Self-initiated expatriates: Career expectations, paths, success and employability

Content and objectives

Self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) seek a new job abroad – either with a new employer (often local organisations) or within a company that operates internationally – on their own initiative and without organisational support, and pursue it on a long-term basis. SIEs represent a potentially valuable human resource for companies due to their international experience. In order to successfully pursue their professional activities, SIEs must be employable not only in the target country, but also at home and further abroad if they are to continue to be internationally mobile. Employability is defined as the ability to adequately perform work tasks in current and future employment within and outside the current organisation. Different competencies contribute to employability, but they may differ depending on the career field.

 Project goals

  • Determination of institutional factors in different countries that influence the required competencies of internationally mobile employees and thus ensure employability.
  • Determination of conditional factors for the transferability of the required competencies of internationally mobile employees to ensure employability across career fields (e.g. moderating factors such as career paths, career phase, mobility mode, age, company size and target country).


The study is based on qualitative interviews with internationally mobile employees and quantitative survey data from expatriates. The primary theoretical frame of reference is Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Several mid-range theories such as human capital theory and conservation of resources theory also serve as frameworks. The evaluation of the data takes place by means of qualitative content analysis, qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), structural equation modelling (SEM), optimal matching modelling (OMA), path analyses.

Social relevance and application of results

In order for an employer to be attractive to self-initiated expatriates and returnees and profitably use their acquired skills and experience for the success of the company, businesses must ensure a meaningful career trajectory for internationally mobile employees. National peculiarities of the respective career models must first be described in order to record the characteristics of a transition between countries. Companies must develop different (re-)integration strategies in order to benefit as much as possible from the potential of an internationally mobile workforce.

Bamberg competencies

By linking sociological, economic and psychological questions and deriving recommendations for action on an individual, organisational and societal level, the research project evaluates the relevant questions in an interdisciplinary manner and thus provides a significant addition to previous research on internationally mobile employees.


Andresen, M., Pattie, M. W., & Hippler, T. (2020). What does it mean to be a "self-initiated" expatriate in different contexts? A conceptual analysis and suggestions for future research. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 31(1), 174-201. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2019.1674359

Andresen, M., & Bergdolt, F. (2019). Individual and job-related antecedents of a global mindset: An analysis of international business travelers’ characteristics and experiences abroad. International Journal of Human Resource Management, forthcoming. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2019.1588349

Muskat, B., Lockstone-Binney, L., Ong, F., & Andresen, M. (2019). Talent in hospitality entrepreneurship: A conceptualisation and research agenda. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 31(10), 3899-3918. doi: 10.1108/IJCHM-10-2018-0867

Andresen, M. (2018). When at home, do as they do at home? Valuation of self-initiated repatriates’ competences in French and German management career structures. International Journal of Human Resource Management, forthcoming. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2018.1511612

Andresen, M., & Bergdolt, F. (2018). Internationale Karrieren von Erwerbstätigen: Wege, Pfade, Systeme und Erfolge. In: S. Kauffeld, & D. Spurk (Eds.), Handbuch Karriere und Laufbahnmanagement (pp. 1-22). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-45855-6_25-1

Dickmann, M., & Andresen, M. (2018). Managing global careerists: Individual, organizational and societal needs.In: M. Dickmann, V. Suutari, & O. Wurtz (Eds.), The Management of Global Careers. Exploring the Rise of International Work (pp. 149-182). London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-76529-7_6

Andresen, M., Dickmann, M., & Suutari, V. (2018). Typologies of internationally mobile employees. In: M. Dickmann, V. Suutari, & O. Wurtz (Eds.), The Management of Global Careers. Exploring the Rise of International Work (pp. 33-62). London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-76529-7_2

Selmer, J., Andresen, M., & Cerdin, J.-L. (2017). Self-initiated expatriates. In: Y. McNulty, & J. Selmer (Eds.), Research Handbook of Expatriates (pp. 187-201). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. doi: 10.4337/9781784718183

