approach Gabriela Glassock Anthony Fee

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Received 8 September 2014 Revised 20 November 2014 20 December 2014 Accepted 21 December 2014

20 November 2014 20 December 2014 Accepted 21 December 2014 Journal of Global Mobility Vol. 3

Journal of Global Mobility Vol. 3 No. 1, 2015 pp. 4-24 © Emerald Group Publishing Limited


DOI 10.1108/JGM-09-2014-0044

The decision-making processes of self-initiated expatriates:

a consumer behaviour approach

Gabriela Glassock and Anthony Fee

UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia


Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the features of the decision-making processes used by self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) when considering an international assignment. It does this by examining expatriates decision processes through the lens of prominent theories of consumer decision making. Design/methodology/approach An abductive, exploratory research design was employed, based on in-depth qualitative case studies of nine SIEs. Findings In general, the expatriates in the study tended to deploy high-involvement decision- making processes. Rational decision models drawing on multiple high-quality information sources were common, especially for expatriates with career-oriented motivations and no prior experience in the target country. Three types of expatriates are distilled: career building (high involvement, career oriented, compensatory decision model), risk minimizing (high/medium involvement, non- compensatory decision model), and emotionally driven (low involvement, affective decision model). Originality/value While research into expatriates motivations is plentiful, this is the first study to examine the decision-making processes that define the way in which these motivations are enacted. Its originality stems from combining two previously unrelated strands of research (consumer decision making and expatriation). The resulting tentative typology of decision-making approaches provides a platform for organisations seeking to better target talent recruitment, and for researchers seeking to further examine the decision processes of SIEs. Keywords Self-initiated expatriates, Consumer decision making, Motivation, Decision making, Expatriate motivation, Expatriation Paper type Research paper

Talent scarcity is driving the growth of an internationally mobile creative class that encompasses five generations of workers. Competition for talent will come not only from the company down the street, but also from the employer on the other side of the world. It will be a sellers market, with talented individuals having many choices. Both countries and companies will need to brand themselves as locations of choice to attract this talent (World Economic Forum, 2011, p. 7).

The preceding extract from a 2011 World Economic Forum report alludes to two powerful forces shaping the global labour market. The first is a global under-supply of talented knowledge workers, an ongoing problem (Dewhurst et al. , 2012) that has led multinational enterprises (MNEs) to reconsider their global recruitment and retention strategies (Silvanto and Ryan, 2014; World Economic Forum (WEF), 2011). Against this backdrop is a second trend among global workers towards self-managed global careers (Carr et al., 2005; Vance, 2005), exemplified by the rise of the self-initiated expatriate (SIE) individuals who instigate their own international job without any involvement or assistance from the organisation (Doherty, 2012). These trends have placed demands on MNEs to be more systematic in their recruitment and retention policies so as to competefor the most talented of these globally-mobile workers. This global war for talent (Beechler and Woodward, 2009;

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Michaels et al. , 2001) is particularly acute for MNEs given the very high direct and opportunity costs of recruiting and placing expatriates (Collings et al. , 2009), and their strategic and operational importance to the firm (Cerdin and Brewster, 2014). The competitive reality is that organisations face pressure to market themselves to attract the best expatriates in the same way that businesses market goods and services to consumers. Just as marketers seek to understand the decision processes of their consumers in order to position a product or service to particular target markets, MNEs wishing to recruit and retain these autonomous and talented SIEs (Mayrhofer et al. , 2008) may benefit from a better understanding of the mechanisms that underpin their decision to expatriate. While researchers have begun to unpick the reasons why SIEs choose to expatriate (e.g. Doherty et al. , 2011; Froese, 2011), the decision-making processes used by SIEs, and the factors that influence these, have yet to be examined. Given that the decision to expatriate is the primary differentiator between SIEs and assigned expatriates, this represents an important research gap. To address this gap, this paper reports the results of an exploratory study that examines features of the decision-making process of SIEs. It does this by applying

a stream of research that has previously not been considered in relation to SIEs;

consumer behaviour theory. Specifically, this study draws upon the foundations of well-established models of consumer decision making to understand the behaviours

of SIEs when deciding to expatriate. Merging these two, until now, disparate fields of

research provides unique insights into the decision to expatriate that go beyond just expatriatesmotivations. In doing so, we extend the metaphor common in industry and academia of human capital as something to be competed for, marketed to, and attracted (Beechler and Woodward, 2009; Michaels et al. , 2001). Our paper starts by reviewing the literature on the two domains of interest:

motivations of SIEs, and the consumer decision-making process. This is followed by descriptions of the research methodology and main results. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of the results for future research and for practitioners.

The decision-



of SIEs


Literature review While a variety of definitions exist (Andresen et al. , 2014; Dickmann and Baruch, 2011; Doherty et al. , 2013), SIEs are people who instigate a temporary work placement outside their home country, and who are not assigned there by their employer. The independence of SIEs distinguishes this autonomous group from expatriates deployed overseas by an employer (assigned expatriates), who make up the bulk of the expatriate literature (Andresen et al. , 2012). While still a nascent field of research, to date studies of SIEs have focused overwhelmingly on their motivations to expatriate. Beginning with Inkson et al. s (1997) foundational research, a number of authors have examined SIEs motivations and begun articulating categories or typologies of SIEs based on their motivations (e.g. Doherty et al. , 2011; Froese, 2011; Inkson and Myers, 2003; Richardson and Mallon, 2005; Richardson and McKenna, 2002). Taken collectively, the literature highlights at least six distinct categories of motivations. These are identified in the left hand column of Table I, along with details of studies that have identified these as either primary motivations or secondary motivations. This body of research presents SIEs motivations as complex, with individuals typically motivated by a combination of factors (Inkson and Myers, 2003). It also suggests that SIEs are primarily intrinsically motivated, driven by personal goals and

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Table I.

