Career development: working abroad

Why working abroad works for your career

We explore why taking a job in another country can have far reaching benefits for your career and personal growth

There are two main reasons why people generally move abroad. The first is connected to family reasons and improving lifestyle, or for other personal reasons. The second is to take on a new challenge, gain new experiences or progress up the career ladder.

International travel is generally described as ‘eye-opening’ and a way of broadening the mind and while this is certainly the case, it is less often talked about as being good for your career prospects.

However, research from the likes of the Harvard Business Review constantly find that young professionals who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are often better problem solvers and display more creativity.

Karen Young, director at Hays Senior Finance, says: ‘Working abroad is advantageous for aspiring finance professionals. Our research found that 37% of finance directors have worked outside the UK during their career and 93% of those who did said the experience has benefited their career. A period spent overseas can make you stand out from the competition – if the chance arises, I would advise trainees to seize it.

‘With many organisations operating across borders, showing you have a global outlook and interest in international business can increase your employability with multinational employers.

‘It is not just about learning different international reporting practices. Working abroad is equally beneficial in terms of broadening your horizons and helping you to understand different cultures and approaches to business. It also demonstrates to a potential employer that you are confident, motivated and able to adapt to change and new challenges.’

Faster promotion
Better still, research has also found that working abroad and gaining experience of working in another country is likely to lead to faster promotion.

Robert Half have discovered that of chief finance officers within the financial services industry, nearly six in 10 (59%) believe that an employee’s chances for promotion ‘improve greatly’ with international experience, rising to 76% and 81% respectively, within medium and large sized businesses.

Paul Polman, chief executive officer of multinational Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever, backs up that theory. Speaking to McKinsey Quarterly, he says that business leaders are required to be ‘frankly, increasingly more global’ these days.

Having international experience is a huge benefit if you work in a multinational firm or with international businesses, to the point that trainees and young accountants who have not had that sort of experience can find themselves being held back – at least during the early stages of their careers.

Ellis King, manager, Accountancy and Finance Contract at Morgan McKinley says: ‘We all know that finance is a global business and having experience working in a different business culture and having exposure to a new market will stand you in good stead for your future career.

‘In the finance and accountancy world you need to be able to communicate with individuals – both clients and colleagues – in other countries around the world. Having six to 18 months working in another country can give you the skills to do that effectively.’

Skills set development

It is generally agreed that most employers will look more closely at a CV that demonstrates a degree of international experience. And by exploring new destinations and cultures you will develop your soft skills set – that in itself will distinguish you from your peers as employers tend to be impressed by the fact you have moved outside of your comfort zone.

Nicholas Kirk, regional managing director at Page Personnel Finance, confirms: ‘Working abroad will look extremely attractive on your CV as it demonstrates your capability to adapting to new and challenging environments.’

One of the many key perks to relocating abroad is the potential to increase salaries and bonuses. Depending on the country and circumstances, a move abroad can offer financial advantages such as a lower income tax or living away from home allowances and benefits.

Look before you leap

However, Kirk warns: ‘It is always advisable to go and visit an area before committing to a relocation. Ask all the basic questions you would go through as if you were looking to move house at home. Where are the best areas to live, what is the public transport system like and what are the best schools?

‘Don’t forget to ask the locals for the real story. This way you will be able to get a good sense of whether you would enjoy the lifestyle.’


When you work abroad you will also be exposed to a vast set of new ideas and business etiquette. Combining these ideas and experiences with current knowledge can help ensure trainees are able to provide innovative solutions and become better-rounded employees ready to tackle a wider number of scenarios at work.

Working in an entrepreneurial culture ensure trainees experience working alongside dozens of other vibrant entrepreneurial professionals and how overseas professionals generate ideas, promote their ideas and how they turn these ideas into new products or services.

Last, but not least, trainees will learn about themselves, what they are capable of, their limitations and a gauge of their skills. More importantly, they may learn that anything is possible.

Working abroad is viewed by many to be a privilege – and those fortunate enough to have the opportunity should embrace it. In addition to learning new accountancy standards and working in varied business climates, the personal development of learning about new cultures and adjusting to living abroad is unique and ultimately a rewarding life experience.

"In the finance and accountancy world you need to be able to communicate with individuals – both clients and colleagues – in other countries around the world. Having six to 18 months working in another country can give you the skills to do that effectively"

Ellis King - Morgan McKinley