So there’s a recession coming, the cost of living is rising and my guess is it’s probably raining. Has there ever been a better time to find out how much you could be earning overseas? Thom Gibbs presents this year’s Hays Construction & Property international salary guide

Life’s a beach for Mace project manager John Jones. In fact, it’s a beach and little else, as he is overseeing construction of a five-star resort on a remote island in the Maldives that was uninhabited when work began in 2005. And he paints a picture of life on Addu Atoll that is likely to turn anyone working in a UK office a fetching shade of green. “Outside of work there’s just nothing on your to-do list,” he says. “There’s never anything to sort out, no road tax or insurance, for example. You never think at the weekend, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get down to B&Q.’ You can’t spend money if you try, either. I’ll go out for dinner tonight and it’ll cost me £2. I surf as much as possible …”

Okay, we’ll stop rubbing it in, but it’s hard to avoid the painful contrast with things here at home: another summer that’s already whimpering to a sorry conclusion, and nothing more to look forward to than a looming recession. Frankly, we need our days out at B&Q for light relief.

It is not difficult to see why more professionals are looking to follow Jones’ example and get a placement abroad. New figures from recruitment consultant Hays Construction & Property offer another compelling reason to pack your bags: you will often be paid far more to do your job than you would at home. This year’s salary guide (see overleaf) shows that a project manager earns on average £90,000 a year in the UAE, compared with £60,000 in the UK.

1. Getting started

For most construction professionals the best place to start the search for a dream foreign placement is at home, often on a company intranet system. Sonja Wray, resourcing officer at consultant URS, says: “The first port of call for an individual is to review the vacancies we’ve got on our intranet. We have an internal vacancy database, by which candidates can apply for jobs anywhere in the world.”

2. Shout from the rooftops

Make sure that your managers know that you want to work abroad. Many firms incorporate discussions about future foreign placements into appraisals, but it always helps to discuss what you hope to do as much as possible. Lisa White, head of HR at Bovis Lend Lease, says: “It’s important that people communicate with their managers about their development and where they want to go in their careers, but it’s also a good idea for people to network within their organisation. They shouldn’t just rely on their manager, they should talk to senior people throughout the company to get themselves known, and to get it known that they’re keen on a move abroad.”

3. Don’t fear the unknown

Once you’ve made it to the application stage and you’ve got an interview, the process is broadly similar to applying for a UK job, says White: “Applying for a placement rather than a domestic role at Bovis wouldn’t be any different. We would have criteria for the role and the individual would go for an interview and have to demonstrate that they would be able to do it, or that they’d be able to develop into it.”

5. Do your research

Something that can give you an edge when going for a job abroad is proving to your boss that you’re serious about the placement, and not just looking for a paid holiday. Michael Rowley, managing director and head of international operations at Gleeds, says: “A big issue for me is if applicants haven’t thought through their own personal circumstances and another is not having done any form of investigation about where they want to go. If somebody says to me, “I’d like to go and work in Prague”, and when you start talking to them you realise they know nothing about Prague at all, then there’s not much as interest as there should be.”

Rowley says that he can quickly tell whether someone is committed or not. “People who are serious have done their research and have got lots and lots of questions, particularly those who haven’t worked outside the UK before.”

Another useful skill to have up your sleeve is a language. Alison Ramsden, director of HR at architect Swanke Hayden Connell, says: “I think languages are becoming increasingly important. Having one gives you far more choice and flexibility with overseas assignments, and I would say it would give you the edge in certain situations.”

6. Make it worth their while

You should be able to prove that your move would be beneficial for the business as a whole. Ramsden says: “People need to consider what they could offer if they went to a different location. Is it their skills, their experience, or that they have languages? The best example I’ve seen is someone who wrote a proposal that outlined where they were in their career at the moment, what skills they had, and what they felt they could use overseas.” If you had extensive knowledge of CAD protocols, for example, you could propose to set up a training programme to lift the skills of people in a different location. “That would be a good business case,” says Ramsden.

7. Be prepared for the long haul

Many firms, especially smaller ones, simply don’t have the opportunities to place you abroad all of the time, and Ramsden says that applicants must primarily offer a perfect “skills match”. It won’t hurt your chances if you’re willing to commit for a longer period than your competitors for the job. Most companies expect placements to last at least a year, and Gleeds’ Rowley says: “If someone wanted to go abroad for six months, and someone else trying for the same position was prepared to go for a year, we may choose the person who wanted to stay for longer. I think you get a lot more out of it going for more than a year, because you begin to get a handle on the local market and how things are done in that location. Six months is a bit more of a break than a placement.”

8. Don’t be afraid to ask

Most construction companies are happy to accommodate their employees’ wishes where they can and many HR managers point to how beneficial placements can be for retention and employee happiness. Some firms offer sponsored schemes that enable their employees to work abroad, such as URS’ community voluntary programme which recently funded one employee’s trip to Ecuador to help on a project to supply water to a village.

Rowley says that placements can often be just as beneficial for companies as they are for employees: “We do have lots of international opportunities and we like to make them available to our staff, rather than going out to recruit people we don’t know. It enables us to meet some of the aspirations of staff who want to work abroad, and working in a different environment can only do good in my eyes because it will broaden people’s horizons.” It may just do you a world of good as well.

Methodology

The Hays Construction & Property/Building international salary guide 2008 is based on salaries of candidates placed by Hays in the past year and compiled by staff worldwide. Hays has more than 80 offices in the UK and a presence in 25 countries. For details, go to http://www.hays.com/cp