Thursday, 10 September 2009

Does working abroad help or hurt?

Source: 10 September 09
Working abroad clearly worked for Jacques Nasser, heading home after a stint overseas to Australia’s most prestigious business role as BHP Billiton chairman.
But overseas experience working abroad may not always put you ahead of your stay-at-home rivals in today’s tough market.
Even if you spent those years diligently behind a desk in London rather than as an au pair or dog-walker in Cannes, you’re likely to find that some potential employers back home aren’t impressed unless you have local experience and connections.
It’s a two-way street. You might also have to adjust your salary and role expectations to Australia’s much smaller job market.
That international perspective would have ticked all the right boxes a few years ago when companies were in a more expansive mode.
But that’s a little less certain now, particularly given an influx of returned expats, mostly in finance, from London and the US.
"They’ve walked back into what is a competitive market, given we’ve had the same sort of downsizing in banking and finance," says Paul Burley at recruiter Drake International.
The skills gained abroad are still held in high regard, but candidates need to be "flexible and negotiable" on local packages, he says.
That hasn’t helped David Laird yet.
After returning from a two-year secondment in London, he was let go by ANZ eight months ago and is lecturing part-time at Deakin University while looking for a job that will put his complex sales solutions skills to good use.
"The overseas experience has done me no known harm - it certainly opens the door – but in terms of securing a job it’s not been that helpful," says Melbourne-based Mr Laird.
"I believe if not for the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) the overseas experience would have enhanced my ability to secure another role, however it’s not evident in today’s job market."
Today, experience outside your home market isn’t so important in revenue-generating roles such as sales, says Neil Dyball, director of banking and finance at recruitment firm Robert Walters.
For finance, accounting and legal professionals, overseas experience is usually a plus.
But for 'rainmaker' roles where you have to bring in new business and clients, access to local contacts that generate sales leads may count for more.
Although he’s applied for positions slightly more junior than what he’s used to, feedback from employers suggests they are a little anxious about his time abroad making him too experienced, says Mr Laird.
Others say they prefer someone with a network of current local contacts.
He’s missed out on some roles that have simply gone to candidates introduced through trusted contacts or from internal appointments.
In investment and banking, experience in London or New York is still usually a major benefit, says Phil Jostsons, a director at Vantage Recruitment.
"People with that experience are always in demand," he says.
"They’ve seen it bigger, more complex faster."
But don’t expect to secure as generous a package as you did overseas, Mr Burley says.
And for CPAs and mid-level bankers, some transferring of skills may be required to back-office roles or other areas of business.
"Good people, in booms or busts, will always find work,” Burley says. ”But it may not be in their first-choice role."
Top Tips for Returnees:
1. Make sure your international experience is relatively long-term and career-oriented. Short-term contract stints on a 12-month working visa don’t add much value.
2. Ex-pat candidates need to commit to a few years at least in Australia to eliminate “flight risk” concerns. An 18-month local commitment isn’t enough to employ a good candidate on in today’s market.
3. Don’t head off abroad straight after graduating. Put in some hard yards in the local market first if you intend to return.
4. Be flexible. Consider how your skills would transfer to other roles and industries and be willing to negotiate on the package.
5. Adjust expectations. Being a hotshot on a premium salary overseas doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find an equivalent pay packet and title in Australia.

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