Gemma Charters sighs with contentment as she watches the sunset from her seafront balcony in San Antonio.
The plush, rent-free apartment is just one of the many perks of her job as the events manager for top nightclub Es Paradis in Ibiza.
And with 3,000 partygoers set to arrive at the club’s famous opening night of the summer, Gemma, 31, needs to make sure the event runs without a hitch.
She’s flown in some of the biggest names from around the world – top DJs, professional dancers, even acrobats. The 40-strong team she manages is eagerly waiting for her instructions, and she’ll be working front of house until dawn, then sleeps, before doing it all over again.
It’s a high-profile job that Gemma only ever dreamt about doing eight years ago when she was working as an account administrator earning £17,000 a year in the UK.
“Moving to Ibiza opened up heaps of opportunities,” says Gemma, who lives with her boyfriend Matt, 34, a photographer. “In the UK, my job was boring with very few prospects. But in Ibiza, despite months of gruelling hard work for almost nothing at the start, I leapt up the ranks. I landed the job of my dreams before the age of 30.
“I’d never have achieved this level of success so quickly – if at all – in the UK.”
Gemma isn’t the only one taking flight from the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics, in the past decade there’s been a 13 per cent increase in women working abroad.
More than three-quarters of these women believe working overseas has boosted their career prospects, while 83 per cent think moving outside the UK has equipped them with important skills for getting ahead in the workplace.
Taking the plunge
Although there are cultural and language barriers to overcome, Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, careers expert and co-author of Get Ahead By Going Abroad, is certain that women can reap huge rewards by relocating. “In the midst of a recession, international experience is important because businesses need workers who can succeed across different economies,” she says.
“Working abroad shows flexibility and a readiness to accept new challenges. Those with international experience are proven to be better problem solvers, more creative and adaptable – skills critical to long-term career success.”
Gemma left Leamington Spa for Ibiza in May 2004 in a spur of the moment decision. “Although it was a huge risk to leave my permanent role, I was fed up with working long hours for little reward.
“Aged 23, I was itching to travel. I’d holidayed in Ibiza with friends the year before and fallen in love with the island. I wanted a career in events and thought it was a great place to kick-start the idea.
“My mum was worried about me living alone in a foreign country but I was determined to follow my dream.”
With only £200 in her bank account, Gemma headed to the hubbub of San Antonio where she checked into a hotel and started looking for work in bars and clubs. “I bagged a job handing out flyers for club nights,” she says. “It was far from glamorous but it was a good starting point. I didn’t even care that at first I was earning £40 a day – half my salary in the UK – because standing in the sunshine selling tickets was far better than being chained to a desk all day.
“I found a cheap room in a flat share so I called Mum to tell her I was staying in Ibiza. She couldn’t believe I’d got sorted so quickly!”
Within a month, having already had notable success in her job, Gemma had been poached by a rival club brand to work in their events team. And by 2006 she was promoted to events manager.
“I had to work hard, but thankfully on a small island it’s easy to get noticed if you’re good,” she says.
“Plus, it helped that loads of staff were just seasonal and only there to party. I wanted to succeed, and avoided nights out and hangovers.”
All her hard work paid off. Last November, Gemma was headhunted by top club Es Paradis who offered her a job as their events manager.
“It’s a huge job. It’s up to me to ensure that the club is constantly full, and the party never stops.
“Thanks to my work, our summer opening night in May smashed all previous ticket sales,” she says.
“Plus, I work on commission dependent on sales figures. If we do well, I can earn thousands on top of my base salary of £30,000. Other perks include my rent-free apartment as well as a company car.
“I work around the clock and would go crazy leading this hectic lifestyle in the UK. But there’s something calming about working in the sunshine in a place where everybody’s having fun.”
Gemma’s entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t end there. Last May, she opened up a fancy-dress shop, Kiss My Fairy, with her best friend Karen, 30, a make-up artist.
“I don’t know if I’d ever have been so brave back in the UK. But it paid off, because in our first year we’ve already made several thousand pounds profit.”