Motivations of



(prior research)


Found to be primary motivation

Found to be secondary motivation


Inkson et al. (1997), Richardson and McKenna (2002), Inkson and Myers (2003), Richardson and Mallon (2005), Myers and Pringle (2005), Thorn (2009), Doherty et al. (2011), Froese (2011) Richardson and McKenna (2002), Inkson Richardson and McKenna (2002) and Myers (2003), Richardson and Mallon (2005), Myers and Pringle (2005)

Suutari and Brewster (2000), Thorn (2009) Inkson et al. (1997), Richardson and McKenna (2002), Inkson and Myers (2003), Richardson and Mallon (2005), Myers and Pringle (2005), Doherty et al. (2011) Richardson and McKenna (2002) Suutari and Brewster (2000), Richardson and Mallon (2005), Thorn (2009).






Family Richardson and Mallon (2005), Richardson

(2006), Doherty et al. (2011) Social/cultural Inkson and Myers (2003), Myers and


Pringle (2005)

Inkson et al. (1997), Suutari and Brewster (2000), Thorn (2009)

aspirations, not just career issues (Doherty, 2012; Guo et al. , 2013). While motivating themes based on adventure/travel are consistently ranked as dominant, the importance of other motivational factors such as escape, career, money, family, and socio-cultural factors vary across the board (Froese, 2011; Doherty, 2012). This literature suffers a number of weaknesses; for instance, the bulk of studies are atheoretical and descriptive. Nonetheless, it does provide a useful understanding of the nature of SIEs motivations. What these studies fail to do, however, is shed light on the process through which SIEs enact these motivations. To better understand the decision-making process of SIEs, we draw on consumer decision-making theory. This theoretical perspective views a consumption decision as a problem-solving task directed at a consumption choice (Mowen, 1988; Olson and Reynolds, 2001). While different models of decision making exist in the literature, most are variations of the grand models (i.e. Nicosia, 1966; Engel et al. , 1968; Howard and Sheth, 1969), which make up the dominant framework for understanding consumer decision making. These cognitive models view individuals as information processors who obtain information from the environment and process, organise, and evaluate it in relation to a decision (e.g. Bettman, 1979). These models identify five chronological steps in the decision-making process:


need recognition;


information search;


evaluation of alternatives;


choice; and


post-purchase evaluation.

This study focuses on just the first three stages of this process: (1) need recognition, which motivates action when individuals perceive large variance between their ideal (future) and current state (Bruner and Pomazal, 1988); (2) information search, in which individuals search for information in order to reduce uncertainty and risk associated

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with the decision (Peterson and Merino, 2003); and (3) evaluation of alternatives, where the decision maker develops an approach to evaluating alternatives that suits the complexity, importance, and context of the decision. Applying this body of research to the decision to expatriate highlights several

distinct characteristics. First, the decision has strong similarities with the purchase of

a service rather than a good or product (Palmer, 2011). Like services, international

assignments are intangible (an experience as opposed to a physical good), inseparable

(the consumption occurs during the placement), and heterogeneous (no two expatriate experiences are the same). While the experience itself is perishable (a fourth characteristic of services), it may be argued that the accumulated capital that is such

a valued part of expatriation (social, intellectual, cultural, etc.) is retained and, in fact, an important outcomeof expatriate assignments (e.g. Jokinen et al. , 2008). Second, the decision to expatriate is likely viewed as a high-risk decision. People make the decision to expatriate in one country and then consume or experience it in another (Sirakaya and Woodside, 2005). This limits expatriates ability to make a fully informed decision (MacInnis et al. , 1991), and so increases uncertainty and perceived risk associated with the decision. Exacerbating this is the high switching and opportunity costs imbued in the decision to expatriate, including the career and social capital that expatriates are foregoing from their home-country lives. Combined with other characteristics of expatriate assignments their high social visibility, high financial and psychological risk, and unfamiliarity with the service being produced (Lamb et al., 2010) this points to expatriating being a high involvementdecision likely to prompt an extended problem-solving process (Pires and Stanton, 2000). Research into high-involvement decision-making processes suggest that expatriatesinformation search (stage 2) is likely to be thorough. While relatively unimportant decisions can be made based on an individuals internal knowledge or limited external information sources (Bettman, 1979; Hoyer, 1984; Peterson and Merino, 2003), high- involvement decisions prompt a search for broader and more reliable sources of information. Decision makers use sources they deem to be credible and reliable, and seek

to access information that is especially salient(Hoyer and Macinnis, 2008, p. 216).

