How can international students succeed locally – a Brisbane graduate’s advice
As international students, we have all faced difficulties when it comes to finding the perfect local job. Our visa status, cultural and language differences are sometimes seen as legitimate organisational risks to employers.
To be successful, we need to approach this market from a different perspective. We need to cut through the clutter. We need to market ourselves effectively. We need to be proactive, different, and better. This guide is here to help you.
Assimilate - adapt to local culture
Bags packed, flight booked, house settled. Do as the Romans do, I've got this. University is supposed to be the best time of my life, right? Then, you step out of the plane and realise you must learn everything, and I mean everything, from ground zero in a foreign country with no friends and family. Assimilating is the name of the game here, and you need to master it.
Everyone experiences culture shock differently. There will be an ongoing internal conflict between immersing in the local culture (scary) and settling in with your fellow country mates (comfortable). The ideal spot would be a balance between the two. Personally, I pursued my studies in Australia to push myself out of my comfort zone. I knew that the journey would be scary and tough, but hey, I also knew that it would be worth it.
While you’re starting out, place more importance on local experience than salary. Australian employers place a huge emphasis on cultural fit therefore local experience is critical. One interviewer told me that technical skills can be easily trained but attitude and cultural fit are far more difficult and expensive to improve.
Fortunately, there are various ways to help with assimilation – networking, volunteering plus joining clubs and societies. Learn some of the Aussie slang and practice your English. You will also pick up on important non-verbal cues such as local norms and social values. All these are critical to ensure that you have a sense of belonging and feel comfortable in Australia.
Know your value
“Why should we hire you? What do you have to bring to the table? How do you add value?” If you are looking for jobs, better have the answers ready.
We live in an age where machines are incredibly fast and accurate in learning algorithms and recognising patterns, which makes them far superior than humans in transactional jobs. What machines cannot do well, however, is to critically evaluate information holistically and derive meaningful strategies. And that's the direction we should focus our resources into.
One way or another, you are competing against the best candidates locally and internationally in every job application. How do you stand out? Always think of how you can add value. Can you streamline the current process to be more efficient? Can you think of a different and better way of doing things? Can you communicate effectively to increase efficiency and reduce turnaround time?
Additionally, you should keep abreast of the industry's latest trends and news. This shows self-drive and focus to prospective employers.
Adjust your mindset
As international students, some of us tend to suffer from an inferiority complex - feelings of inadequacy due to shortcomings compared to our local peers. These shortcomings can be language, cultural and communication differences. Some of these may not be even real yet our minds will perceive them to be if we believe in them.
In a foreign country, we often find ourselves questioning our own self-esteem and worth. We often think our peers - local or international - are not interested in what we have to say therefore we do not even share our stories altogether. Gradually, we begin to withdraw from social interaction and develop toxic thought patterns.
How do we overcome this? Consistent and intentional effort outside your comfort zone. It will be daunting at first, but I promise it gets easier the more you try. One effective way is to make fun of yourself - a light-hearted joke, witty comment or funny story. These are helpful to lighten up any situation. When we show our peers that we can take a joke, I think they will be more inclined to warm up to us.
Conquering this mental barrier will build your confidence as you get more comfortable in expressing yourself and become a great storyteller. And we all know the benefits of having excellent communication skills - particularly in the workplace.
Balance your GPA, extracurricular activities and employment
One common conundrum is balancing our study commitments with extracurricular activities and employment. Above all, our primary goal is to fulfill your study commitments. This is the reason why we are even here in the first place, so please do not lose track of this.
An effective strategy is to set a target GPA to achieve (say 5/7). Once achieved, you can plan any remaining time available for your extracurricular activities and part-time employment. Well then, how high of a GPA should you aim for? Consider two students, Student A with an impressive 6.5/7 GPA and 0 extracurricular, and Student B with a good 5.5/7 GPA with active involvement in clubs and casual employment. Personally, I think Student B is more employable generally due to the acquired soft skills and real-world experience.
Of course, maintaining a good GPA is a basic requirement to get a job, but if you think the amount of effort required to achieve a higher GPA is no longer proportional to the level of improvement made, you can take some time to focus on your extracurricular activities, which improves your communication, leadership and teamwork abilities.
Perhaps the single most beneficial thing you could do to maximise your employability is to complete an internship before graduating. I cannot stress this enough. You will get your first taste of your discipline as it relates to the working world. Typically, students should complete the internship in their summer break (Dec-Feb each year for Australia), lasting 2-3 months each. Wondering how to find the perfect work placement for you? My fellow ambassador, Stephanie Casas, wrote an insightful article on this.
You’re different, and that’s ok
While you’re trying to fit in, don’t feel embarrassed about being different. Celebrate your cultural background. Be proud of who you are. Australia is a country with a diverse population. Your specific cultural insights are sometimes exactly what employers are looking for. If you can navigate local industry with ease while bringing your cross-cultural experience, it will work out in your favour.