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Five Things You Need to Know to Get an HR Job Overseas

Published on: 25 Sep 2014


  •  There are opportunities to work internationally for HR professionals at all levels, but many experts believe the optimum time to make the move is three to five years into your career. As a general rule, more senior staff tend to be more sought after, but this is gradually changing, according to Nicol, regional manager Middle East and North Africa at recruitment specialist Digby Morgan: “A lot more companies in the region are now looking to recruit people at the early stages of their career and retain them.” If securing an overseas post directly is too much of a leap, working for a UK-based multinational may be a good stepping stone – but be clear from the outset that you’re interested in an international role. 


  • The most effective method for moving overseas is to register with a recruitment agency. Choose one with a proven international track record and, if possible, an HR specialism. The rise of LinkedIn has made it possible to go direct to an employer. But the golden rule, for LinkedIn profiles or more traditional CVs, is to research the type of information employers in your chosen region expect. It’s likely to differ from the sort of CV that does the business in the UK. You may be required to provide greater detail on responsibilities in previous roles, and to explain more about your employer if they do not have an international presence.


  • A specialism can give you the edge over other candidates. In the Middle East, generalists used to be in greatest demand, but today it’s graduate recruiters; more generally, data analytics and organisational design are increasingly being mentioned by employers. Most experts say recruitment is the single most sought-after specialism, but it varies by region, as does wider demand for HR professionals. You might have always yearned to start a new life in Australia, but HR isn’t on the Skilled Occupation List the government uses to prioritise professions. In Asia, however, companies have been taking engagement and employment issues increasingly seriously, which has led to an explosion in HR recruitment, though Nicol warns the market is more competitive than you might think. China, Singapore and other parts of southeast Asia have proved fruitful for Western HR professionals, but in general there is less cross-border movement in Europe, say recruiters.


  •  Research will always pay off. In particular, consider cost of living carefully: countries that command higher wages will generally be more expensive to live in. Salaries in parts of the Middle East are tax-free, but other aspects of life, including housing, aren't as cheap as you might expect. Language isn’t usually a barrier, since English has become so ubiquitous in business, but it’s always useful to show willing by picking up certain phrases before you apply for an overseas role. Recruiters suggest you should always visit a country before you apply for a role there, since it shows you are serious about making the move.


  • Always keep one eye on what’s happening in the UK, assuming you intend to return one day. In particular, changed to UK employment law can trip people up when they come home. If you’re serious about building your career, says James Ballard, founding partner at Annapurna HR, you should try and move between countries and roles: 10 years spent in an HR role in Spain might be an invigorating change of lifestyle, but Ballard says it’s actually not much more ‘international’ than staying in Britain for the same period. And sometimes, a UK-based position which involves a significant amount of overseas travel and global responsibility can be better for internationalising your CV than a stint overseas.