The nature of the decision also influences the way in which alternatives are evaluated (stage 3). In general, consumers have a choice between cognitive (information-based) and affective (emotions-based) decision models to evaluate consumption decisions (Hoyer and MacInnis, 2008). High-involvement decisions typically require cognitive decision models in which information is evaluated in a rational, systematic manner, often via funneling infrom a wide range of alternatives until a final choice is made (Hauser and Wernerfelt, 1990; Court et al., 2009). Two types of cognitive decision models are possible. In compensatory decision models, consumers evaluate the attributes of a product or service against their consideration set(Hauser and Wernerfelt, 1990), and then weigh these factors in terms of the overall importance to their final decision. It is a laborious process, requiring the individual to identify explicit trade-offs among alternatives, ultimately selecting the option with the highest overall value (Bettman et al., 1998). Conversely, with a non- compensatory decision model, negative information is used to evaluate and immediately eliminate unsatisfactory options from the consideration set (Hoyer and MacInnis, 2008). Individuals using a non-compensatory decision model implement cut-off levels and reject any product that does not reach their pre-defined requirements. A non-compensatory strategy still involves rational decision-making processes, but requires less time and cognitive effort and so may lead to a sub-optimal choice (Lee et al., 1999).

The decision-



of SIEs


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Finally, the lowest level of involvement is displayed by consumers deploying affective decision models. These consumers tend to base their decision on a strong emotional desire, rather than a rational need. They reduce the effort in making judgments and simplify the evaluation process (Vessey, 1991; Tversky and Kahneman, 1974) through the use of heuristics (rules of thumb). Research into SIE motivations, summarised earlier, focuses on just the first stage

of the decision-making process (need recognition). How expatriates approach the information search (stage 2) and evaluation of alternatives (stage 3) is, to date, unexamined. In the absence of prior research into this phenomenon, our study sought to answer the following exploratory research questions:

RQ1. What are the main features that characterise each stage of the decision- making process for SIEs?

RQ2. From this, what overall decision-making approaches are used by SIEs?

Research methodology This study deployed an exploratory (abductive) approach that aimed to capture, from the perspective of SIEs, the range of mechanisms underlying their decision to expatriate. To achieve this we undertook a series of in-depth case studies of individual SIEs. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews, with the primary unit of analysis being the individual; in particular, his/her decision to instigate and decide on an expatriate placement. The duration of each unit of analysis (i.e. the decision process) ranged from four weeks to 11 months. Participants were recruited via a combination of personal contacts and snowball sampling technique. Details of the study were e-mailed to professional contacts of the researchers. These contacts included a network of international human resource managers of 27 multinational organisations, and staff and post-graduate students from an Australian university. This was combined with a snowball sampling approach, whereby referrals were sought from people who share or know of others who possess some characteristics that are of research interest (Biernacki and Waldorf, 1981, p. 141). Specifically, at the completion of interviews respondents were asked if they knew any additional people meeting the sampling criteria. This method of sampling has proven to be successful in previous studies in this field (e.g. Inkson and Myers, 2003; Myers and Pringle, 2005). The final purposive sample involved nine participants who met the two sampling criteria (instigating a temporary international work assignment and relocating without assistance from the organisation). The sample size is similar to several published studies in this field (e.g. Fitzgerald and Howe-Walsh, 2008; Harrison and Michailova, 2013). A demographic breakdown of each participant is provided in Table II. As it shows, participants came from seven nationalities and expatriated to five different countries. All were adults at the time of expatriation. The average duration of the position that formed the basis of the expatriate decision in this study was 24 months (range 12-48 months). Only one of the respondents (#02) had had prior experience as an expatriate. All respondents were university graduates, with the largest professional category being SIE academics, a population which has been the focus of several other studies (e.g. Froese, 2011). The three stages of the decision-making model were used as the framework for interviews, which averaged 40 minutes in duration. All were recorded via a tablet and transcribed. As the interviews dealt with p ast decisions in some detail, several steps

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Age at time of Code Gender expatriation





The decision-



duration of


country Industry







Mid 20s




12 months



of SIEs



Mid 20s

Canadian Australia


32 months





Mid 30s




24 months






Early 40s

Australian England IT

18 months





Early 20s

American China

PR/media 24 months





Late 20s


Australia IT

24 months





Late 30s


England IT

21 months





Mid 20s


Australia Education

48 months



Table II.



Early 20s




18 months



Sample profile

were taken to mitigate potential recall bia ses that can threaten int ernal validity. The main tool for this was e-mailing an inter view schedule in advance to allow time for respondents to reflect on the issues to be discussed. During inter views, open-ended questions were initially used to draw out u nimpeded personal recollections. Where appropriate, these were followed with speci fic probes designed to confirm detail (e.g. At what stage did you exclude Singapore as a destination?) or to exhaust respondentsmemory (e.g. Do you recall if you visited any specific employment websites?). The data coding process involved multiple steps. First, interviews were coded descriptively according to stages in the model of decision making. The content of each descriptive category was then coded to identify major themes. Except where noted in the findings, this coding process was primarily inductive. During analysis, data were organised chronologically into table form (Microsoft Excel), and coding quantified as a means of seeing the relative importance of responses (based on frequency). Separate tables were developed for each individual respondent, as well as for the main thematic categories within the decision-making stages. Early in the coding process, it became apparent that most respondents reported multiple reasons, processes, or criteria at different stages. Themes were classified as being either primary (most important) or secondary (subordinate). A primary theme was one that was explicitly identified as being of most important, the sole theme identified, or the first of several identified. By doing this, an indication of the relative importance of particular responses was discerned. Following this, the decision-making processes for all respondents were colour-coded and mapped visually, enabling us to discern patterns and relationships across themes and demographic variables, and providing the basis for the findings reported in the following section.

