In October of last year, I published a post in which I highlighted the concerns of a Nigerian professional who had lived abroad for some time and who was now agonizing over whether to move back to the country. He raised some concerns that he believed would form the basis for any decision that he might ultimately take, and asked me for my advice. Here’s what I told him:
- Level of Re-entry
Q. “How do I make sure my absence from the country doesn’t cause me to fall behind my peers?”
Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can give you any assurances on this one. The decision to go abroad to find one’s fortune automatically launches you on a totally different career trajectory from what you might have experienced if you had stayed at home. Besides, peer comparisons are difficult at the best of times. While we probably all do a certain amount of ‘social benchmarking,’ for most people it’s largely unhelpful. There will always be those who we seem to have done better than and those who we continue to look up to. I suggest you set up some personal career goals and begin to use them to measure your career progression.
Q. “What level of responsibility am I likely to be given?”
Most employers use a number of criteria to assess suitability for a job and you’ll probably be made an offer based on your education/experience profile. Unfortunately, quite a few returnees overstate the responsibilities they claim to have had whilst working abroad, and they often seem genuinely surprised when the experienced HR managers they meet soon figure out the truth. I suggest you simply state your career facts as truthfully as possible and see what happens.
Q. “Who will I be reporting to?”
In my experience, people may ask this question for two totally different reasons. The first is the natural wish to work for a boss who is competent, fair and willing to help you meet your career goals. At the same time, some prospective returnees express the added concern that they hope they work with managers or supervisors who don’t feel ‘threatened’ by their presence. Both are fair points, but I think there’s always a bit of luck involved here. Some bosses are great, some are pretty bad and the rest fall somewhere between these two extremes. Job hunting should always be a two-way affair and it’s up to you to ask the right questions about prospective managers and colleagues.
The second reason for this question is a little less innocent. I’ve met a few returnees who seem to think it’s their right to report only to the CEO or a very senior executive. The implication is that only officers at this level can supervise them. This type of attitude is counter-productive and as I’ve noted elsewhere in this blog before, successful interviewing usually requires a bit of humility.
2. Convertibility of Experience and Qualifications
Q. “I appreciate that business structures and roles differ between countries, but I would like to be able to make an impact on the organization structure and improve efficiency.“
This is an interesting concern, one that perhaps reflects the sincere desire of many prospective returnees to make a meaningful contribution to the country in some way. However, please bear in mind that the degree of impact you will have is likely to depend more on your personal determination to make a difference than your positioning within the organization. Good employers are always on the lookout for those committed and engaged employees who act like the owners of the business and who seek to contribute to the organization’s overall effectiveness, irrespective of organizational level. On the other hand, the level of your appointment will often define the amount of impact you can have immediately and you may have to exercise patience while you work your way up to a level where you can really showcase what you can do.
Q. “Will my certifications be considered relevant?”
This is a pertinent question and one I hear often. Once again, there are probably two issues here. In general, most internationally recognized certifications are also recognized in Nigeria. However, I guess you are really asking what impact, if any, your certifications might have on the level of appointment and pay you are likely to be offered.
Qualifications and certifications are usually treated on a ‘must have’ or ‘nice to have’ basis. In the case of the former, certain qualifications might be regarded as the minimum requirements for a job to be effectively performed. For example, many jobs require you to have a minimum of a first degree or a recognized equivalent. Unless specifically indicated, possession of a higher qualification such as an MBA or Masters degree may not much enhance the offer you receive in its own right. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the eventual hiring decision will usually be based on criteria that will include factors such as qualifications/certifications, track record (earlier experience and results achieved), and personal chemistry/fit. To the extent that added certifications impacted positively on the work you may have undertaken in the past, I’d say they eventually do make a difference.
3. The Business Culture, Ethics and Practice (Corporate Governance)
Q. “Many of our ‘normal’ practices in Nigeria might be considered wrong (or even illegal) in other parts of the world. How close will my employer’s business practices be to its stated guiding principles?”
I’m not sure where you’re going with this one. As in most parts of the world, you can probably expect to find a wide spectrum of business practices in play at any time. Each job offer should always be researched as thoroughly as possible for possible conflicts with personal values and it will be up to you to decide whether you can abide with your findings.
4. Growth Potential of the Economy and Industry
Q. “The recent Fitch downgrade sends a red flag. How easy will it be for me to help deliver real growth to my stakeholders? Will my responsibilities include attracting foreign investment?”
As far as I know, the October 21st, 2010 downgrade by the global ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, only lowered the country’s sovereign credit outlook, and not its real credit rating of BB-minus. More importantly, the past twelve months have seen the sovereign credit rating downgrades of several other countries, including the USA, Italy and Spain to name but a few, suggesting that a poor economic outlook is now a global phenomenon. Under the circumstances, every manager in the world’s job is getting that much harder and I really don’t see why this should play a major role in your decision whether or not to come home.
5. Remuneration and Benefits
Q. “I recently spoke to some potential employers who tried to do a direct dollar to Naira conversion as a salary guide. They didn’t want to factor in inefficiency costs (such as PHCN/private generator, etc.,) and the standard of living (safety, health) in creating a possible compensation package, resulting in huge undervaluation. On the personal side, the issues under consideration include security of life and property, the ability to remit funds abroad, accommodation and infrastructure (car, security, etc.,), network building and ease of getting fully entrenched back into the system.”
The issue of what is a proper level of pay to accept is complex and will almost certainly be determined by personal considerations. Very few of the prospective returnees I’ve spoken to over the years really expected to be remunerated here at home to the same level as they may have received in employment abroad. Most of them had personal goals such as the need to come home to look after aged parents, to reunite with spouses, or simply to reintegrate themselves back into Nigerian life that meant they were often ready to compromise on pay matters. Many simply wanted a level of pay that would allow them to take care of any family left abroad, meet educational obligations for their children, and enable them to get a reasonable foothold here at home.
Having acknowledged the above considerations, however, I don’t believe you should knowingly allow yourself to be shortchanged during pay negotiations. The issue of pay equity is paramount and your goal is to make sure that you receive a fair pay package in the context of what typically obtains for people performing similar jobs to the one you are considering taking up. Please bear in mind that different industries may have vastly differing pay levels, and the degree of financial help offered to returnees may also vary from company to company.
In the end, the decision whether or not to come home is a very personal one. My advice is to set up minimum limits for your potential move home – both in terms of reward and risk-appetite. If you’ve done your homework and a prospective job offer seems to tick all the boxes, then go for it.