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Securing Your First Role in Australia - Tips for Expats

Author: Matt Lenagh

Published date: 2020/02

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A booming economy with rapid population growth and a high number of skill shortages……surely it won’t be hard to secure my ideal role? Think again! Time after time I speak to candidates with a good resume and experience in their chosen field who find it difficult or almost impossible to find their first role in Australia. As an expat myself I had a similar struggle.

Below are some tips that hopefully will help you secure your first role down under…

Focus your search. 

Apply for roles you specialise in and are experienced in. All too often I see candidates apply for every role a company/agency has advertised. This is not effective, it makes you look as if you are not reading the advertisements, and that you are applying for every role going and dare I say it, a little desperate? This is not really the approach we are looking for and not a great first impression for any prospective employer.

What impression do you want to make?

Scarcity and intrigue! Ok, easier said than done, but the big thing is trying to lift your CV out of a stack of hundreds and get noticed. Take a step back and think about what the perfect candidate would look like and how they would behave. Firstly, to be brutally honest the “perfect” candidate is probably already working so they are extremely unlikely to apply to a role unless it looks like the right fit long term (let alone multiple roles). Secondly, they are going to have some questions about the role – after all, there is only so much you can get from an advert.

Why does the role exist? What’s the structure of the team? Who would you be reporting to? What does career progression look like for someone in a role like this?

If there are contact details on the advert call and speak to the hiring manager let them know you had a few questions that you wanted to ask before you applied. If you ask smart questions at the very least, they will be looking out for your application.

Make it easy for employees to understand your resume. 

Holy wall of text! Have you ever heard of bullet points? More than 4 lines of unbroken text in your CV? Too long, it won’t get read! Here is another tough pill to swallow, a decision-maker spends 6 seconds on average looking at a CV before deciding if someone is right – so make it count.

The first things people look for are:

  1. Your job title (whether you have been promoted through your career)

  2. The companies you have worked at

  3. Tenure (how long have you been in each role)

If you make it past this, they will skim your experience so make it easy for them.

    Overview – what did the business specialise in, what was your position (no more than 3 lines)

    Responsibilities – This should be in dot points (no dot point should be more than 2 lines long if you can help it)

    Achievements – again this should be in dot points


Repeat this format for each role you have had in your career. Probably important to note here that if anyone has told you your CV should only be 1 page its time to stop listening to them. This dates back to the days where people faxed applications through. CV’s between 3-5 pages are perfectly acceptable.

Follow up your application with a phone call. 

Now I’m not talking about clicking submit and picking up the phone, but you should follow up within 24 – 48 hrs. Just let them know you are following up your application and wanted to see if they had any questions regarding your skills and experience.

Manage your expectations. 

I hate to say it, but if you haven’t worked in Australia employers reduce the weight, they give to your experience by roughly 40%. There are some exceptions to this, but the trend is consistent across the construction industry and a lot of employers don’t even realise they have this bias. Unfortunately, until you establish local track record your experience will be devalued.

So here comes another tough pill to swallow, if you have 10 years’ experience in the UK you are probably going to be considered for roles where they are looking for someone with 6 years’ experience and the pay will almost certainly reflect this.

Don't worry about money. 

What do you mean don’t worry about money! The money will take care of itself in the long term. THE most important thing is to get a foot in the door. Once you get Australian experience your next role will pay inline with the local market – but you must get your foot in the door!

Be open to contract. 

Again, it is all about getting your foot in the door and establishing local experience and it’s a lot easier to get land a job when you are working as it gives you more leverage through the interview process. If a business knows that you are out of work, then they are in the driver’s seat. Working contract roles will establish local experience and take back a bit of control.

At the end of the day, you must stay positive and have an open mind. Easier said than done but remind yourself why you are chasing your dream. Remember to go into each opportunity, no matter how small with an open mind, with the hope it will lead to a bigger door opening down the line. One day you will look back at this and realise it was just part of your journey!

Matt Lenagh is a Consultant in our Civil Infrastructure team, he is passionate about sourcing the best candidates for major projects across all of Victoria. Connect with Matt on LinkedIn here!