Working in London
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Find out how to get a job and work in London
As an expat, you will appreciate working in London due to the professional opportunities the city offers. Not only is the financial sector thriving again, but the creative industries also prosper. Our guide to working in London gives you advice on the economy, the job search, etiquette and more.
Employment in London
Working in London can be both a challenge and an immensely enriching experience. People from all over the world consider doing so for various reasons. The city has an immense appeal to global business people, and most multinational companies have at least some staff in London.
In addition, there are countless micro, small and medium-sized businesses and in 2012 there were 756,000 self-employed people working in London, more than 100,000 international students and a large number of expats. These are all sure signs of the city´s continuing ability to compete on an international stage.
Current Economic Situation in London
The city has made the transition from a labor-intensive to a service economy within the last 30 to 40 years. While in 1971, manufacturing accounted for more than 23% of employment, only 2.8% of all people working in London in 2012 were still employed in this sector. According to the Standard Industrial Classification used by the United Kingdom’s Company House, publishing is actually classified as part of the manufacturing sector. London is an impressive literary city and so its manufacturing sector looks even smaller when one takes into account that this number includes its publishing world.
London´s orientation towards financial, business and other services means that the city´s main asset is its human capital. People working in London have come from every corner of the earth to offer their expertise and fresh ideas in exchange for new opportunities and experiences.
There are probably more highly skilled workers among all the people working in London than in any other European city, which attracts a big investment community in return. The city prides itself on its commercial dominance, openness and entrepreneurialism. Entrepreneurial skills are indeed much in demand in an economy which places such great value on innovation and creativity.
The number of self-employed people in London is impressive; however, it indicates a story beyond the entrepreneurial spirit of the city. The number of self-employed people in all of the UK has been on the rise recently (with the highest concentration in London). This suggests that because of the shortage of jobs since the economic downturn, people are seeking out other means of employment. The Office of National Statistics published a report in February 2013 that analyzes this growth in self-employment. Out of the 4.2 million self-employed people working in the UK (the highest number since they started recording such data in 1992) 70% are male and the average age is 47. The top three occupations are taxi drivers/chauffeurs, construction traders, and carpenters.
The city’s largest industry is finance. The over 325,000 people working in London’s financial sector prior to the 2008 banking crisis have had to face some serious job and payment cuts since then. There is speculation that London will lose its status as the world’s financial capital in the next few years (surpassed by rivals Singapore, Hong Kong, or New York). However, it is safe to assume that London will always be a key player in the global financial sector.
Fields of Employment
Another big factor in the city´s economic success is, of course, tourism. Not only does London attract around 15 million international visitors every year, but the tourism industry also provides 226,000 jobs (about 5% of employment in London).
It was expected that the 2012 London Olympics would provide a boost to the city’s already affluent tourism industry and to the city’s economy. To many people’s surprise, however, the opposite happened. Over 250 visitor attractions, hoteliers and tour operators not just in London but all over Britain, reported financial losses during the Olympic Games. This demonstrates that London doesn’t necessarily need spectacles like the Olympics. The city’s tourism industry is healthy just as is. London´s immensely dynamic creative industries also contribute significantly to its economy and provide employment for many highly skilled staff working in London.
With its focus on biotechnology and life sciences and its many renowned universities, the city provides an excellent location for world-class research. Scientists, medical professionals, engineers, scholars, and researchers from all fields working in London enjoy the city´s intellectually challenging climate.
Nevertheless, the large number of highly skilled foreigners working in London also has its downside. London has long had a high unemployment rate; however, in March 2013 it was at the lowest rate it has been in the past four years. It is now 8.5% as opposed to just over 10% in early 2012. 8.5% is still above the national average (which is 7.8%), but it is no longer the highest in the country.
There are plenty of resources for people who are considering working in London. If you have already been working in London for a while, you may have already built your own professional network, consisting of valuable contacts in your industry and other expats. You should make sure to use this network if you are looking to change your employer or to help your spouse start working in London.
While the recruitment process in the UK is usually fair, transparent and based on equal opportunities, the importance of a personal network cannot be underestimated when working in London. As everywhere else in the world, people have their trusted sources, so a recommendation or referral by a business partner can be invaluable. If nothing else, you might hear of future vacancies in a company you would like to work for before anyone else does and thus get a head start.
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Job Search and Taxation in London
The Job Search for Expats
The best place to search for executive jobs and those requiring advanced skills and qualifications is The Guardian newspaper. Interesting vacancies across all sectors are advertised in The Guardian, which features a dedicated employment section specializing in different industries on different days of the week.
What is more, guardianjobs offers a useful online database of jobs with an easy-to-use search function. It also gives you the opportunity to create your own profile so that employers can contact you.
