Passport to promotion? Working overseas can lift your finance career

By 13th November 2014

Being a talented, hardworking professional is not always enough when it comes to developing your finance career or your next promotion. The reality is, however skilled and experienced you are - and ready to take the next step on the career ladder - there are sometimes others who are slightly ahead in the race.

This doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong necessarily. If you're working for a top firm, you'd expect your colleagues to be just as competent and ambitious as you are. It's only natural they will be seeking the same opportunities as you, and sometimes they might just have the edge, particularly if they have greater experience.

But what if you're not prepared to sit back and wait for your natural turn to progress? Are there any ways you can jump the queue for the next big promotion, or improve your chances of success when you apply for an external opportunity? Of course, but you need to think about ways of boosting your CV. The key is to offer employers something that differentiates you from the competition.

Benefits of working overseas

In an increasingly globalised world of business - where trade and commerce takes place 24/7 around the world - employers are looking for culturally-sensitive individuals, with linguistic skills and experience of working in different jurisdictions. The potential value of international business means many organisations are focusing on this aspect of their operations, and looking for people who fit the mould. If you are wanting to develop your finance career, working overseas might just be the way.

When given the choice between two credible job candidates, both of whom are equally talented and look like a good fit for the organisation, employers will often choose the one who has experience of working abroad. In a survey conducted by Robert Half, 59 per cent of finance leaders said an individual's chances of being hired 'improve greatly' if they have overseas work experience.

In medium-sized (76 per cent) and large (81 per cent) organisations respectively, international experience is seen as being even more crucial. Where companies are operating in global market - potentially working with clients and partners based in Sydney, Toronto or Dubai - they want people who understand different customs, cultures and ways of doing business.

Working overseas can help professionals advance their finance careers in a number of ways. Some 63 per cent of employers surveyed by Robert Half said working abroad develops cultural understanding, while 62 per cent believed it improves commercial skills. Other perceived benefits of working internationally included communication and linguistic ability (57 per cent), global market understanding (51 per cent), specific product knowledge (50 per cent), improved work ethic (35 per cent), technical expertise (12 per cent) and international accounting, regulatory and/or banking standards (nine per cent).

Are professionals taking advantage?

Employers clearly value finance professionals who have spent time on secondment in another country, recognising the benefits of overseas work experience. But despite the advantage it can give jobseekers - and those seeking rapid promotion - relatively few people are taking advantage of the opportunity. Just 13 per cent of the professionals surveyed by Robert Half said they had worked abroad during their careers. This is fewer than one in every seven people working in the UK finance sector.

It seems the majority of professionals are missing a trick, but this creates an opportunity for those who do take the initiative. If overseas work was considered a prerequisite for getting a job - and hence everybody undertook foreign placements - this would no longer be a differentiator at interview. As it stands, due to the relatively small number of people who have foreign experience on their CV, it can be highly valuable from a career development perspective.

Securing overseas work

So what can you do to land an international assignment? The first and most obvious step is to work for a global organisation - one that has offices around the world. If your employer has a base in all the major finance centres, movement of people between them is likely to be fairly fluid. This means opportunities for travel may arise fairly frequently.

Developing global networks is another top tip. Establishing contact with international professional associations can help build your network, which can increase your knowledge of other jurisdictions and global business issues. This means that when an opportunity for travel arises, you are ready to grab it with both hands.

If a particular country or city interests you, it makes sense to read up on them. Researching visa, travel and career information - and learning about your rights and responsibilities - means employers will have greater confidence in your ability to add value.

Keeping in touch with recruitment agencies can also prove beneficial, as they may be asked by a client to identify suitable candidates for overseas work. If you have built and maintained a relationship with a local agency, they may come to you first when an exciting opportunity arises.

In summary

The rapid pace of globalisation and adoption of global regulatory and banking standards are driving demand for professionals with global business experience. Yet - despite the value of international know-how - relatively few professionals are able to list overseas work on their CV.

So if you've spent time in another jurisdiction, this is likely to give you a head start on other candidates for a new job or promotion. You still need to make sure all your other skills are up to date - and that you can prove your ability to add value to an organisation - but ultimately international experience can make all the difference.

If you are interested in overseas work in a finance role, contact Robert Half to get help finding you the ideal position.

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