Reframing your overseas experience

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So, you have a broad experience gained in one or more countries, with relevant qualifications at a well regarded university.  You should be a shoe-in for a good job then.  Well, maybe not.  It’s a common experience of returning kiwis and migrants that they often have to take a step down in their career when they return home or move here from abroad.  Many of my clients will work their way up to where they were before fairly quickly through hard work and understanding the need to align their approach with the culture in the organisation or country.  Let’s look at the perceived positives and negatives of international experience.


  • Overseas experience can provide a fresh perspective to the business with new ideas and methods
  • Employees from abroad may have valuable business contacts in their home country
  • Migrants and returning kiwis are often the sort of people with initiative and the drive to change and innovate, demonstrated by their move to another country and a new life
  • Migrants from some countries have a reputation for hard work/quality education/friendliness


  • The work culture can be quite different. For example, in some countries more deference is required for those up the management structure, while in others the structure of the business might be more formal or hierarchical.  This may affect how you function in a flat organisational structure
  • Communication style can be so different that it hinders the transmission of important information, or can inhibit the ability to be a team player in the company
  • Standards of work (e.g. quality, turn around times, health and safety) can be higher or lower in the new country. Both can be a problem.  If the standard is higher in your new country, then you may not be meeting the minimum requirements of the job, if the standard is lower, you may have unrealistic expectations of yourself and others around you.  This can lead to dissatisfaction for everybody concerned
  • Managers perceive it to be easier managing a group of people who are similar. Diversity, in the form of foreign employees, may make the job of managing a team of people more difficult
  • Returning kiwis may be out of touch with local markets and cultural changes, and there may be a perception that they might struggle to settle back into New Zealand life

As you can see the list of perceived negatives is longer, and I’m sure others could add to it.  So how do you present your international experience?

Focus on the skills and achievements in your previous role that relate directly to the posts you are going for in New Zealand.  The job advertisement and job description (if there is one) will give you hints as to what they are looking for.  When relating stories about your background focus on the personal strengths were responsible for your success.  For example, let’s say the job you are going for involves managing a team of people.  You can tell them about how your resolved a conflict situation while managing a team by appreciating on the diverse nature of the team and helping them to understand problems from each other’s perspectives.  This is signifies a good manager and it demonstrates a broader understanding of human nature rather than just the culture where you come from.

If you can find overlaps in your sector between your home country and New Zealand, focus on those.  For example, if your profession is teaching, find out what approaches are similar and focus on those.  You may find that both countries share an awareness of the role of the learning environment in fostering learning.  Bring this up to show how you have the same skills and learning philosophy that New Zealand Principals are looking for.

Check that the technical terms used in your home country are the same as in New Zealand.  I understand that some terms for medical equipment are different, so look these up and learn the new ones.  Make sure you use these terms in your CV and during the interview.

Other details that can show you are willing to fit in are:

  • Include a local address on your CV if at all possible
  • When talking about New Zealanders say ‘we’ rather than ‘you’, especially if you are in the country already. You’re a local now, so make sure you come across as one
  • On a similar vein, when talking about the home country say ‘they’ or ‘their’ instead of ‘our’
  • Only report positive stories about your experience of settling in. New Zealanders like to think that moving to their country is the best thing you have ever done.  It might or might not be – no need to go into all those struggles and challenges.  Focus on what you like about the country rather than what you don’t like
  • Do not mention any plans to return home or move to another country; make it clear that you and your family have settled here and are happy to stay.