Potential jobs in London?
October 10, 2011 3:19 PM   Subscribe

UK (and especially London) folks, where should a returning US labor union staffer work in the UK? I’ll be returning to London (location non-negotiable) early next year after almost ten years in the US. I left the UK soon after I graduated (I’ve never held a career job there), and I’ve worked as a labor union staffer in the US, working my way up to positions with a good deal of strategic and management responsibility, but I'm absolutely open to a change...

Probably most relevant additional info – I’m female and 31, I have a 2:1 in English from a top (top 3?) UK university, I’m a dual UK-US national, I don’t speak any other languages, I’m confident and interview very well, and I’m smart in a reliably testable way. I’m seriously hoping that the intensity and diversity of my US experience and the ability to make such a massive change on my own initiative will count for me in the right situation, and that my probably very apparent “American-ness” isn’t going to be a big turn-off. I’m very literate and current on politics, labor issues, media, etc in both countries.

My priorities are different than they were a few years back. Honestly, I care way more about money than I once did, and less about an immediate political goal (although I still care about purpose and ethics). I’ll be returning with a wife and a new baby I need to support. My American wife has no UK experience and will take a while to find her feet, we also want to have her stay home with the baby long-term and not work more than a few hours a week. We have to be in London so we can have family support. I am terrified of renting in London (too expensive, no legal rights, buy-to-let landlords suck) and we have the savings for a good deposit on a small flat in an ok area… so long as I can bring in the salary each month to make mortgage payments, which I think is about £40,000.

The UK union movement seems like an obvious place to look, but I’ve been following listings for a while, and especially in London, jobs don’t seem to come up often – especially as I’m a little picky about where I work (politics and effectiveness). Many of the jobs I see listed are part-time, and not many pay over £30,000. Probably about right really, but as a relatively senior union staffer in the US I’m used to making $60-90,000, so it’s a rude awakening and I don’t know how we’d do it.

Alternately, I’d love a civil service job; it’s not for profit, they look for smarts over specific qualifications and seem willing to challenge their staff and give responsibility, salaries seem decent. However, it looks like the only route right now is the Fast-Track, which would have been a great option fresh out of college, but salaries start at £25,000! I think I’m a good FT candidate, but I know it’s massively oversubscribed, so I can’t pin anything on getting in anyway. Everything else in the UK Civil Service is subject to a hiring freeze from what I can tell.

So I would love some input on where else I should be looking for a stable, not too evil, £40k+ job (I know, just like everyone else) that requires management and strategy experience, writing skill and ability to learn over specific technical skills, or alternately is a great fit for my union experience without being corporate HR or some other form of union-busting.

Additionally, I want to get started on this before we actually move, and I would love to be sending out speculative “Hi, here’s who I am, here’s when I’ll be available, please think of me” applications, but it seems like that kind of thing isn’t done in the UK, and job applications rely on forms rather than CVs. Is there any meaningful way I can touch base with potential employers ahead of filling out application forms for specific posts?

Any relevant advice appreciated, but if you don't have experience with work in the UK, or if you're not there now, please say. Thanks so much!
posted by crabintheocean to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is a hiring freeze in the civil service, but it's not absolute. I have seen mid-career jobs advertised, particularly in more obscure agencies. They are advertised on civil service jobs.

I know a number of Americans who have moved to London, and they have all found it challenging to transfer their experience here. You might need to choose between money and being picky.
posted by plonkee at 3:38 PM on October 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, I hadn't seen that part of the site. Could you be more specific about what the stumbling blocks were for your friends?
posted by crabintheocean at 3:45 PM on October 10, 2011

