On a cold wintery evening in Melbourne, I attended a job search seminar for newly arrived migrants, organised by Engineers Australia.
After the pep-talks delivered by experts on various issues related to job search 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 said, “I am a Civil Engineer with more than 10 years of experience in construction and design. I diligently tailor my resume 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 were very palpable.
Everyone had the same question – how can I have local experience without a job? It is like the ostrich and the egg, which came first? The presenters attempted to answer; however, no attendees were satisfied with the response.
Image credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng
This question keeps many of skilled migrants awake and thinking – Why employers do not value my overseas experience?
Over the last eleven years, I have discussed the question with skilled migrants and recruitment consultants. I have formulated three strategies to counter this dreaded question.
Let me demystify the local experience issue.
During the hiring process, the organisation is evaluating you on two important aspects – technical fit and cultural fit.
Lot of decision-makers value cultural fit more than the former. It makes sense! An organisation can train you to perform a particular task/activity based on your technical skills. However, changing your inherent traits is very difficult.
I think when hiring managers or recruitment consultants say, “Sorry, we 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 cat amongst pigeons!
Image credit: Nikita Kachanovsky
3 ways to respond
Here are the three strategies to counter the local experience question:
Do not believe everything they say: Yes, that is right. If you are being told the sole reason behind your application not being shortlisted, just smile. Resist the temptation to ask confrontational questions just like Tom Cruise did in the movie A Few Good Men. Hiring managers and recruiters will always be diplomatic in their responses.
Surprise them with a counter question: When a hiring manager or a recruiter tells you about lack of local experience, ask him/her a question. Try this out:
“Thank you, John, for reviewing my application and getting back to me. I am sure you did not just call just to remind I do not have local experience. But you really liked my application and now my application will not be considered for the reason you already knew. I would appreciate if you could provide some constructive feedback to improve my chances.”
Address the issue in the cover letter: This strategy works brilliantly. Tell them you do not have local experience and provide compelling reasons to consider you for the job; list stand-out accomplishments and transferrable skills you can offer.
For example: You would respond to the question “do you have local experience?” by saying:
"My answer is no. Whilst I completely respect your and the employer’s concerns about local experience, I would like to draw your attention to skills and expertise that I have honed in last 10 years; generated and expanded business; captured customers in a highly competitive market; implemented marketing ideas and campaigns; delivered strong customer support. These are transferrable skills that transcend the boundaries of different countries.”
Try these strategies. I am confident that at least one will work for you.