Findings Features of each stage of decision-making approach (RQ1) This section addresses the major themes from each stage of the decision-making

process, focusing on the two stages receiving least attention in the SIE literature; information search, and evaluation of alternatives.

1. Need recognition . Respondents reported a total of 43 motivations (21 primary and

22 secondary). From these, five categories of motivations were identified in the data:

(1) adventure/travel;

(2) career;

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(3) money;


escape; and


family/personal relationships.

Table III identifies sub-themes within these categories, the frequency that each motivation was reported as a primary or secondary motivation, as well as sample responses for each category. Respondents motivations were multi-dimensional, with a typical respondent reporting two primary and two secondary motivations (average 4.6 per person). For example, after working in the same job for ten years, respondent #04 felt work was becoming mundaneand wanted to do something different ( escape). He saw an opportunity to earn four times what I was earning hereby working in England ( money ), but also wanted to see more of the world and travel around Europe with his young family ( adventure/travel ). He viewed expatriation as a way of achieving of all these goals simultaneously. Consistent with prior research (Doherty et al., 2011), the SIEsmotivations were primarily intrinsic, with desire to see the world, new experiences and learning, and desire for adventureall reported more often than career factors. While internal motivations were of primary concern to respondents, external circumstances often overlooked in SIE research also played a role in stimulating respondentsneed recognition, especially for career-motivated respondents. Two external forces were apparent. The first was macroeconomic conditions, which acted as either pushor pullfactors; for instance poor labour market condition propelled the decision of three respondents (#02, #08, #09). Second, consistent with Richardson and Mallon (2005), at least six respondents explicitly noted the influence of serendipity on their decision. These respondents used terms like chance, fell in my lap, and luckto describe this. These related to either the target country or the job opportunity itself, as the following quotes demonstrate:

It was an Australian university posting [ ] but they had advertised that on a UK job site so it was entirely by chance (respondent #02).

I used to regularly look in the employment section of the newspapers and [ ] I kind of just came across this one (international posting) that caught my eye and thought why not? I ll just apply and see what happens (respondent #09).

2. Information search . All respondents undertook active information searches involving multiple external sources, most commonly word of mouth (family and friends), and the internet (various targeted and generic web sites, search engines, and mail lists), as well as personal knowledge and experiences. For most respondents, the process took substantial effort, occurred over a period of several months, and involved numerous external information sources. This enabled respondents to informally triangulate data on a multitude of issues and from a range of sources when making their decision. To demonstrate the extensive nature of the information search used by participants, case studies of information search stage summarises the information search undertaken by two respondents (#06 and #08).

Respondent #06:

Starting with a general internet search to find out about the host country and the opportunities available, this adventure/travel motivated respondent then researched, and

not it being just

I had been there (at the company) for a long time and [] I needed something different. It was getting a bit mundane [] I had been at the company for ,I think, 10 years [] and I was a bit over it, I needed a change

of not having an idea what to do and this one thing pulling me into a direction stronger than anything else was pulling me(#05)

30 years down the line [] I thought investing some time and money into Chinese would probably be a good move for the future (#05)

(#04) decided that if we did move to California that we would probably never move out, that we would end We

and that

in the UK was paying big dollar, 50 pounds an hour, for the same job I was doing so I thought

was a pretty significant factor in me wanting to come back after I graduated [ ]. So it really was a matter

down with (#03) Asians and then when I was here in

up buying a house, getting a mortgage and it would be difficult to move to another place. We wanted to do

I thought that knowing Chinese would be a big advantage. Maybe not short term but you know 5, 10, 20,

Sydney that changed a lot. Then I realised how much they know about me and my culture and how

to this work, of (#08)

a different

in a relationship

it regardless

interested with (#01)




before we kinda settled got down

I just got culture

my career work was to I took


from then a different


] met someone,

get permanent

them [ ] different,

any contact

make a [change


] the was to whole limited

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really we had settled

idea about something

[] for an new, internship


[] there

and never before

the a step opportunity


I (had) no originally

try something

a bit more side exploring

take oversupply

they are to and experience,

up coming and to China

time (#09) there my work, career, was so when an

language at the time (#06)

up in to the do country

more exploring

both decided

not (#04)

At To the enhance causal

I grew wanted

So a bit I ended















1 0



3 2




motive Frequency



1 2



3 4



2 2



to see the world

future career

Escape Escape negative work situations

Motivational category


for adventure and Desire challenges Career


Desire experiences




Life change



Job Enhance Career




The decision-



of SIEs


Table III. Motivations of SIEs

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subsequently made contact with, a number of recruitment agencies in order to assist in attaining a job. This was followed by a three-week visit to the target country:

So we thought we wouldnt take any risk. My wife just stayed in France and earned the money while I could go to Australia on a tourist visa at the time and maybe try and get a few connections and potentially find a job and visa [] I couldnt find any job in Perth because that was our preferred choice. I contacted a few recruitment agencies and they were mainly based in Sydney. So the plan was I would be coming for a month, have a week in Perth and enjoy Cairns just as a holiday for a week then go to Sydney and meet with a recruitment agency.

