No. Yes. Well… maybe. It depends.
Let’s get something straight first – there are thousands of overseas born professionals who have managed to secure employment in Australia without having local experience.
So, why is there a prevailing belief that employers only consider candidates with local experience?
There are a number of factors at play here.
Are your skills universally accepted?
This is where you IT folk are lucky. Java is Java, Selenium is Selenium, SQL is SQL, ITIL is ITIL and vendor certification is universally recognised. If you have solid IT experience overseas, there should be no reason why you would be considered less than a local. The industry is full of people with qualifications and experience from overseas. In fact, many roles are actually outsourced offshore – so there goes the argument that you need local experience.
However, some professions are not quite so lucky. Accountants are required to be knowledgeable about Australian corporate law and taxation, with a preference for holders of Australian CPA or CA for public accounting roles. Building & Construction professionals will need a working understanding of Australian Standards and Codes, something that is difficulty (not impossible) to achieve without local experience.
Is it a client-facing role?
Now this is where things get tricky for public accountants, account managers, sales & marketing professionals, etc.
Whenever you see, ‘stakeholder engagement experience’, as a criterion, you’re going to find it tough if you don’t have local experience. This refers to dealing with clients/external stakeholders, and employers do have a preference for candidates with cultural familiarity – someone who can lubricate interactions with humour and conversations about the footy (football), and share a common ‘insider’s knowledge’ of the country, local industry and culture.
Recruiters or Employers?
You are more likely to hear, ‘You need local experience’, from a recruiter than an employer. Why?
If a technical person (CFO, Team Lead, Production Manager, etc.) is reading your resume or interviewing you, it won’t take them long to assess your depth of knowledge and experience; you can’t fool someone from your own profession. They will be able to make a judgement call on whether or not you can do the job and will fit in.
A generalist HR person or recruiter, on the other hand, will most likely require the reassurance of prior local experience – comfort in the knowledge that another Australian employer has taken a punt with you and things have worked out; the proof being in your willingness to list a local referee on your resume.
Too often we attribute difficulties in finding employment to a lack of local experience, when there could be more significant factors at play.
If you are given feedback, after an interview, that your lack of local experience was the reason you didn’t get the job, chances are the employer is not being entirely honest with you; they knew before the interview that you had no local experience. So, if ‘no local experience’ is grounds for not being selected, why did they waste an hour of their time meeting you? Generally, people prefer to avoid confrontation and not deliver potentially hurtful feedback, so this could be the reason you are being let down lightly with a lame excuse. Compare it to the following honest feedback:
‘You don’t sound like the person in your resume.’
‘I had trouble understanding you.’
‘I don’t think our clients are going to warm to you.’
‘I don’t think you are technically capable of doing the job.’
‘You’re a bit different, don’t have the same interests as the rest of the team; I can’t see them accepting you.’
Try walking away from that uninjured. That sort of feedback could see you not being able to get out of bed for a week.
So what to do…?