This is the second instalment in the series “Our London adventure”, with instalment one covering the why and how of picking up our lives and moving halfway around the world. In this instalment, we cover some things about the jobs market and the start of our travels…
Because we didn’t exactly have a lot of cash when we moved to the UK (let’s be honest, we had no significant cash as we had four negatively-geared investment properties back home, minimal savings, and were still paying off credit card debt from our wedding), getting jobs was a big concern for us.
I spent a lot of time researching employment opportunities in the UK from back home in Australia, but the reality is that no one wants to know you until you actually get there. The best that we managed to do was to arrange initial interviews with two recruitment agents, and after meeting us they would then consider whether they would put us forward for jobs.
We had an extraordinary run actually, with the timeframe going something like this:
- Thursday: Arrive in the UK.
- Friday: Head down to a Barclays branch to open up bank accounts.
- Monday: Have interviews with two big recruitment agents, these being Hays and Michael Page.
- Wednesday: Both of us had interviews with employers, which were followed by offers of employment within about 1-2 hours of the interviews concluding.
- The following Wednesday: Start work.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it was a bit trickier than it probably sounds, and I think we were very lucky with our timing. See below for a bit more detail on each of the key steps in this (surprisingly fast) process.
Opening a bank account
Getting a bank account in the UK is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, as you need evidence of a UK address to open the bank account, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have a letter with your UK address on it until you have a flat, which you won’t get until you have a job. And the bank also likes you to have a job as well – they don’t ask for much, do they?!
Our way around all of this was to use an email from our “landlord” that had our address on it (we were renting it off him for four weeks while he was back in South Africa, and we just found him on Gumtree), and just said we had jobs with companies that we were going to be interviewing with. The guy that we saw at the Barclays branch told us what we needed and he was the one that suggested that we just name the companies that we were interviewing with – it was like he was getting paid a bonus for opening new accounts, so as long as he had a plausible story about why he entered this crap into his computer then he was happy. So we walked in to a branch worried about how it would all go, and walked out half an hour later with bank accounts, visa debit cards and savings accounts (well, they actually mailed the cards out to us the next week but you know what I mean).
If we could give some advice to others that are looking at moving to the UK, it would be to beware of companies that provide a bank account opening service for you in advance of you arriving. These companies charge you for this service by using their own address, but why pay them anything when you can just sort it out when you get there?
Some banks (I know previously HSBC did this) will also open an account for you before you get there, but they will charge you something like GBP8 or GBP10 per month for the privilege!
In my investigations of jobs on the internet while still back in Australia, I had come to the conclusion that jobs in public practice accounting didn’t pay that well in England, and also weren’t readily available for a person with Australian tax skills. I had therefore decided that I would be better off applying for a job with an investment bank, since they more often recruited people from public practice, and they also paid good coin.
I let the recruiters know what I was chasing these types of jobs, and luckily they came back with two contract roles that were available with two big US-based investment banks. Think of the main firms in the investment banking industry, and I’m sure your list will include the ones that I am talking about. Luckily I was able to play off the interest of both banks against each other and create a sense of urgency, but as it turned out the one that I interviewed with first (which was the one with the best reputation) made me an offer that I accepted, and so I didn’t end up having an interview with the other one.
It was only after I had this role that I realised how difficult it actually is to get a job with this bank, and I got the impression that some of my colleagues would have stepped over their own grandmother to get these roles. So I was either very lucky to get the role, or my confidence was enough to get me to the job, or perhaps it was a combination of both.
Because of the type of visa that I had, I could not be put on as a full time employee, and instead had to go in as a contractor through the recruitment agency. This meant that they got a cut of what I was paid (not sure how much that was, but I’m sure I was being screwed there somewhere), but the money that I was paid was still very good, being about GBP34/hr. As I was paid by the hour, I made sure that I worked 9 hours every day, and was therefore on about GBP79,000 per annum. Of course I didn’t get paid holidays, so if I had time off work (even due to illness) then I didn’t get paid, but that was still fine with me.
The job was in asset management, and rather than regurgitate what the role was about, you can read some of nasty things that I discovered about the mutual fund / managed fund industry in an older post here.
Interestingly the office that I worked in was in the City of London not far from St Paul’s Cathedral, and you can actually see it in the movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. We saw that movie at the cinema when we were back in Australia, and I remember saying to my wife in the movie theatre “Look, there’s my office!”.
My wife’s role
My wife is also an accountant, but had only worked in smaller firms. This essentially meant that she was directed towards different roles more in commerce rather than investment banking. She managed to get a short-term contract role straight away with a company based out in Acton Town, and this role was paying about GBP22/hr. She didn’t have her CPA qualification at the time so that’s why she was paid a bit less, but we were still quite happy with the money. It was a pain in the arse to get to her job though as she had to change tubes a couple of times or take a bus, but it was only short term and we knew she could look for something closer a bit later on.
Getting a real flat
Now that we had our jobs (and money coming into the bank) we had to get a real flat (and get away from our claustrophobic one room “studio” flat), but since we wanted to travel regularly and didn’t want to share with others, we didn’t want to commit to a typical lease of a 2BR or even 1BR flat.
After much searching on the internet, we came across a group called Accommodation London, who rented (real) studio flats (i.e. with their own attached kitchen and toilet/shower room) on either short term or long term leases. We made contact with them, and arranged to meet one of their staff members outside Willesden Green tube station to look at some of their flats in the area.
It turned out that the young woman who met us there was actually an Australian too, and I think that she lived in one of the company’s flats which must have been how she got the job. Bizarre. Anyway, she took us to look at three flats, and we figured we were being taken on a planned sales pitch since they progressively got better for essentially the same money. Perhaps we could have arranged something at a slightly better price, but we just wanted to get it done and we settled on the third flat for GBP180/week.
It really is amazing how you adapt to what you have, and then how luxurious something can seem when you have made do with something worse for a period of time. Because our first flat was so disappointing (picture having to get dressed and go down 1.5 floors in the middle of the night to pee), I can remember thinking that our next studio flat seemed so luxurious, and it was only GBP30/week more!
It really did show us that you could be happy in a very small space (it was probably 24 square metres or 266 square feet), and it makes our current house (approx 1800 square feet) seem huge in comparison!
What’s up next time?
So now we had jobs and a decent place to live, so it was time to start travelling and experiencing things. It was also time to find out about the storm of the Global Financial Crisis that was brewing…