Guest comment: International experience can be a help and a hindrance

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Mike Brennan, chief exec of headhunter Akamai Financial Markets, says when to make the move overseas - and when to stay at home.

If you intend to build a career in financial services, it's not 100% necessary to have experience of working overseas. A lot of people enjoy very successful financial careers in one centre; they become established at what they do, and make a name for themselves in that particular market.

But as markets have become more international and clients have become more international in outlook, a lateral move to an overseas office can often be beneficial to an organisation - it brings a fresh perspective. In addition, in markets that are rapidly emerging, there often isn't a deep enough talent pool, leaving banks or hedge funds with little choice but to transfer people from more established offices. This is one reason why we've seen a rapid increase in recent years in the number of Western bankers going to the Asia Pacific region. Asia Pac already has a pool of talent, but it will get a lot deeper over time. For the moment, imports are imperative.

For an individual, moving to an overseas office can bring distinct benefits. It's very common to find people of relative youth holding quite senior positions in Asia, for example.

If you've spent time overseas, it will also mark you out as being innovative and willing to take on new risks and challenges. In my experience, it helps to round people out. I'm moving to Tokyo in a few days - I started my career in London, moved to Hong Kong for three years and set up a business there, and am now moving again, to set up our Japanese business from scratch.

However, the $64k question for anyone taking a posting abroad will always be: "Will it be possible for me to move back again?" If you move overseas it can be easy to become a victim of your own success. The talent pool in some countries is so thin that your employer may be reluctant to let you move back again. Equally, any bank hiring you is likely to be particularly interested in your overseas profile.

If you plan to spend time working in another country, it's therefore an idea to do so early in your career. At this stage, it will be easier to get a few years' experience and then move back to your home country. You're also likely to have fewer family responsibilities, and to be more mobile.

In one sense, it's never been easier to spend time abroad. There are whole new international markets opening up now - some of which are easier to operate out of than others. Singapore is regarded as a better place to live than Hong Kong, due to growing quality of life concerns - ie, the increasingly high levels of pollution in Hong Kong. It is also less expensive and has a better quality of housing stock.

But Dubai is the real hotspot right now - it's having to get up the learning curve quickly to make itself appealing as a centre for expats. It's already a great place to live - and if experienced at the right time, could also be a great place for your career.

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