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How important is international experience to your finance career?

Many people have ambitions to work abroad, both to increase their experience and to enjoy a new challenge in a different culture. Working overseas can be a very appealing prospect, but how much will it actually enhance your finance career? Is international experience seen as a valuable asset by prospective employers?
We recently discussed this topic in our Michael Page Finance - UK LinkedIn group and received some varying responses. Here we look at international experience in a little more detail and ask whether it's always a positive asset when it comes to finance jobs.

The benefits of international experience

In terms of personal development, an international move can prove an excellent step in an individual's career. You may find that you're exposed to high-profile projects that wouldn't otherwise be available to you in your home country or you may be offered more responsibility in a global organisation. For example, with financial hotspots rapidly emerging in the Gulf regions, many UK professionals are tempted by excellent career prospects, tax-free incentives and the challenge of a different culture in the Middle East.
Relocating to another country and applying your skills in a new context can demonstrate adaptability, flexibility and a readiness to embrace new ways of working. You'll be learning about new cultures, customs and local business practices first hand, as well as building up a strong network of international contacts. To successfully transfer your skills and expertise into a new, international arena, you'll also need to display exceptional soft skills alongside your technical ability.
International experience on a CV will highlight many of these positive attributes to a potential employer.

Willingness to relocate

In large multinationals, a willingness to relocate is often essential for prospective hires. If you're not open to the possibility of an international move, you could potentially close doors on certain job opportunities within that particular company. A willingness to travel and/or relocate may be specified in a job description or be touched upon in an interview process.
Promotion opportunities ranked as the top retention strategy for employers in our 2012 Salary Survey. International opportunities can certainly tick this box, as they can often bring with them increases in responsibility and in salary.
That said, an international move is not for everyone, so it's wise to think carefully about your international intentions before applying for new roles in new organisations.
Potential problems
In finance, unlike other disciplines, your ability to practice in the UK is contingent on your UK qualifications and compliance with the UK tax system, so do go out and see the world, but be very careful to ensure that the experience you are getting will be transferrable when you return to this country. Similarly, UK qualifications are not recognised in all foreign countries, so you will need to make sure that you are legally certified to perform some duties in the country you intend to work in before starting to apply.
The perception is that some employers may be nervous about taking on an individual whose experience is solely based in a different country, as they may fear they are lacking some country-specific knowledge. However, opinions will obviously vary between organisations.
In general, employers can be sceptical of a ‘jumpy' CV in which a candidate has moved around a great deal in their career. Although many employers will understand the value of international experience, employers usually want to see strong evidence of commitment and a UK track record on a CV too.

In summary

As with anything, it's important to have a clear idea of your goals before you set out. If you want to broaden your experience and try something completely new, an international secondment might be the right choice. If it's your ambition to get ahead quickly though, you might find that the fastest route to a senior finance position is to build up your UK experience as quickly as possible and focus on honing your skills at home.
With offices in 34 countries worldwide, Michael Page Finance can facilitate international finance job moves or recruit campaigns. Our UK office network extends from Aberdeen to Bristol so we've got the local market covered for you too.
Get in touch with your closest Michael Page Finance team for more information.