Respondent #08:

In the process of completing her PhD, respondent #08 was not actively seeking an international position. However, after talking to people about potential opportunities that would be available upon completion of her PhD she attended an open day put on in London by an Australian university. From there she gained an overview of the university sector and what life would be like living in Australia. It also enabled her to make direct contact with other expatriates, which she described as invaluable for the insights they gave about the job conditions and Australia in general. As her interest in the opportunity increased, she started to conduct general internet searches to gain extra information about potential employers and life in Australia. She also noted that in addition to this:

We were doing all the things that a holiday maker would but knowing it would be long term, (including looking at) holiday brochures and things like that and just looking on the map.

As case studies of information search stage demonstrates, the use of external information sources was extensive, with the internet reported as a primary or secondary source by all respondents. Respondents tended to use the internet in one of three ways:

(1) general internet search for international jobs relating their profession (five responses);


specific job search engines (five responses); and


mailing lists (two responses).

Notably, no respondents reported using social media (e.g. Facebook, discussion forums, LinkedIn). Supporting the view that high-involvement decisions require trustworthy sources of information (Zeithaml, 1981), all nine respondents used word of mouth to inform their decision; for seven, this was the primary source (compared to just five respondents using the internet as their primary source). In all but one case word of mouth occurred personally rather than via the internet, and was often combined with internet-based research (six respondents). There was some suggestion that respondents consciously placed relatively greater value on word of mouth than other sources of information, as the following example shows:

I would first look (online) to get a sense of what things are and then ask peoples opinions. If some people said Oh thats a dangerous neighbourhoodno matter what I found on the Internet, I would go with their opinion because they have actually been there and experienced it (respondent #03).

In general, respondents without first-hand knowledge of the target country sought a broader array of external sources. By way of example, respondent #02 used networks she developed in graduate school to find people who had been to Australia in order to learn what things would be different and to get some tips and tricks . In its most extreme form, two respondents (#03, #06) took the effort to travel to the target country in order to gain first-hand experience and information. Other sources of information

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that were reported included the use of recruitment agencies and attending open days of firms from the target country (two respondents), which provided opportunities for direct contact with other expatriates. Two respondents (#01, #05) used internal information as the primary source of information. Both had previously visited the host country. The knowledge gained from this past experience became an integral input into the decision-making process for these respondents, leading to a streamlinedinformation search. For example, while respondent #01 used the internet (a job database) as a tool to locate a job she stated:

[ ] as to other information, such as getting a visa and all that, it didn t really help as I had been to China before I already knew what to do and did it all myself.

3. Evaluation of alternatives . Our analysis of the way in which respondents evaluated alternatives involved two steps. First, responses were thematically coded in order to identify the main criteria used when evaluating alternatives. From this, two main categories of criteria were identified: those relating to the target country (location), and those relating to the work position (job). As with motivations, all respondents identified multiple evaluation criteria. A typical respondent had four key evaluation criteria (mean ¼ 4.4) and included two countries in their consideration set (mean ¼ 2.3). Consistent with recent studies (Dickmann and Cerdin, 2014), socio-cultural factors tended to dominate respondents evaluation criteria for the host location, including the native (English) language spoken (five responses), safety (four), perceived stability (three), and standard of living (two). Among the job factors that were reported as being important, congruence with respondents skills and experience was most commonly reported (nine responses), followed by the role s career development potential (four), salary (three), and challenge (two). It was clear from the way that respondents described this process that consideration sets relating to job and location were intertwined. For instance, respondent #07 described considering two very similar jobs [ ] and the money was pretty much the same. It really boiled down to, Do I want to work in Scotland or do I want to work in England? ’” The second stage of analysis matched each respondent s decision-making process with the models summarised in the literature review to determine whether:

Alternatives were evaluated based on information gathered (cognitive decision model), as opposed to evaluating alternatives based on feelings and emotions (affective decision model)

For those using cognitive decision models, the alternatives were weighed up via a process of making trade-offs amongst characteristics (compensatory), or by considering only alternatives with particular characteristics while rejecting others immediately (non-compensatory).

Our analysis revealed that seven of the nine respondents used cognitive decision models. Of these, three respondents (#02, #08, and #09) deployed a compensatory decision model, involving a (labour-intensive) systematic funnelling in process, generally seen to demonstrate higher levels of involvement (Hauser and Wernerfelt, 1990). These respondents used terms such as weighed up and compared to discuss their evaluation approach. The key feature of the approach used by this group, confirmed during interviews by probing questions, was their willingness to accept an unfavourable characteristic in order to capitalise on an opportunity. This is exemplified

The decision-



of SIEs


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by respondent #08, who saw an international opportunity that was too good to forego:

I suppose the fact that Australia was so far away, that was still a factor in the decision but we obviously weighed it up and decided that the distance was unfortunate but it wasn t something that was going to stop us.

Four respondents (#03, #04, #06, and #07) used a non-compensatory cognitive decision model. These respondents described their decision making via a process of elimination , ruling out alternatives that did not meet pertinent evaluation criteria. Phrases such as it must have , it had to be and would not go highlighted the fixed and somewhat inflexible criteria that, consciously or sub-consciously, served as cut- off or reject options. It was notable that for all four of these respondents the cut-off options related to the target country rather than the job; specifically political or economic instability (four responses), the use of an unfamiliar foreign language (three), poor weather conditions (three) and high cost of living (one):

We still weren t sure about the safety and the government was not good (respondent #04).

We just wanted a Western country [ ] we just wanted the same sort of living condition that we got in France (respondent #06).

