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Career challenges facing Aussie returnees from Asia and how to overcome them

Boomerang

You’re an Australian finance professional who’s just completed a successful stint in Singapore or Hong Kong, having risen up the ranks of an international bank and taken on a regional role. You’re now planning to return to Australia and with your Asian experience you will surely nail a similarly senior and well-paid job in the same field.

The trouble with the above scenario is that it seldom rings true for Aussie returnees – job searching back home can be a frustrating process if you’ve been a high-achiever in Asia.

“The majority of people return for family reasons, but it’s becoming increasingly tough to find work,” says Henry Smith, a manager at recruiters Robert Walters in Sydney. “Banking in Australia is dominated by the big four domestic banks and Macquarie, while Hong Kong and Singapore are home to regional HQs of global firms. The volume of roles is less here.”

Recent offshoring and layoffs at many Australian financial institutions mean that returnees are increasingly competing for jobs against internal candidates seeking redeployment, says Smith.

Being out of the Australian market for too long can also be a drawback. “The most common challenge is that employers want someone with current domestic knowledge,” says Allira Salem, national account manager at recruiters Kelly Services in Sydney. “Only in some functions – such as risk, where Asian markets are ahead of Australia – can Asian experience be an advantage.”

Happy homecomings

The key to landing a good finance job Down Under often lies in initiating a big career change. Ray Sadural did just that when he moved from an operations job in Asia to a client-facing one back home. The Australian worked for Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore until 2012, first as head of equity derivatives operations and then as head of change management, helping lead RBS through its recent restructuring.

“One of the outcomes of this restructuring was a significantly reduced workforce in Singapore and a smaller book of work. By this stage, it was either move to the UK with the business or seek opportunities in Australia. For family reasons we chose the latter,” says Sadural.

He initially searched for senior operations roles in Australia but found that such opportunities were “scarce”. Sadural instead joined Commonwealth Bank in Brisbane in 2013 as a foreign exchange sales executive covering small and medium size enterprises.

“I believe my background in operations and business management has given me an edge to helping clients understand their risks and ways to mitigate them. Certainly it has given me the confidence to speak with authority on the subject and gain the trust of my clients and current employer.”

Rules for returnees

Sadural, along with finance recruiters who’ve helped in Asia-to-Australia moves, offer the following advice for would-be returnees:

Set realistic career goals
“Australia is a small market and does not have the depth to absorb professionals who sit outside the square,” says Sadural. “So be honest with yourself, and be prepared to take a step back on the career ladder, if necessary.”

Constantly revise your CV
Your CV will need a complete overhaul, not just a tweak, if you’re aiming for a career change. “Create your CV from the perspective of someone used to working in that industry,” says Sadural. “For example, if coming from a management role and wanting to get into a sales role, focus on your sales skills as a manager – whether it be managing stakeholders, selling bank capabilities or seeking investment budgets. These are all selling skills.”

Change your title
“I’ve been working with a candidate in Singapore recently who is interviewing for a role back in Australia. He found that instead of listing his job-level titles, like SVP or director, it was far better to use the functional title, such as project manager,” says Craig Brewer, a director at recruiters Five Ten Group in Singapore. “The corporate job titles were not applicable to his potential employers in Australia.”

Be there
If you are attending a first-round interview by phone from Asia, you are at a “significant disadvantage” to those interviewing in person, says Brewer. “I know a number of people who found that once they were physically back in Australia, their job application-to-interview ratio went way up.”

Don’t be arrogant
“Don’t expect Australia employers and recruiters to be in awe of your Asian experience,” says Brewer. “Instead show enthusiasm about the move home and don’t make it sound like a second option because you couldn’t find a role in Asia. Your attitude is just as important as your experience.”

Go for a contract role
“Contract roles are gold for returnees,” says Brewer. “In Australia, a high percentage of contracts extend past the initial period or lead to permanent positions. Taking a lower-level contract role can get you back into the market and into an employer who values your flexibility. Standing your ground and waiting for more money can actually cost you in the long term.”

Don’t push your pay
The best answer to a salary-related question is “I’m looking for the market rate”, says Brewer. “You can expect this rate to be lower that your last salary in Asia and you need to be ok with this before you even consider applying for a role in Australia.”

Apply to Asian banks       
“Some of the Asian banks in Australia are seeking candidates with relationships in Asia for relationship-management, origination and private-banking roles,” says Smith from Robert Walters. “You should target areas that are experiencing a skills shortage, such as legal and compliance roles requiring exposure to global regulatory reforms.”

Don’t get stuck on banking
As we reported last week, superannuation funds are increasingly hiring from the banking sector, and overseas-based candidates will be considered for investment roles within these firms. “Superannuation and insurance are growth areas in Australia and are relatively safe given the nature of their business,” says Salem from Kelly Services.

Do your homework
If you’ve been in Asia for a long time, refamiliarise yourself with the Australian economy and regulatory environment. “If this means enrolling in a course or doing some work pro-bono, it’s worth showing you are getting to grips with the Australian landscape,” says Salem.

Related articles:
The hot Aussie buy-side firms now offering ‘safe’ careers to jaded bankers
The Australian finance job where demand for staff has surged by 72%
Eight of the hottest careers in Australian financial services right now

Comments (3)

Comments
  1. Can’t agree more. My coming home was a complete disaster. Valuable experience in Asia was totally overlooked. My advice: don’t come back here. Your pay will never rise to the same levels as in Asia, tax rates here are much higher and so too the cost of housing. Moreover the culture here is not about competition but rather jobs for mates, and poor management. Sorry Australia (Sydney) you don’t stack up.

  2. Im not in banking but mining, but I know about the mates thing in Sydney. Nick Farr Jones once worked as a mining analyst, and there have been several mining scandals over the years partly because mining finance professionals often don’t know anything about mining. Jobs for the boys.

    Also, my Asian experience didn’t tick the computer generated boxes for resumes back home, same as when I simply applied to rent an apartment, they told me they couldn’t include my PNG apartment where I lived for 4 years on their system so I couldn’t even get a place to rent.

  3. Had exactly the same experience with teaching when returning from Singapore even though Singapore and International education were cited as examples of successful education systems that Australia should aspire to. Got two interviews in 3 years.

    I agree with everything said in the other two comments but what to do when heavily outnumbered?
    Moral to the story? Forget your quality past: start your own business: stay away.
    Sad but true

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