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Three things to consider before taking a professional assignment

Your cousin who recently finished her articles at one of the big audit firms drops you an email. “I’m off to London for a year!” she says. “I’m taking up an assignment!”

One of the many opportunities presented by work in the finance industry is the chance to take up professional assignments in different parts of the world. Your skills are transferable, and chartered accountants from South Africa are respected and sought-after in other countries. Often, when working for a company with a global presence, you can take an internal transfer for a year or two without even having to look for a position or leave the company you know.

Some are enticed by the money (being paid in another currency often means you’ll be earning a little more), others are attracted by the adventure of travel. But make sure you do a little research before accepting a professional assignment. Failure to do so could land you in a foreign land in a job you don’t like, lonely and isolated from your support group.

Here are three things to consider when deciding whether to go on a professional assignment.

  1. Who will be your boss? At home you wouldn’t dream of taking a role without meeting your supervisor; but when accepting a professional assignment abroad you might be tempted to overlook that, sometimes with disastrous results.

 

Susie* (not her real name) tells this story: “It sounded like the perfect opportunity. I had been offered an exciting role that would stretch me. I knew the experience would be great for my CV. On top of that, I was going to France! I was so excited to live in Paris and practice my high school French again.” Only when she was thousands of kilometres from home immersed in her new role, did Susie realise she hadn’t given any thought to who she would be working with.

 

“My new boss made my life a living nightmare. He micro-managed me, undermined me and told everyone I was incompetent. I dreaded going to the office each day. In the end I left halfway through the stipulated period of the assignment. If I had only done my homework better, I could have avoided the whole experience.”

 

Insist on Skype interviews and try to touch bases with your future colleagues to get a feel for the person you’ll be working for.

 

  1. How much money will you really have? It’s easy to be seduced by the promise of a generous pay cheque in a stronger foreign currency. You’ll have dreams of paying off a house in two years or saving up huge swathes of cash whilst on your professional assignment. However, it’s worth doing the maths, rand-for-rand. For example, a very large-sounding pay cheque in pounds will be quickly swallowed by living costs, where rent and food in the UK are several times more expensive than they are here.

 

One South African lady, who has taken professional assignments in England, Canada and Australia, said: “Even though I was being paid much more than I had been paid locally, I was poorer in England than anywhere else. It took both my salary and my husbands’ to break even every month. Because we wanted to enjoy live shows and restaurants while we were there, we actually ended up eating into our savings.”

 

  1. What will your support network look like? One of the biggest complaints people make when taking on foreign professional assignments is that they feel isolated in their host country. Often, they say that they aren’t taken as seriously as their local colleagues, or have to work twice as hard for recognition. In that kind of environment, don’t underestimate the emotional importance of being surrounded by familiar, supportive faces. Is there a well-developed expat community in the new community you are considering? Do you have a friend or colleague from home who is already there? Even one familiar face can make a world of difference to your overall experience.

Taking on a professional assignment can be an enriching, rewarding experience that shapes your career and gives you a financial boost. However, it’s worth considering these three questions before you take on any role. If you are looking for a local professional assignment in field of finance, contact The Finance Team. We have a network of experienced finance professionals filling varied exciting roles throughout the country.

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