Robert Smith of recruitment consultant Hays Montrose offers job hunting advice to returning expatriates.
There has been a notable rise in the number of construction professionals returning from foreign parts of late. This can be attributed in no small part to the recent economic problems in the Far East. Yet, many former expats may be shocked to find that their multimillion-pound project experience does not necessarily make them hot property. These tips should help smooth the passage home …

Use your contacts

It’s not what you know but who you know. Don’t be afraid to use old or new contacts, as these are the people who will know your capabilities and how they can be transferred to the UK industry.

Be prepared for a pay cut

Many expats have a distorted impression of UK salaries. You may have been earning £60 000 in Saudi Arabia, but in the UK, you are more likely to get about £25 000 for the same job. And remember, it’s not tax-free.

Architect Sharon Carpenter has recently returned to Britain after four years in Hong Kong with her structural engineer husband Simon Nesbitt. Carpenter says the couple found the drop in salary took a bit of getting used to: “No matter how well prepared you are for the salary difference here, you can’t help but feel a bit short changed. If you’re in charge of a project, then you’re liable if things go wrong and that’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t feel salaries reflect this.”

Prove that you are back for good

The main stumbling block for returning job hunters is convincing employers that they are here to stay. Hays Montrose consultant Dave Choonucksing says: “Most employers are sceptical about using people returning from overseas. There’s a feeling that they are here as a stopgap and will leave as soon as the economic situation improves. Stress your commitment.”

Know the rules

It’s more important than ever to be au fait with current health and safety rules and Building Regulations. Choonucksing says: “It’s one of the first things employers will question you on.”

He says expats must be seen to be keeping up with new regulations, and adds that the best way to do this is to take a course. “Get a qualification,” is his advice.

Transfer your skills

You may have found yourself managing airport projects in the Far East, but schemes of this scale simply do not exist in the UK. Look at the skills you’ve got and work out how they can be used in smaller projects. You may see these projects as a bit of a comedown, but it can make a refreshing change to try something completely different. Nesbitt sees the benefits of this. Having worked on a huge airport project in Hong Kong, he is now working on a housebuilding project here.

“A change is as good as a rest – although I wouldn’t want to do it forever,” he says.

Try contract work initially

Don’t expect to be offered a permanent job as soon as you step off the plane. In the meantime, go for contract work. As Choonucksing says: “There’s no better way to expand your portfolio and find out what the state of play is in the UK market. Wider experience on varied projects will increase your marketability.”

Top tips

  • Don’t be afraid to use old contacts
  • Be prepared to take a pay cut
  • Make sure interviewers know you are back for good
  • Revise the Building Regulations and health and safety rules
  • Get up to speed on new legislation – for example, the Working Time Directive or the Employment Relations Act
  • Think about transferring your skills to different sizes and types of projects
  • Try contract work as a way of expanding your range of skills and making new contacts
  • Be prepared for some culture shock
  • Don’t talk incessantly about your wonderful life abroad. You’ll irritate colleagues and make bosses think you don’t really want to be here
  • Don’t moan about the British weather