In contrast just two respondents (#01 and #05) used affective decision models. For both, emotions over-rode rational judgement in the decision-making process. These respondents developed consideration sets that consisted of just one country; coincidentally, for both it was China. Both had travelled to China twice previously and considered no other locations (it was always China” – #05; for me it was definitely China” – #01). They also exhibited low levels of involvement in the decision, notably through the use of availability heuristics making judgements based on these past experiences that were vivid and easy to recall from their memory (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974).

Overall decision-making approaches (RQ2) Looking holistically at the data across the different stages of decision making, three different patterns of decision-making approaches are evident. We label these career building (high involvement, career oriented, compensatory decision model), risk minimizing (high/medium involvement, non-compensatory decision model), and

emotionally driven , (low involvement, affective decision models). The characteristics of each group are summarised in Table IV and outlined below.

1. Career building . The highest level of involvement was displayed by respondents

demonstrating career buildingbehaviour. They expatriated with the conscious intent to take advantage of a job opportunity that presented itself in this case, closely tied to the career-related motivations that underlined their decision, and which became salient because of more favourable work opportunities overseas. The three respondents in this category (Table IV, column 2) were young (in their 20s) and career driven, with evaluation criteria prioritising characteristics of the job over location factors. They sought multiple external sources of information and used compensatory decision models to weigh up alternatives. In terms of need recognition, this group shared close similarities with assigned expatriates in being motivated primarily by career opportunities or career development (e.g. Doherty et al., 2011). However, these expatriates took a boundaryless careerists(Arthur and Rousseau, 1996) perspective, seeking their ideal jobin multiple global locations, industries, and organisations.


Level of


location and job limited



model important.


characteristics take


Job characteristics

priority over decision

(e.g. word of mouth, take priority over


c. Evaluation of alternatives


location. model





decision Primarily internal Location




Decision-making behaviours

(e.g. word

of mouth, internet,

Primarily external



b. Information

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intrinsic and (adventure/

combination of both


(adventure/travel or

a. Need recognition

Primarily extrinsic

(e.g. home labour market conditions) External pullMulti-dimensional;

Primarily intrinsic





External push factors

Driving force

creating and pullfactors

(e.g. personal


(e.g. high for demand skills)



into decision factors

Previous experience in

Young (early-mid 20s)


criteria and decision-

internal knowledge

Dependent spouse

making process

Respondents Characteristics

emotional country





#02, #08,

#03, #07

Emotionally #01, #05 driven








The decision-



of SIEs


Table IV.


approaches used

by SIEs

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The career orientation of this group appears to have led to a thorough information search, and greater willingness to off-set negative criteria (typically location-based) with positive ( job-related) ones. Indeed, the career building focus of the respondents in this category seems to have been the main driver of the high-involvement approach they deployed, over-riding characteristics that might otherwise contribute to a streamlined decision process like prior experience as an expatriate (respondent #02) or prior experience in the host country (respondent #05). To exemplify this, the first row of case studies demonstrating different decision-making approaches presents a summarised case study of the decision process of respondent #02, whose approach we label as career building. a. Career building (respondent #02):

Facing unfavourable domestic labour market conditions after government cuts to the higher education sector, respondent #02 decided to cast a wide net in Europe, Canada, the US(A)in order to find a position that would support her career objectives. Being career driven, she justified this by stating that the academic job market, it s a very specialised thing. You can t just pick where you want to go. You really need to apply where there are openings . This was evident in her decision to apply for a position that she came across just by chance in a country she had not previously been investigating Australia that she happened to see advertised on a UK job site.

This respondent used an extensive decision process. She applied for and researched several positions, devoting 20-30 hours a week on it . This time commitment increased after she received confirmation of an interview; for instance, speaking with a large number of people before the interview (word of mouth) added probably ten hours onto my usual interview prep (aration) . Even though she perceived there to be great risk associated with the move, especially on her career trajectory, she weighed up the costs and benefits of the move and decided that it was her best career option at the time.

b. Risk minimising (respondent #07):

Seeking adventure and a new challenge with his young family, this respondent started the information search with an internet search of potential job opportunities. He found a lot of opportunities for his profession (IT), a few of which met his evaluation criteria (e.g. English speaking country, job fit) and which he applied for. This narrowed his consideration set to two opportunities one in England and one in Scotland, resulting in his information search narrowing to just these two countries:

Scotland would have been a fantastic place [] but basically people kept telling me how cold it was [] I knew England was cold, everyone knows England is cold. So I tried to look into it a little bit more, tried to find out more about the places.

The job opportunities in each country were relatively similar. The final choice came down to where he and his family would rather live. At this point his partner s perspective became more prominent. After further research into each destination he added climate to his evaluation criteria stating that the final decision was based on the fact that wed rather be in place that we thought was warmer .

c. Emotionally driven (respondent #05):

Of all the respondents in this sample, this young male PR/media consultant was found to exert the lowest level of involvement in the decision-making process. Driven by the desire to be with a partner he had met on a previous trip, he was conscious of the fact that his decision was emotional, rather than rational:

I was just out of college [] I wasn t thinking about stuff like quality of life or earning potential or career direction, any of the stuff that rational people usually take into

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consideration when deciding to go someplace [] If I was thinking in terms of what factors should take me to a place or what factors should guide my decision, there s no way I would have ended up in Beijing [ ] so I don t know if it really was a rational process.

