Is a career in London the path to gold?

In an improving jobs market, there are plenty of options for talented professionals. For many, the question is less 'can I secure a new role?' and more 'where should I go?'. If your CV is brimming with skills, experience and qualifications, and you typically excel in an interview, the world is your oyster. It's just a case of deciding where you want to be based and how you want to further your career.

London or the regions?

Many professionals gravitate towards a career in London once they start climbing the ladder. The capital may be the UK's main economic centre, but working there is no longer a prerequisite for reaching the top. In many professions, the UK's regional cities provide a viable alternative.

In recent years, the likes of Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham have re-established themselves on the international business map, attracting the top firms and encouraging them to move core functions away from London. High demand for talented people means regional salaries are rising in the UK, and the top candidates have the chance to reach the pinnacle of their industry.

Some people may find their job location is determined by their selected profession, or the organisation they wish to work for. But for others there will be a choice, which in simple terms is to build a career in London or the regions. The various pros and cons of life and work in the capital city can make this a difficult decision.

Why build a career in London?

First of all, let's take a look at some of the advantages of building a career in London:

Prestige and aspiration

In October 2014, London topped a Boston Consulting Group poll of the most desirable cities to work in around the globe. The UK capital saw off competition from New York, Sydney, Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona and Toronto for the accolade. One-sixth of the 200,000 people polled in the international survey said they wanted to live and work in London, which they considered to be a great 'world city'.

Growing jobs market

The London employment market has continued to improve in recent months, with demand for specialist occupations far outweighing the supply of suitable candidates. With talent shortages in niche areas, there are clear opportunities for skilled and ambitious professionals in the capital.

High salaries

Salaries are typically a third higher in London than in the UK's regional cities. The cost of living is higher as well, but talented professionals have the opportunity to be very well remunerated in the capital. In the Robert Half Salary Guide London has the highest salaries for skilled professionals (calculate yours here).

Career progression

Many organisations - but not all - have their main headquarters in London. So if you're aiming for an executive position in the future, there may be advantages to basing yourself in the capital. This may differ from firm to firm, depending on where the board of directors meets and where other key individuals work from.

Finance opportunities

London has the world's largest finance sector, featuring more banks than any other city in the world. As a finance professional, this is the centre of the industry - not just on a domestic level, but also international. Almost all the top firms have a presence here, meaning many of the top people work in the City at some stage in their career.

Cosmopolitan

London is thoroughly cosmopolitan - a cultural melting pot where talented professionals from around the world converge. The city welcomes individuals from all corners of the globe, giving them the opportunity to advance their careers and enrich their lives.

The City vibe

Professionals often socialise with their colleagues after work and at the weekend - and there are plenty of options. From Covent Garden and the West End, to Soho and Camden - even Richmond, Islington and Blackheath. Londoners certainly aren't short of choice for leisure pursuits and activities.

Cultural attractions

Where do you start? There's Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the national galleries and museums, eight royal parks…the list goes on and on.

Why work elsewhere?

There are plenty of good reasons to build a career in London, yet it isn't for everyone. Here are some of the potential cons of working in the city:

Competition

The 'prestige' factor means many of the most talented people in the country - indeed the world - are eager to get jobs in London. They could be going up directly against you for new roles and promotions, making it more difficult to move up the jobs ladder. In regional offices, there may not be quite the same level of competition.

High cost of living

There is a premium to pay on many goods and services in the capital, making London one of the most expensive cities in the world. But - property aside - the cost of living depends somewhat on your lifestyle. If you have a packed social calendar, you'll certainly notice the impact on your bank balance.

Property prices

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics revealed the average London property was valued at £514,000 in September 2014. This compares to £272,000 nationwide, highlighting the challenge Londoners face establishing a foothold on the housing ladder. Unless you secure a good job with an attractive salary, you could find yourself living in rented accommodation for some time.

Long commuting times

A study conducted by Nutmeg in spring 2014 revealed London professionals have, on average, the longest daily commute. People working in the capital spend one hour and 14 minutes traveling per day, compared to 56 minutes in Birmingham and just 42 minutes in Leeds.

Population

Make no mistake, London is a busy place. If you can't cope with the crowds on the Tube, on Oxford Street or at peak times in the City, this might not be the place for you. Nobody comes to London for the quiet life - noise and activity is in the capital's DNA.

In summary

If London life appeals to you, there is plenty to be said for trying to build a career in London. If you have the talent, skills and ambition, there will always be opportunities to develop professionally and maximise your earning potential.

However, if you think the cons outweigh the pros, that is also fine. The UK's regional cities are very much up-and-coming, as the more of the top firms decentralise their operations and create new jobs away from London. You really don't have to work in the City to enjoy a successful career.

It might be the case that you're unsure about life in the capital. There's nothing wrong with giving London a try, as you can always move away again if it isn't for you. Alternatively, you can defer the decision until later and see where your career takes you. It could be that, further along the line, life and work in London holds greater appeal.

If you’re planning a move to London or other cities in the UK, start your job search before you arrive. Our experienced recruitment consultants can help you tailor your CV to UK opportunities, share insight on the current London hiring market and what salary you can expect.
 
To get started, contact Jonelle Foot in our London office on +44 (0)207 389 6900 or email her at [email protected] for information about jobs in London for international candidates.