UK candidates are trying to orchestrate a move to the Middle East. Is this feasible?

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More UK financial services professionals are trying to move to the Middle East. To those on the ground, struggling with a relatively downbeat market, this may seem strange, but with headcount in investment banking in particular decimated in Europe, many are seeking sunnier climes.

Europe is being hit particularly hard by the latest round of financial sector job cuts. Deutsche Bank is eliminating at least 1,900 people, Nomura is targeting its London operation for redundancies, while both Barclays and UBS are cutting back globally. The vast majority of firms have cut their cloth over the past six months.

While international banks have cut back their Middle East operations, redundancies have been kept to a minimum. What’s more, others – notably Barclays – have been talking up expansion plans. This has not gone unnoticed in the UK.

“There’s been a sudden interest in the Middle East from people based in the UK,” says Barbara van Meir, managing director, MENA at headhunters Pemberton Partners. “Perhaps they have lost their job, or don’t feel particularly secure in their current position, or simply feel this is the right time to move. We’re not seeing nearly as much interest from US or Asia-based candidates.”

Is this move really feasible though? Yes, the financial sector job market is better in the Middle East – particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar – but an increased focus on localisation and a reluctance to hire expats without Middle East experience has meant it’s tougher for first time jobbers to make the switch.

“Expats have to be more realistic,” says Magdy El Zein, managing director of headhunters Boyden. “International banks, by and large, are not hiring and regional players are being more selective. Expat packages are still holding up for the right person, but there’s no longer and open cheque book.”

Pay demands are still out of touch with reality, however. Around 40% of expats applying for their first role in the Middle East still expect more in the way of salary and bonuses that the market conditions dictate, according to a new survey by Robert Half.

James Sayer, director of Robert Half UAE says that anyone trying to orchestrate a move from abroad needs to “understand the local conditions, but also gain valuable connections, helping ensure that expectations meet reality.”

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