There are, of course, plenty of online job databases and search engines you can consult or subscribe to. Some of them specialize in jobs requiring certain skills, e.g. foreign languages. Others might serve a specific sector or field of work, e.g. academia, legal services, the public and nonprofit sector, healthcare, etc.
An alternative particularly recommended for those looking for temporary or part-time employment is to register with a recruitment agency, of which there are plenty in London. Or simply check the notice board of your local library. With a bit of luck, you´ll find an interesting vacancy in a local business startup amidst all the jobs for cleaners, babysitters and dog-walkers.
Business Districts Past and Present
London´s long history of trade and commerce has shaped the city in a way that is still apparent today. Many areas are characterized by the trades that used to dominate them, and even today you´ll find that certain types of businesses tend to prevail in different areas of town.
The City of London, more commonly referred to as just the City, is not only the historic core of London as we know it. It also makes up the core of the UK´s vibrant financial services sector and the capital´s legal profession. This relatively small area (aka the Square Mile) with some of Europe´s most impressive high-rise buildings has a resident population of about 11,500 people, but over 380,000 come to work there every day during the week.
The West End, most notably Soho, is home to the entertainment industry and numerous media and PR agencies. The newly emerging East End, however, is the creative hub of London, especially in the fields of art, design, and fashion.
Big multinationals and professional service providers are often based right on the outskirts of London and in the so-called Home Counties. These counties of England are bordering on but are not actually part of the capital. These companies in particular have a very high demand for foreign language speakers and are probably the biggest provider of jobs for expats at a non-executive level.
As soon as you take up paid employment in London, you will require a National Insurance Number. This is your personal number which is used to keep track of your tax and National Insurance contributions.
You should apply for a National Insurance Number as soon as you start working. This can be done by phoning the Jobcentre Plus National Insurance Number allocation service at 0044 845 600 0643.
The UK has a progressive taxation system, and income tax will automatically be deducted from your salary. It is important that you fill in your tax return form at the end of each year you’ve spent working in the UK, as you might be entitled to repayment of taxes. This is particularly the case for the year you start working in the UK and the year you leave the UK. The relevant forms can be found on Her Majesty´s Revenue and Customs website.
Insurance and Business Culture in London
Your National Insurance contributions also come off your monthly wages and are used to build up your entitlement to the State Pension and to some other benefits and social services, for instance if you become unemployed during your time in London.
The UK has a social security agreement with all countries in the European Economic Area, including Switzerland, and some other nations. For a detailed list, please refer to the Department for Work and Pensions website. If you are coming from or are returning to a country covered by this agreement, your UK National Insurance contributions might count towards any benefits you are entitled to in your country of origin.
Your State Pension will become available once you have reached State Pension age. Please note, however, that if you only paid National Insurance contributions for a short time while working in the UK, the amount you receive will be negligible.
As a UK resident, you are also eligible for free healthcare from the NHS, the National Health Service. As soon as you have found a place to live in London, you should register with your local GP (General Practitioner) at their practice or clinic. They will act as your first point of contact should any health issues arise.
In case of an emergency, you can, of course, go straight to A&E (Accidents & Emergency Department) at your nearest hospital. In order to call an ambulance, dial 999. For less urgent out-of-hours advice, you can call the NHS Direct helpline at 0044 845 4647. Dental treatment is only partly covered by the NHS, and you will be expected to pay a share of the costs yourself.
Alternatively, you can opt for private health insurance. Private Healthcare UK is a good website if you want to get an overview of services available. Most big companies have a private healthcare plan at a reduced rate for their employees.
There aren’t many pitfalls you need to be aware of when dealing with business or social contacts, but the British way of communicating might take some getting used to. As a general rule, the British like to understate and equivocate.
In a business meeting, for example, you will very rarely hear someone speak out in direct opposition to a previous statement. If you would like to express disagreement, disapproval, or decline an offer, you should phrase it as a polite proposition. An unmitigated “no” can be perceived as impolite.
Similarly, don’t expect a straightforward response from people you’re not on very familiar terms with. Reading between the lines is one of the key skills in order to negotiate successfully at a British business meeting.
In the creative and media industries, manners are informal and hierarchical structures are not very pronounced. The financial and legal sectors are much more conservative in this respect.
Men and women alike are expected to wear formal business attire to the office. Although colleagues as well as business contacts are still likely to address each other by their first names, you shouldn’t automatically make this assumption, but wait and observe common practice.
Let’s now talk about one of the more pleasant aspects of working life in London: the after-work drinks. Socializing out of business hours can be an important part of your job in London.
While only business lunches, dinners or drinks with clients are compulsory, you will also be expected to take part in the occasional communal outing to the pub on a Friday night after work. Some companies have all but institutionalized this weekly social event, and although nobody will resent you for occasionally giving it a miss, it is vital to come along at least once in a while, even if you don’t drink.
The annual office Christmas party is something to look forward to if you can’t wait to see your reserved British colleagues let their hair down!