He was the only respondent not to attain a job prior to moving to the foreign country. Rather he decided to just get on the plane and find one there even though he did recognise the limitations of not searching for a job prior to departure. He did conduct a minimal external information search, however, talking to some people about it, but not as many as I should have . These actions reflect limited involvement in the decision-making process.

The decision-



of SIEs


2. Risk minimising. The four SIEs in this group (Table IV, column 2) lay between high and limited involvement. While all had adventure/travel as a primary motivation, other motives were salient, including career factors. The term risk minimizingcomes from the fact that this group deployed a non-compensatory decision model associated with a risk minimisation strategy; indeed, all four respondents in this category explicitly mentioned risks and/or risk mitigation during the interview. For all four, the decision-making approach involved rejecting unfavourable alternatives rather than conducting thorough cost-benefit analyses of all opportunities. Consistent with their risk-minimising approach, the range of evaluation criteria used by respondents in this category (average 10.25 criteria per person) was larger than the consideration sets of respondents using a career buildingor risk minimizingapproach (6.3 and 5 per person, respectively). Location factors like political/economic instability, living conditions and language spoken (e.g. I speak Turkish, I speak English, but Im not very good at languages so learning a new language wasnt going to work for me, respondent #03) were the main cut-off options that these expatriates used to reject alternatives. However, once this culling process was complete, these respondents all identified the location as the primary evaluation criteria. This then directed the ongoing information and job search. In short, lifestyle and economic opportunities of the location tended to take precedence over specific job or career factors. Respondents in this category chose high-quality information sources. All used word of mouth from close friends and family; for three this was the primary information source. Two respondents (#03 and #06) visited the target country as part of their information search. Perhaps most pertinently, all four members of this group expatriated with a dependent spouse, and the data show that spouses played active and influential roles in the decision especially the evaluation of alternatives (stage 3) when the decision to reject particular destinations was resolved (I would have loved to go to the US(A), but my wife wasnt too keen on that, respondent #07). The middle row of Exhibit 2 summarises the case of respondent #07, classified as a risk minimiser.

3. Emotionally driven . The final category of respondents was characterised by the

prominent role emotion played in the decision (Arana and Leon, 2009). In effect, the over-arousal of the emotional intensity appears to have impeded their cognitive and rational judgement processing (Hanoch and Vitouch, 2004); instead, limited information searches, affective decision models, and decision-making heuristics were apparent. These respondents relied on first-hand (past) experiences rather than comprehensive external information searches. For both respondents in this category, the emotional attachment was to the host country/city, and so location-related evaluation criteria took prominence over job-related criteria, and the number of external information sources was less than half that used by respondents from the other two groups. There was no evidence of them developing thorough consideration sets or cautiously weighing up alternatives. Indeed, one of these respondents #05 whose is the subject of the final

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example in Exhibit 2 was cognisant of the limitations of the process he undertook. In short, rational decision making took a back seat to positive affect stemming from (positive) past experience in the host country.

Discussion This exploratory study aimed to shed light on the decision to expatriate by applying theories of consumer decision making to the decision processes and behaviours of SIEs. The results show that while the decision to expatriate unfolds in myriad ways unique to the individual and context, in general SIEs take a high-involvement approach. This outcome is consistent with the view that expatriation like high-value service consumption activates behaviours and effort reflective of elevated levels of perceived importance, uncertainty and risk (e.g. high-value placed on word of mouth information, preference for compensatory decision models). However, SIEs decision-making processes appeared to be mediated by their motivations and other antecedents like family status and prior experience in the target country, which appear to shape the way information is sought and how alternatives are evaluated. In short, viewing SIEs as a single homogenous group appears to not fully capture the uniqueness of the decision processes evident in the three approaches we identify (career building, risk minimising, and emotionally driven). While the motivations of SIEs appear to be well mapped our results are generally consistent with earlier research our study begins the process of extending this one- dimensional understanding of SIEs pre-expatriation decision-making. In doing so it challenges some assumptions about SIEs. For instance, our data show that they are not all adventure-seeking risk-takers by nature (McNulty and Inkson, 2013, p. 87) who approach their geographic mobility with a care-free, psychological boundarylessness. Rather, most SIEs in our study approached the decision to expatriate with great caution, prepared to invest substantial time and money to reduce perceived risks and uncertainty. The innovative approach used here applying consumer decision-making models to explore expatriates decision-making processes opens the potential to further examine SIEs decision making through the theoretical lens of consumer behaviour research. By way of example, the five-stage model of consumer decision-making that we have applied in this study (Nicosia, 1966) provides a framework to explore SIEs ’ “ post- purchase evaluation of their decision by, for instance, examining relationships between decision-making processes and satisfaction with the decision to expatriate, location, and job. Similarly, this model could be applied to better understand the decision of SIEs to repatriate at the end of a placement (Tharenou and Caufield, 2010), or to compare the consideration sets generated by SIEs with those generated for other types of expatriate and non-expatriate career decisions. The results also unpick some, perhaps surprising, features of expatriates decision- making processes. One of these is the importance that respondents placed on criteria relating to location and job. Location was the central consideration for emotionally driven expatriates, and an important cut-off (rejection) criterion for expatriates using a risk minimizing approach. Meanwhile, career-motivated expatriates focused almost exclusively on the role itself, and its career and financial dividends. In contrast, no respondents not even career builders identified issues related to the organisation, its reputation, or its expatriate management processes (e.g. provision of training, in-country support) as part of their consideration set. We suggest that these results may be evidence of a broader trend towards a more tenuous psychological contract

