Making a Comeback


Dear CareerDoctor,I'm currently working in Italy for a major multinational company as a global R&D leader. My responsibilities cover managing all the technical aspects relating to new products, including safety clearance, patent clearance and filing, and product evaluation.I joined this company 8 years ago after a PhD and postdoc in the UK, spending the last 4 years in Italy, and am now ready to return back home, preferably in the South. I'd also consider a change from a massive company, perhaps working for a smaller company and am interested in broadening my experience away from technical management.My questions are:

  • how can I find out what the job market is like now in the UK, and what salary to aim for

  • how to find out what employers want so I can make myself marketable in the UK and potentially in a new sector

  • how can I best exploit the experience I've gained abroad (including foreign languages) back in the UK

  • how can I minimise the culture shock of a career move and reintegration?

I'd like to make the move in about a year's time which gives me breathing space to investigate my options. Are there companies that actively seek people with my sort of experience?



Dear Robert,

First, let me reassure you that experience abroad is most often valued by employers, and you also have the advantage of having worked for a multinational company, where the working environment is probably consistent with the UK. Moreover, as you left the country relatively recently, your UK-based experience and achievements will still be relevant to your applications. But you are right in thinking that it is important to anticipate your move to ensure a smooth transition.

Touching base: Finding out what the job market is like back home

The job market in the UK is not uniform at the moment, so if you are seriously looking at moving away from technology, I'd suggest investigating trends to make sure that any sectors that seem interesting to you also offer optimistic prospects. According to the latest Manpower quarterly survey, construction seems to be the strongest sector at the moment, but you may not be considering such a radical change (although I'm sure you'd look very fetching in a hard hat). This survey will also give you a feel for the economic climate in particular regions across the UK, which may influence your choice for relocation. Another general overview of employment in 25 sectors, although focussing on graduate-level entry, can be found on the Prospects Web site.

Salary: Adjusting your expectations

When it comes to salary surveys, watch out for the ones that look at jobs across a range of levels, as these are in truth pretty meaningless. I tend to prefer surveys conducted for specific groups or occupations, but the downside for these can be small sample sizes. If you are using them to prepare for salary negotiations, bear this in mind and make sure that the data is up-to-date and relevant. Your best source of information will be adverts, although these are often infuriatingly vague. You could also use one of the many salary checkers on the Internet for reference--I've found one at Workthing which uses figures from more than 200,000 jobs advertised over the last 12 months in newspapers and trade magazines. Alternatively, you can obtain salary ranges from agencies. I've discussed how to best interact with these in a previous column, and I'd suggest you concentrate on executive search agencies given your seniority.

Exploring opportunities in the region of your choice

Agencies are also a good way of focussing your search on specific geographical areas, as vacancies at the level you should be aiming for are unlikely to appear in local papers or job centres. Local papers are, however, useful sources of business news such as company growth, innovations, or awards which will help you identify smaller companies with promising futures or interests in developing markets in Europe, as they will particularly value your language skills and experience of working overseas. You might be able to identify these by contacting the local Chamber of Commerce. If they are unwilling to give this information, they may be able to advise you on local recruitment practices or suggest that you attend one of their networking evenings when you are next in the area to meet local business people.

As ever remember to tap into your network as well. Although you may not want to break the news of your leaving to your employers too early, your colleagues may have useful contacts back in the UK that can help you identify opportunities or suitable companies. They may also know people who have made a similar move and could give you firsthand advice.

You also need to start telling your friends and family about your intentions and ask them to keep their ears and eyes open for potential opportunities or interesting developments in local companies that might suit you. With Christmas on the horizon you are probably going to get in touch with dozens of friends and family, so why not add a note to your cards--you never know where your network might take you.

Reality check: Employers' requirements

To find out the current and future requirements of employers, I'd begin by trawling through adverts to find ones of general or particular interest and search for more details. Recruitment ads usually include a comprehensive job specification which will give you background on the company as well as describe the skills and experience of an ideal candidate. These will enable you to compare actual jobs in the UK with your current position and skills. Again I'm going to suggest that you talk to recruitment consultants to broaden your insight into employers' needs. Their perspective will also take your job search one step further, as they will be familiar with the qualities of successful candidates. Of course, they may not share this insider knowledge unless you are being considered for their vacancies. Finally, if there is a job you are considering applying for, it is always worth picking up the phone and talk to the prospective employer--remembering that the recruitment process may be starting right then!

Marketing yourself

Even if you decide to exploit directly the experience you have to offer, you need to devote some time to revamping your CV. The ad cuttings you will have gathered by then and the discussions with agencies or employers will help you to articulate the qualities you have to offer using current terminology. I've previously outlined a technique for translating an employer's wish list into an application.

Once you've come up with a version you are happy with, circulate it to a few friends or colleagues--particularly any who are working in areas that appeal. You can also get feedback and advice from most professional bodies (and most multinational companies will pay your subscription fees, so if you aren't a member make sure you look into joining now). You graduated more than 5 years ago, so you won't be eligible for free advice from your old university careers service, but there are alternative services available at some institutions. Why not contact those in your preferred location to see whether they offer any assistance to people later in their careers?

Culture shock? What culture shock?

If you are concerned about your return to the UK itself, I'd repeat the advice I gave to E.M. in my last column--use your holidays to visit areas you are interested in moving to. As well as the job itself, you'll need to consider many other elements including property prices, commuter routes, and, perhaps, schools to get a feel for living in a particular place. Take advice from people with local knowledge and consider renting until you are familiar with the region.

As you've recognised, Robert, changing countries may be an ideal opportunity for a career move or even a total change of track. With the level of seniority that you've reached with your current employer, the skills and management experience you have are unlikely to be specific to scientific or technical management, so I'm sure that other industry sectors will be interested in you. Equally though, the scientific sector offers a range of opportunities particularly if the next phase of your career is with an employer on a different scale.

All the best in your career,

The CareerDoctor

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