Purpose - This paper aims to analyze the differences between assigned expatriates (AEs) and self-initiated expatriates (SEs) in management and executive positions. The basic research question is how far SEs and AEs differ with respect to their reasons for working internationally and regarding their career aspirations and orientations, and in what way their individual career management differs. Design/methodology/approach - A total of 159 expatriate managers completed an online questionnaire in German. The questionnaire covered psychological constructs and the participating managers' career histories. Findings - It is shown that SEs start their international careers at a younger age, have a higher organizational mobility, and expect higher benefits from international experiences for their future careers. Moreover, career orientation remains relatively stable in SEs over different age groups, whereas it declines for AEs with increasing age. Research limitations/implications - The study design is cross-sectional and based on self-reports, which makes causal explanations of the results difficult and increases the risk of common method bias. Practical implications - Specific personnel management requirements regarding SEs in contrast to AEs are pointed out especially in the fields of recruitment, retention and career management, which can help support companies in building up a pool of global managers. Originality/value - The paper adds valuable new insights to the literature on expatriate work and gives further evidence that SEs form a group that has been overlooked for a long time, even though it differs significantly from traditional expatriates who are sent abroad by their employing companies to return some years later.
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