ON A COLD WINTERY EVENING IN MELBOURNE, I attended a job search seminar for skilled migrants, organised by Engineers Australia. The experts delivered pep-talks on various issues related to searching for jobs including the contentious topic – ‘local experience’. I could sense the issue of local experience was still looming large in the room.
One gentleman stood up and asked, “I am a Civil Engineer with more than 10 years of experience in construction and design. I diligently tailor my resumé to each job ad. I am told that my qualifications are great, but I do not have local experience; hence my application will not be considered. Can you please explain if engineering principles operate differently in Australia vis-à-vis my erstwhile country?”
His frustration and anger was very palpable. Everyone had the same question – how can I have local experience without a job? It is like a chicken and egg situation, which came first? The presenters attempted to answer; however, no attendees were satisfied with the response.
I am sure the same question keeps many skilled migrants awake and thinking – why do employers not value my overseas experience?
Over the last seven years, I have discussed the question with skilled migrants and recruitment consultants, and I have formulated three strategies to counter the dreaded question. Let me demystify the local experience issue.
In an interview process, the organisation is evaluating you on two aspects – technical fit and cultural fit. A lot of decision-makers value cultural fit more than the former. It makes sense! An organisation can train you to perform a particular task or activity based on your technical skills.
However, it would be challenging to change your inherent traits. I think when hiring managers or recruitment consultants say they cannot hire you because you don’t have local experience; they are referring to your cultural fit, including communication skills and presentation competencies. Organisations want to hire someone who will integrate with the existing team. After all, who wants to throw cats amongst pigeons!
Here are the three strategies to counter the local experience question:
- Do not believe everything they say. Yes, that’s right. If you are given a reason for not being hired due to lack of local experience, just smile. Resist the temptation to ask confrontational questions like Tom Cruise did in the movie A Few Good Men. Hiring managers and recruiters will always be diplomatic in their responses.
2 Surprise them with a counter question. When a hiring manager or a recruiter tells you about lack of local experience, discuss it with them. Here is an example: “Thank you John, for reviewing my application and getting back to me. You must have liked my application, however, you will not be considering me due to a lack of local experience. I would appreciate if you could provide some constructive feedback to improve my chances.”
3 Address the issue in the cover letter. This strategy works brilliantly. Tell them you do not have local experience but provide compelling reasons to consider you for the job; list stand-out accomplishments and transferrable skills you can offer.
You would ask “Do I have local experience?” My answer is, no.
Whilst I completely respect yours and the employer’s concerns about local experience, I’d like to draw your attention to the skills and expertise that I have developed in last 10 years. I have generated and expanded business; captured customers in a highly competitive market; implemented marketing ideas and campaigns; and delivered strong customer support. These are transferrable skills that transcend the boundaries of different countries.”
Try these strategies. I am sure at least one will surely work for you. Good luck.