International student graduates beat the odds to find jobs in Australia

NO relevant work experience? On a temporary residency visa? Hadi Ismanto shares the success stories of international student graduates who overcame the odds to land their dream jobs in Australia. 

It’s a story we’ve all heard before. Job hopefuls who have all the qualifications, but get knocked back time and time again because they don’t have any experience, or because they only hold a temporary residency visa. So how do some international student graduates do it?

1. Treat job-hunting process as a full-time job

Meet Michelle, a graduate from The University of Melbourne. She has a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours majoring in Actuarial Studies.

While she had plenty of work experience, including time at McDonald’s, Kumon Centre and a brief stint as a Peer-Assisted Study Scheme leader – none of that had anything to do with what she studied.

Yet, Michelle now works as a skill assessment officer at VETASSESS, where she conducts skill assessments for migration purposes to Australia. Her starting pay? $57,000 per annum.

It’s her dream job, but it wasn’t easy to get.

With little relevant experience, she sent out more than 800 unsuccessful applications before she got her job at VETASSESS. But she did it all in five weeks… with a temporary residency visa.

How you ask? Michelle treated the job hunting process like a full-time job. Every day, she would start applying at exactly 9am, take an hour’s lunch break, and resume until 5pm.

At night, she would spend time practising interview questions or recording herself answering questions from job seeking self-help books. She also constantly revamped her cover letter and CV.

It’s no surprise that Michelle preaches the importance of perseverance when it comes to job seeking.

So don’t just leave it up to chance or be resigned to the fact that some people are just “lucky” to find success after the first few job applications.

By treating your job-hunting process seriously, you will increase your chances statistically. Not to mention get into good habits that will pay off when you transition from student to working life.

2. Get your foot in the door by working for free

Nicholas is looking forward to starting a full-time research job at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute later this month.

After completing a diploma in biotechnology in Singapore, Nicholas came to Melbourne to pursue a Bachelor of Science majoring in biotechnology.

Realising late in the game he had no relevant work experience, he acted on a friend’s advice during his honours year to get his foot in the door by offering to take on unpaid work. He began by looking for research experience at his university’s labs.

One of his lecturers was able to give him that opportunity, but couldn’t pay him.

Convinced it was the experience that counted and not the money, Nicholas took the offer and worked hard in his role as a research assistant.

“It’s pretty difficult for international students to find work, and I wanted to increase my chances of finding work after graduation,” he said.

“I also wanted to find out through the internship if I would enjoy research work.”

During one of his late night stints in the lab, he had a chance meeting with the laboratory head who invited him to attend an upcoming staff dinner. And over the course of that dinner, the topic of Nicholas’ job hunt came up, which led to an impromptu interview, and subsequently, a formal job offer with the laboratory he was interning at.

Nicholas’ best piece advice for graduates is to network. A good starting place is to get better acquainted with your lecturers, but there are also organisations in your field of study that you can get involved with. Above all, it’s not about who you know but who knows you.

3. Consider going interstate

Despite graduating with a Bachelor of Science with Honours majoring in pathology, Irvin had no relevant experience to back up his degree.

At job interviews, he felt he was continually being trumped by applicants with more relevant experience.

After a year of unsuccessful job seeking, Irvin decided to try his luck interstate, leaving family and friends behind in Melbourne for Sydney.

The move paid off, as he soon found a job as a research assistant in the colon and lung  cancer research group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research – a dream job and definitely relevant to the degree he studied!

It can be hard getting out of your comfort zone, but as in Irvin’s case, it’s sometimes worth biting the bullet, expanding your horizons, and trying your luck elsewhere.

In additional to that, Irvin’s top tip is to get your CV and resume checked time after time and to always make sure you customise them to suit the job you’re applying for.

4. Get connected on LinkedIn

By now, you should have realised that social media is not limited to Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn is an excellent way to get connected in the professional world.

Jason, MBA graduate and now consultant at a boutique management consulting firm based in Melbourne, used LinkedIn to his advantage.

He started his job hunt some nine months before he was to graduate, attending industry events and sending out his first tentative LinkedIn coffee invitation around the same time. It went well, and opened the door to other meetings – and he was in almost 20 meetings by the time he graduated.

“In the process, I realised that almost unknowingly, I had accumulated sufficient industry knowledge to speak intelligently on a variety of industry specific questions – this would later prove to be crucial as the firms I interviewed with regularly required multiple rounds of panel interviews,” he said.

And with neither permanent residency nor extensive local work experience, every little nugget helped. While following the LinkedIn trail down to roles I was interested in, I managed to land a role in a great company that ticked all the boxes.

So for international students on the job hunt who are avid uses of Facebook, yet have never tapped into the world of LinkedIn, take Jason’s advice and apply your social networking skills to the world of LinkedIn.

For more tips on using LinkedIn, Jason shares more extensively here.

