Looking for work as an expat can be overwhelming at first but, as with anything, over time it will become easier. London is a fast-paced, international city and is always hungry for fresh talent; immerse yourself in the challenge and you stand a good chance of securing a rewarding job that could lead to an exciting new life.
The London Economy
Since the Seventies, London has endured great changes in the labour market, adapting to becoming a predominately service-based economy. Over this time, the manufacturing sector has shrunk from over 20 per cent to less than 5 per cent.
Today’s capital employs many skilled workers and entrepreneurs, with the financial sector bringing in the most wealth. Even though emerging economies are catching up, London is still unarguably a huge player in the global financial market. Tourism is also an important source of revenue for London, making up 5 per cent of the labour market (over 200 000 jobs). This is not surprising, as the capital attracts over 15 million annual visitors from around the globe.
London’s unemployment has been on a downwards trend since April 2013 and in March 2014, was below 8 per cent with over 4 million people employed. To study the London labour market in depth, visit the Office for National Statistics Labour Market page. You will also find lots of other interesting statistics pertaining to London and the UK as a whole.
Types of Work
As mentioned above, London is particularly strong in the financial sector, with a strong presence in the City, Westminster, Canary Wharf and Lambeth & Southwark districts. Careers in this sector include broking, fund management, private banking and asset management. There are also plenty of exciting opportunities in the creative industries (e.g. fashion and design) centred around the Camden & Islington district.
London is also ideal for anyone looking for a career in the legal profession, with four of the top six legal firms in the world basing themselves there. You will also find the headquarters’ of the big four accountants and many of the top management consultancies situated in the capital. Most multinationals will have a branch in the city as well.
Skilled workers in technology and the sciences are also welcomed, with careers in fields from biotechnology and medicine to engineering and IT (East London Tech City is London’s answer to Silicon Valley).
For expats not trained in any of the above fields, there are good jobs in tourism, entertainment, media, catering, retail and cuisine. There are even a few remaining manufacturing jobs, with Warburtons, Nestle, United Biscuits and, most notably, Ford Dagenham (the world’s biggest diesel engine manufacturer) producing goods in London.
The EU freedom of movement right enables citizens of all EU countries (plus Switzerland and Leichtenstein) to work in London with no need for a work visa (except for Croatian nationals, for whom restrictions are in place until 2018). Expats from other countries will need to apply for a work visa using the point-based system for immigration created in 2008. Application can be done via the UK embassy or on the UK Government site. There is also a handy points calculator that applicants can fill in online.
UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration), a department of the Home Office, has been in charge of issuing visas since superceding the UK Borders Agency in 2013. There are three ‘tiers’ of visas for expats wanting to work in London:
Tier 1: These are work visas for ‘high value’ migrants which include investors of over a million pounds, graduate entrepreneurs and exceptional artists and scientists.
Tier 2: These are work visas for skilled workers with job offers, ministers of religion, sportspeople and expats transferring within an existing company.
Tier 5: These are temporary work visas of up to 12 months covering voluntary charity workers; sportspeople and creative workers; religious workers; government authorised nationals and workers engaged under international law. There are also tier 2 visas for members of the Youth Mobility Scheme, a 24 month visa sponsored by the governments of participating nations (including Australia, New Zealand and Canada).
Expats seeking a high paid job in one of the more competitive industries are most likely to find success through building up contacts. Study the national press job pages for an idea of the sort of vacancies on offer and start networking by attending business groups, expat communities and local clubs and interest groups. Focus on making valuable connections rather than asking for work; Londoners generally like to get to know people before they consider employing them. This process could take a long time, so waste no time in getting started.
For less exclusive positions, follow the same process as other job-seekers (while still building up networks). Look for vacancies in the national and local press and online jobsites (Monster and Reed are two of the biggest) and sign up to recruitment agencies that supply candidates to organisations in your niche of interest.
When you find a suitable vacancy, follow the directions given in the job description to the letter and send in the application form or CV (curriculum vitae) as directed. The CV is a formal document which details your education and work history. For those who need help with their CV, there are professional companies in London offering advice and professional CV writing services.
If your application demonstrates that you meet the criteria asked for in the company’s job description, you are likely to be invited to attend an interview, usually at the company’s office.
Appearance is regarded as important in London and candidates should be well-groomed, with neat hair and fingernails, and for most jobs dressed in a suit and tie or skirt/trouser suit.
The interviewer – male or female – should be greeted with a moderately firm handshake and candidates are advised to be as natural and relaxed as possible. The company will expect interviewees to have researched the position, organisation and industry and will probably ask questions about how you would handle various hypothetical situations, to assess how you will fit into their team.
If possible, candidates should practise the interview with a friend before the big day, especially if the friend is a London native.
Some expats decide to join the growing number of self-employed workers in London (numbering over three-quarters of a million in 2012). All new business owners, even sole traders, have to register with HMRC as soon as they start trading and they will need to be registered for self assessment of their taxes. A bank account and a website will almost certainly be needed and business cards are also recommended. There are lots of websites on starting your own business in the UK, including the Startups site which is a great resource.