Brits abroad

With skills shortages and increasing opportunities in emerging economies, it’s a good time to consider working abroad. Clare Dowdy talks to three employers and candidates about making such a move

There are two reasons for the current boom in overseas design industry jobs: the skills shortage and the growth in branding within emerging economies. So say UK recruitment agencies, which are busy placing both creatives and ‘suits’ in local design groups abroad as well as conglomerate-owned satellite offices. Gabriele Skelton senior consultant Fiona Watson has spotted a lot of movement in the digital market. Meanwhile, Periscope managing director Kim Crawford is currently seeking Mandarin-speaking designers with UK experience for Shanghai and Beijing packaging groups. We speak to some Brits about why they opted to work abroad.Candidate: Brad Athay

Job: Account brand leader
Employer: LPK (formerly Libby Perszyk Kathman), Geneva
CV: 2006-2007 at Fitch London, preceded by about two years each at Turner Duckworth, Sainsbury’s – where he was design manager – and Conran Design Group

Candidate’s view: The difference in the recruiting process from Brad Athay’s previous employers was that, initially, there was no face-to-face contact. ‘I had a couple of phone conversations with LPK, and then [its] chief strategic officer John Recker came to London,’ says Athay. Before offering him the job, LPK arranged for him to spend a couple of days in Geneva. ‘[LPK human resources strategist] Anne Visnic was very helpful regarding the bureaucracy and tax implications because Switzerland is unusual – for example, I have to have a work permit,’ he says. Once there, he was surprised how difficult it was to find rented accommodation, because it’s so over-subscribed. Language hasn’t been an issue, as ‘everyone speaks English here’. He says the best way to stay in touch with people back home is through Facebook.

Employer’s view: LPK global HR strategist Anne Visnic is located at the Cincinnati HQ in the US, with human resources co-ordinators on the ground in Geneva and Frankfurt, but she says ‘keeping everything co-ordinated can be a challenge’. For certain levels of employees, new recruits go to the Cincinnati office for orientation during their first six months. ‘This helps acclimatise them into LPK’s culture,’ says Visnic. It can be a challenge to find candidates who want to move to Frankfurt and Geneva, she says, ‘especially seasoned candidates who may have already established themselves, and do not want to disrupt their life or family’.

Candidate: Carl Rogers
Job: Interactive copywriter
Employer: Digital marketing agency Media Catalyst, Amsterdam
CV: MA from the London Institute in 2001. Has since primarily worked as a freelance writer for clients including Jimmy Choo, and has contributed to publications such as Sleazenation and Dazed & Confused

Candidate’s view: ‘I would recommend this kind of move to someone who thrives on change and challenge, but it would probably be easier for those who have no dependents,’ says Carl Rogers. He suggests looking at job websites such as for positions abroad. As for the recruiting process, he describes Media Catalyst as being nothing short of brilliant, though he suspects that ‘this is probably the exception rather than the rule, and I’ve been astonishingly lucky’. His employer sorted out all the bureaucratic elements of the move relating to taxation, immigration and so on. ‘They also helped me to find a place to live,’ he adds.

Employer’s view: ‘Our clients are international, so we required a native English speaker,’ says Media Catalyst studio manager Ilse Morgan. ‘We searched in the Netherlands first, among expats, but that’s a small pool, so we then cast the net wider. There’s a personality type that’s keen for adventure and new experiences, and Carl had already worked in Vancouver.’ An overseas recruit means a longer ‘on-boarding’ process, as he/she requires a little bit more hand-holding, believes Morgan. Language, however, is not a barrier in the Netherlands, she adds. ‘Our company operates in English and we have 15 nationalities among 60 employees.’

Candidate: Leigh Evans
Job: Creative director
Employer: Turquoise, Dubai
CV: Since 1995 has worked in Dubai for Zaman agency, TMH Dubai and GSCS (now GsFitch). Returned to the UK for a year’s freelancing

Candidate’s view: Leigh Evans’ first job in Dubai came through an ad in a design magazine. ‘It was all done on the phone, I didn’t meet them or go over,’ he says. ‘They misled me about the job, and within five months I’d got another.’ However, he believes that meeting his future employers or visiting Dubai wouldn’t have made any difference to his being misled. ‘I stayed because it’s a nice community. Now it’s home for me,’ he insists. When Evans first moved, he was 25, and his girlfriend (now his wife) moved with him. ‘My advice is do your research on the working lifestyle, and talk to as many people as you can,’ he says. ‘The main difference in working practices is that clients here want things done “right now”.’

Employer’s view: ‘We recruit in Dubai for Dubai employees, not from London,’ explains Turquoise managing director Linda Garcia. ‘In this way, candidates have made the choice for themselves to live there and are generally more settled and used to any cultural or work differences.’ She admits that quality is an issue, saying, ‘Great designers are like gold dust and so are fought over by many consultancies.’ Wages in Dubai are on a par with London, ‘so, if you think you’ll be employing a creative director for the price of a junior, think again’. Recruitment agencies themselves are few on the ground, she says, and tend to take the ‘more is more’ approach, with little appropriate candidate selection.

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