A career overseas? What to consider

Over the past 20 years I have been approached many a time by individuals who were in the process for a position in a different country or who had been made an offer for an international post. Their burning question always is: “Should I take it? What do you think?”

My advice always, for any career step no matter where it is based, is to consider where this next job will lead to. Is this a stepping stone to something even bigger and better? Is there a clear career progression in the business you are contemplating to join? Will you, by joining this company, become more attractive to other businesses? (some brands are great to have on your CV – Coca Cola, Google, etc). And, will your achievements in that other country be visible or recognised in the UK? If this is an opportunity to move to an international post within your company, then ask (and look for examples) how good the business is in repatriating their staff to the UK at the end of the assignment.

International experience can give you many, many benefits – from proving that you can make it in a different country, to honing your cultural sensitivity, to opening up a range of opportunities for career progression. However, there are considerations to make and lessons to learn from those who went before you. And these are my observations, region by region:

1. Australia – If you have a burning desire to live and retire in Australia, you have travelled there, know your way around and understand the cultural differences, then a career ‘down under’ could be for you. However, please note that 2/3 of those who go out there, return within 2 years for a variety of reasons:

a. The UK is a long way away and if you have family here (particularly elderly parents) then this is often the no.1 reason for individuals to return to the UK prematurely.
b. When you go out with your partner/ spouse (and possibly children) then often one of you does not settle, particularly if they can’t or don’t work. I have seen that situation turn into divorce, but more often into an early return to the UK.
c. The weather, the beaches, the life style are all great, however Australia is not a sunnier version of the UK. You still need to work in a different culture. If you cannot adapt, it will be very difficult indeed.

2. The Middle East – If you are considering the Middle East, then at least you will expect cultural differences, the necessity to adapt and fit in. The trap in a Middle Eastern posting however lies in the fact that generally speaking retail skills are of a lower calibre there than in the UK. The opportunities in that region are often a good step up from the seniority you have enjoyed in the UK with the (tax free) salary to match – nothing wrong with that, what a great experience. However, on return to the UK, generally people / companies will see you for what you were rather for what you have become, almost ignoring the experience you have gained. It means that on your return, you may have to consider taking a role at a similar level of when you were last working in the UK (with the salary to match), which will feel like a big step back. The reasons for returning are two-fold: either you were forced to return (labour law is a bit different over there and in (often) privately owned businesses, things can change very quickly) or you have decided that you have had enough, because:

a. Your spouse/ partner couldn’t work and hasn’t settled in the ex-pat lifestyle. Whilst you did a reasonable amount of regional travel for work, they are stuck in a complex somewhere.
b. The children are reaching a school critical age and you’d prefer for them to be schooled in the UK, do their GCSEs or A levels in the UK.
c. You have reached a level of seniority in the local business and have hit a glass ceiling, the next step up is (almost) exclusively for locals or family members.

My view on opportunities in the Middle East is that if this is the last move in your career and you want a great experience, to earn some tax free money and have a bit of an adventure then go for it. If this is a mid-career move and you plan to return after 3 years, don’t do it, unless you just want a break from your current routine.

3. The Far East – You have been approached for a great opportunity in the Far East and in most cases, those individuals who have had an approach have already extensively travelled in the Far East for business. You know the place, understand the culture, the work ethic and the pace. Most of those who go out there are successful because they know what they are letting themselves in for. Those who do come back early often cite the reason because spouse/ partner or children did not settle, schooling related issues or they are asked to move on to a local contract rather than an ex pat contract with all the bells and whistles.

4. Europe – An opportunity in Europe? Oh la, la! Interestingly, I have not seen many European postings go wrong. The work / life balance is often better. Of course there are cultural differences, however anecdotally we are aware of these and besides, family and Blighty are only a short hop on a plane away. It is absolutely true that if you speak the local language you are more likely to succeed. That said, in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and certain parts of Germany (Dusseldorf / Essen) or Belgium (Brussels) you can get away with never learning the local lingo. The benefit of a European posting is that most UK retailers will know the market (and the company) you work for and will recognise your achievements whilst there.

In conclusion, there are many benefits from an international career move, it will broaden your outlook, will give you invaluable cross cultural experience and will really test your mettle. However, do not jump into this without due consideration and making sure that you and your family know the country/ region, the local labour law and you weigh up all the pros and cons.

I’m happy for you to contact me if you’re after some independent advice!