Well, a few years ago I'd have said management and strategy experience were a good fit for middling to senior jobs in local govt around policy, but with the cuts to local government those posts are at risk. I've just looked at the local govt jobs site for London authorities and I'm not seeing anything at the level you're looking at except for people with specific professional quals (mostly social workers). It might be worth signing up to the site in any case. Other than that, you probably know that the Guardian jobs site is a good place to look for public sector jobs. I wondered if you'd be a good fit for any of these: Communications and Network Officer, Executive Policy Officer, Head of Information. The top rates given here are in the mid thirties wch is a bit lower than what you're looking for but not too much. Apart from that, you could investigate consultancy work for the public sector (unless you have ethical objections to this). Here's an ad for a post for wch from what you say I think you are probably not qualified but it shows the sort of work available through consultancies and the rates. If you're interested, if you MeMail me I can give you the names of a couple of consultancies that do public sector work (or you can probably find lots by googling). I'm not a consultant but I know several people who are and who are still finding work in the public sector despite the tough times. This approach would also have the advantage that you could make contact with the agencies before getting here. I don't think public sector employers would do anything with a speculative letter beforehand - my experience is that they're mostly tied into recruitment practices where applicants are scored against specific job descriptions / person specs.

I should say that I do work in the UK (not in London) but have absolutely no knowledge of what a labour union staffer in the US does - so I'm just going on what you say about experience of management, strategy, writing skills etc.
posted by paduasoy at 4:42 PM on October 10, 2011

I don't know what union/s you worked for in the US, but many of them have close links with British unions and are doing international work- unions I know have done serious collaboration with UK unions include SEIU, USW, UFCW, Teamsters. So you might start with them (for example the international departments). Also many British unionists have gone through the Harvard Trade Union Program, so if you have contacts who have been through that program you should ask for UK contacts.

You should write to specific unions as well as the TUC and ask for an informal phone conversation. Many British unions are really interested in knowledge and skills from the US and you may find yourself in demand. Just write to them (if you have an introduction, great, if not do it anyway).
posted by cushie at 4:57 PM on October 10, 2011

My friends have found problems along the lines of 'what does a US labor union staffer do?'. As in, their job in the US didn't exactly translate. I got the impression that their prior experience was also partially discounted, because it couldn't possibly be exactly the same as in a British organisation.

To be fair, they all have degrees from US colleges (most of which aren't famous over here) and you don't have that disadvantage. And they have found work eventually, but it either took longer, or they had to take a 'stepping stone' job. FWIW they are generally happy here, but several were much better off financially in the States.
posted by plonkee at 12:15 AM on October 11, 2011

The General Fast Stream closes on 30 November and applications won't open again until next September. So if you are at all interested, it might be worth apply now. As you say, it is highly competetive, so you might not get through; equally, you might get through but decide not take up a post. You'd be keeping your options open.

I'd also add that although £25k might not seem like a lot compared to your current salary, it might seem a lot better after a couple of months of job hunting. And in a couple of years you will be back up to £45K.
posted by ninebelow at 3:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you can cover a deposit in London? The average is something like £59k, and if you're just moving over, you may struggle to get a mortgage now, especially if one of you is not working full time. Apologies if you have already worked this stuff out - be aware that the mortgage you will get is about 5x your salary, and you're going to struggle to get anything under £200k (for a flat) at the moment even if you're fairly flexible about where you want to live. You might need to think about whether you can commute into London, especially if you want a nice place for your child to grow up - many live in surrounding towns for this very reason. You might have to resign yourself to renting for a little while, or staying with family if you can - moving to a new country is a massive change and particularly will be for your wife if she is not British herself.

Average wage in London is about £24k. In the current job market, and with experience in a different field (I don't know what 'labor union' is - you may find interviewers are the same) you should not be quick to dismiss this. A friend works in the civil service and her pay has been frozen for a few years in a row, so you need to expect that drop in salary if this is what you want to do. Not many 31yr olds are earning the equivalent of what you're earning in the States and own their own place - it's pretty common for people to house-share well into their thirties, and salary is a big reason. (I'm 29 and I know almost nobody with a salary over 30K and/or a house, and we are all professional types). Unions are fairly well respected in the UK, more so than in the US, but how easy it is to go straight in at a management level I don't know - many work their way up.

What you need to do is sign up for job alerts with Guardian Jobs and also consider employment agencies - many jobs come through these, and there are several specialised ones in London. You can see what kind of thing is going in the bracket/fields that work with you. Many jobs I've seen recently (I know someone who is looking) require very specific skills and experiences, so you could turn this to your advantage. And a ton of people live well in London, as families, with less money than you earned in the States - it's a less expensive city once you live here.
posted by mippy at 10:17 AM on October 11, 2011

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