Walther, M., Mayrhofer, U., & Andresen, M. (2017). Le retour d´expatriation dans un contexte france-allemand: Une analyse fondée sur la théorie de la pratique de Bourdieu. revue @GRH, 25(4), 88-114. doi: 10.3917/grh.174.0088

Lazarova, M., Andresen, M., Froese, F., Kräh, A., & Reiche, S. (2016). An expat is an expat is an expat? Exploring the diversity of global work experiences. In: Proceedings of the AIB 2016 Annual Meeting, New Orleans/USA, June 27-30, 2016.

Andresen, M., & Margenfeld, J. (2015). International relocation mobility readiness and its antecedents. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 30(3), 234-249. doi: 10.1108/JMP-11-2012-0362

Andresen, M. (2015). What determines expatriates' performance while abroad? The role of job embeddedness. Journal of Global Mobility, 3(1), 62-82, doi: 10.1108/JGM-06-2014-0015

Journal of Global Mobility (JGM) Best Paper Award, 14th Conference of the European Academy of Management (EURAM):First runner-up

2016 Emerald Awards for Excellence: Awarded as “highly commended article”

Andresen, M., Biemann, T., & Pattie, M. W. (2015). What makes them move abroad? Reviewing and exploring differences between self-initiated and assigned expatriates. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(7-8), 932-947. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2012.669780

Andresen, M., & Domsch, M.E. (2014). Der internationale Personaleinsatz. In: L. von Rosenstiel, E. Regnet, & M.E. Domsch (Hrsg.), Führung von Mitarbeitern: Handbuch für erfolgreiches Personalmanagement (7. Aufl.) (S. 447-459). Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel.

Andresen, M., Al Ariss, A., & Walther, M. (2013). Introduction. Self-initiated expatriation: Individual, organizational, and national Perspectives. In: M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss, & M. Walther (Eds.), Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives (pp. 3-10). London: Routledge.

Andresen, M., Bergdolt, F., & Margenfeld, J. (2013). What distinguishes self-initiated expatriates from assigned expatriates and migrants? A literature-based definition and differentiation of terms. In: M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss, & M. Walther (Eds.), Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives (pp. 11-41). London: Routledge.

Andresen, M., & Biemann, T. (2013). Career concepts of self-initiated and assigned expatriates: A theoretical analysis based on coupling and configuration. In: M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss, & M. Walther (Eds.), Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives (pp. 105-121). London: Routledge.

Andresen, M., & Walther, M. (2013). Self-Initiated Repatriation at the Interplay between Field, Capital, and Habitus: An Analysis Based on Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice. In: M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss, M. Walther (Eds.), Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives (pp. 160-180). London: Routledge.

Andresen, M., & Gustschin, T. (2013). Volunteering abroad: A career-related analysis of international development aid workers. In: M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss, & M. Walther (Eds.), Self-Initiated Expatriation: Individual, Organizational, and National Perspectives (pp. 183-204). London: Routledge.

Andresen, M., Andersen, T., Bozionelos, N., Dickmann, M., & Vance, C.M. (2013). Self-initiated expatriation. DWG, In: Proceedings of the 13th conference of the European Academy of Management (EURAM), "Democratising Management", Istanbul/Turkey, June 26-29, 2013.

Andresen, M., & Göbel, M. (2011). Governance of psychological contracts via reciprocity: The case of international expatriation management. In: P.G. Benson (Ed.), Emerging Themes in International Management of Human Resources (pp. 187-210). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Biemann, T., & Andresen, M. (2010). Self-initiated foreign expatriates versus assigned expatriates: Two distinct types of international careers? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 25(4), 430-448.

Andresen, M., & Göbel, M. (2009). Reziprozitätsformen in psychologischen Verträgen. Eine empirische Untersuchung am Beispiel von Auslandsentsandten. Zeitschrift für Personalforschung, 23(4), 312-335.