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between workers and employers (Smithson and Lewis, 2000), characterised by individual workers especially highly skilled, independent and autonomous knowledge workers like those in our study taking greater responsibility for curating their own careers (DiRenzo and Greenhaus, 2011; Mayrhofer et al., 2008). Before discussing the practical implications, three limitations are worth noting in the space available. First, our choice of in-depth case studies to explore this phenomenon did, by necessity, limit the sample size. Consequently, caution should be applied in transferring these findings to the broader expatriate population. Studies with samples drawn from different populations and different contexts are likely to unearth additional variables shaping expatriates use of decision-making approaches, and so extend descriptive elements of the three categories that we identify. One avenue for follow up studies is to compare approaches used by SIEs from different cultural backgrounds. For instance, we foreshadow that expatriates from cultures high in uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede et al. , 2010) may have a preference for a risk minimisation approach (Donthu and Yoo, 1998). Second, despite our efforts to prevent and limit recall biases (outlined in the Research methodology section), like all retrospective cross- sectional studies these subconscious biases may have threatened the internal validity of the results. A longitudinal panel study that tracks respondents throughout the decision process would enable the different stages of the decision process to be isolated, and to unearth activities or processes that may overlap, interact, or otherwise go unnoticed or be forgotten. Given the reliance to date on cross-sectional studies of SIEs motivation (stage 1), longitudinal approaches could also provide fresh insights on, for instance, how SIEs espoused motivations may change or fluctuate in salience across the decision-making process. This, in turn, may help to describe more precisely the link between motivation (stage 1) and subsequent stages of the decision process. Finally, we have made no judgement about the relationship between the decision-making process and the success of the expatriate to meet personal and/or organisational objectives. Future studies should examine this link to determine whether, for instance, emotionally driven expatriates, whose decision-making processes appear to be most open to bias, might achieve sub-optimally on various measures of expatriate performance.

The decision-



of SIEs


Practical implications At a practical level, a deeper understanding of SIEs behaviour in the decision-making process can allow organisations to be more market-focused in how they recruit and retain potential applications. In this regard, our research supports and extends earlier studies examining organisational branding and recruitment by MNEs (e.g. Chapman et al. , 2005) by allowing MNEs to more directly address the needs and wants of potential applicants in a targeted manner. Perhaps most significantly, the consumer decision-making perspective has enabled a broad segmentation of the SIE population, long acknowledged as important to successful marketing strategies (Wedel and Kamakura, 2000). Similarly, organisations can use understanding of the decision models used by SIEs to more efficiently market expatriate placement opportunities. For example, our results suggest that making available sufficient (and particular types of) information about the career benefits of a position is a requirement to be included in the consideration set of career buildingexpatriates, and would assist their weighing up of costs and benefits via the compensatory decision approach they use. Conversely, attracting risk minimisers

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may require a recruitment strategy that neutralises or mitigates perceived risks associated with the location (e.g. safety, standard of living) that may lead to a position being rejected (non-compensatory approach). Such relatively straight-forward initiatives not only assists applicants in deciding whether to seek or accept expatriate positions, but may contribute to a better person-placement fit; an outcome that is especially pertinent given the high direct and indirect costs of expatriate hiring, and the relatively high reported rates of expatriate failure (Harvey and Moeller, 2009). Beyond segmentations, our study suggests that the stage offering the most opportunity for firms to influence an individual s decision is the information search stage. Given the preference that SIEs in our study gave to credible, external sources of information, organisations may consider ways to use former or current expatriates to provide first-hand knowledge and experience qualities to prospective applicants. Knowing where and how people search for information also allows organisations to channel recruitment resources more effectively. Our study, for instance, suggests that social media, while becoming popular in society, may not yet be the most efficient channel to communicate expatriate opportunities. The results highlight the importance of firms positioning themselves in a way that will increase their chances of being included in SIEs consideration set, a requirement for attracting applicants. For this group of expatriates, two high-level consideration sets relating to characteristics of the location (notably safety and lifestyle issues) and job (similarity to current industry, career development prospects), appeared to dominate the evaluation process. These factors make the challenge of employer branding often presented as a panacea to talent issues (Martin and Groen-in t-Woud, 2011) more complex. Indeed, our results suggest that SIEs may be more responsive to branding messages that highlight the location or the career possibilities of the role itself, rather than the employer. By way of example, in light of our findings employers might consider devoting resources to influencing the perceptions of potential applicants about positive features of a location (e.g. its diversity, security, or lifestyle opportunities), perhaps through working more cooperatively with host governments on place branding initiatives (e.g. Anholt, 2003) at the national, regional, and/or city level. Our study has taken an important first step towards providing both organisations and individuals insights into the full gamut of expatriates decision-making behaviour. We believe that understanding this process can only increase in importance in the future as self-initiated, boundaryless careers become more prominent.


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About the authors Gabriela Glassock is based at UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Dr Anthony Fee (PhD, Sydney) is a Senior Lecturer at the UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on the experiences of expatriates. His work has been published in international conference proceedings, edited books, and international journals, including Human Relations, Journal of World Business, International Journal of Cross-cultural Management , and International Journal of Human Resource Management . Dr Anthony Fee can be contacted at:

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