Gemma’s boyfriend Matt, who she met back in the UK two years ago, moved to Ibiza to join her in May. “It’s made my life complete,” says Gemma. “I’m set to stay. I have a large network of friends here – and it’s only a two-hour flight for friends and family to visit. Mum’s proud I took the plunge to move abroad now.”
Stars and stripes
Gemma’s success isn’t a one-off. Ruth Ferguson, 28, conquered New York in just three months, and rose through the ranks from marketing assistant to manager.
“After graduating with a degree in marketing management from Manchester Metropolitan University in July 2006, I got a job as a marketing assistant for a local recruitment company on £17,000 a year,” says Ruth. “I assisted my manager writing press releases but, with just two of us on the team, there wasn’t much scope for promotion.”
In August 2007, Ruth handed in her notice and booked a three-month trip to New York – the maximum time you can work unpaid in the US without securing a work visa. “I felt pigeonholed and thought interning in New York would be a chance to gain marketing experience in a variety of companies,” she explains. “I read that one year’s work experience in New York is equivalent to up to three years in London. I’d saved up £1,500 and didn’t mind working for free if it would accelerate my career.
Made in Manhattan
Ruth inspired her friend, Lucy, 27, a digital encoder, to join her. “Neither of us had a chance to line up work placements before we left. But we booked into a hostel for the first two nights before finding a flat share in East Harlem, Manhattan, for £300 per month each including bills.
In the first week, Ruth found work experience with media and marketing agency Girlie Action, which designs marketing campaigns for music artists.
“They were advertising for interns on Craigslist, a website that posts jobs for travellers,” she explains. “After an interview they offered me two days a week. Unlike placements in the UK, where interns usually make tea and do the photocopying, I was helping to secure press coverage for clients like Morrissey and Calvin Harris. It was such a fun and creative environment.”
Ruth had initially set her sights on working for the prestigious Tribal DDB, a global advertising agency with headquarters on Madison Avenue. “You normally have to organise an internship programme months in advance there, but I was determined to find a way in,” she says. “When I discovered our landlady, Diana, 33, works as a receptionist for them, I begged her to set me up a meeting with the marketing director.
“After an interview, I was overjoyed to be offered two days work a week. I was thrown in at the deep end in helping to write digital campaigns for big brand clients McDonald’s and Phillips.”
Determined Ruth also spent her Fridays working for Downtown Babies, an educational company for youngsters. “I met the managing director at a networking party. She’d just set up the business and needed help marketing her venture.
“I introduced her to social media as a way to promote her business and even got her a mention in Time Out New York magazine.”
Ruth returned to the UK in November 2007 when her visa ran out and found her work experience helped her double her salary. “In the job interview, I discussed my experience in New York, which impressed them,” she says. “And I was offered a job as a marketing manager for Gorenje, a domestic appliance manufacturer.
“Working abroad was really character building and shows strength, determination and a sense of adventure.”
Getting a job in a different country can be a great way to fast-track your career whether you stay there or come back to the UK. And in the midst of a recession, taking a risk could be the best way to move up the career ladder.
Globetrot your way to a promotion
- You can apply for overseas jobs from the UK. If you have a sought-after skillset, such as IT or engineering, there’s a high chance you can secure a job offer before you go abroad. For jobs visit Monster.com.
- Ask your company for a sabbatical – they might even sponsor you if you’re learning new skills or if it can benefit them. Gapyear.com has tips on arguing your case.
- Check visa and sponsorship requirements – countries can have tight working restrictions but employers can also sponsor you for longer than an initial work visa. Visit Globalvisas.com for details.
- Have a contingency budget with enough money to pay for a return flight home if things don’t work out. Independenttraveler.com has a travel budget calculator to help you.
- Flat share with professionals – you can quiz them about work life and office etiquette in that country before you start your new job. It’s also a great way to make friends. Find one at Craigslist.org.
- A Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course will qualify you to work abroad as a teacher. You can learn before you go or do it while you’re there. See Cactustefl.com.
- Seasonworkers.com is a great source for jobs abroad, as well as details of courses you might need to take. Options include work as a diving instructor and a lifeguard.