There are 16 comments

  1. William Ng

    I was a product of the above and knowing that I couldn’t land a permanent residency in hotel background, I took the advantage of using my days as a student working casually and landed a one-year internship contract 3 months prior to my graduation.

    As time was still on my end, I try to buy as much time as possible on my bridging visa for temporary residency (TR) by working extra hard to excel in front of my employers. That paid off eventually as I was soon promoted during the course of my internship. When my TR kicks in, I was again promoted. That proves that employers were more keen in retaining good employees without worrying when your visa comes to an end.

    I was soon head-hunted mid last year a few times and now all I can say that I am less worried than before as I know that you can certainly make a difference even you’re on a bridging visa towards a Graduate visa. Having said that you’ve at least 2.5 years to chase your dreams here and show that you can to your employers.

  2. Joshua Rodrigues

    I arrived from Mumbai, India in 2009 when the violence against Indians had reached its apogee. I was fortunate to be supported by a scholarship which
    meant that I did not have to pay hefty fees like other students.

    But, unfortunately, I was excluded from my department’s social life. I was not allowed to teach. I as told that I was from a non-English background. Ironically, academics have not measured my proficiency in Konkani, my native language. My colleagues gave me cold looks when I joined the graduate program on the first day. They accused me of being ” smelly” and gave me a work station that was disconnected socially.

    I have approached my department and other departments over and over again for teaching assignments but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. This,despite the fact that I have a certificate of tutor training from the relevant university. I was only allowed to tutor a guest lecture once. I have no complaints about the university infrastructure in Australia which, I must confess is better than India, or even the US. The salaries here are generous.

    But, the preferences for hiring in Australian Universities are heavily biased towards European students or students who claim European ancestry or originate from South Korea and Singapore. If a particular department does not get adequate number of postgrad tutors to teach a particular course, they canvass their own honors or undergraduate students to tutor the ourse in question. These hiring practices are unquestionable. Second, local students who have been downgraded from PhD to MA are also allowed to teach undergraduate courses and academics turn a blind eye to such students being hired. Teaching assistantships in Australia are considered as personal fiefdoms and academics promote their own students as course tutors. Australian education is well known for nepotism.

    While I agree that an international student should treat job hunts as a 9-5 profession, the article alludes to the fact that international students have to try harder than domestic students or face a higher risk of rejections in interview due to their skin colour. One career counsellor that I spoke to in Sydney assumed that as a non-English speaker I should minimise the use of my native language at home. Anyways, I am a Goan Christian from India and I have been attuned to speak English at home and in academic settings. I applied for a casual position at a particular Sydney uni and the staff in charge of selection told me that she would try to canvass her own students for marking as I was an outsider. The use of the word ” my own” alludes to racism.

    I went to a careers fair at a certain Sydney Uni keeping the hope that I would land up a job. But, to my chagrin, I found a number of placement firms who run shady courses that extort as much as Au$ 3200 that teach prospective job hunters how to tailor their CVs to the demands of the job market. The Uni advertised job placement and is consequently misleading international students. International students lack support form the University placement service and counsellors. When they are victims of racist attacks and speak up, they are told to conform. Racism and mistreatment of Indians in Australia is a shame on the Australian education system and I foresee that Australia will certainly become a laughing stock in the UN community.

    You certainly cannot expect international students who have submitted their PhD to slog from 9-5 on their resumes and job hunts for two months on an empty stomach, browse 8000 jobs, compromise on their ambitions and eventually land up a cash-in-hand job at a 7/11 while continuing to hire undergraduate students as tutors for a particular course. I feel that Australian academia and students are highly pampered by their government which makes them more complacent and indifferent to social issues. Instead of agitating around the Gonski reforms Australian students and casual lecturers should roll up their sleeve, work 60 hours a day like their American colleagues and stop fretting about salary increases in a competitive environment.

  3. Mark

    It always amazes me that people who are quick to claim racism come from some of the most disgustingly racist and prejudiced countries on the face of the earth and then bleat about how they ‘didn’t get what they wanted’. Perhaps you did smell. Exactly when is a good time to tell you that you smell? I for one would find it hard to look beyond that when dealing with a new staff member. What we expect is that in particluar, Indian students come with expectations that there is an equivalence in their qualifications and experience, which we don’t necessarily accept, and an entitlement to get the job they think they deserve and anything short of the money they want or job they want, must be racism. Frankly no employer has any obligation to international students at all. I for one expect that student will study and then go home. I have spoken to employers that explicity do not want stduents from some countries given the experience they have of them. There is a very sound reason why we avoid some students from some countries.

  4. das

    So you are saying someone from the so called “disgustingly” racist countries cant complain if they are discriminated against! If Indians (or if that matter any other foreigners) are coming to Australia expecting that their education or experience is acceptable and recognised in australia, its because our government, especially our immigration office, says so. But in reality what I do see around in Australia is many (even Australians) are not getting jobs based on their qualifications ( because there are not many jobs here).

    Those employers whom you are talking about, who refuses to take students from some countries, in my definition are fundamentally over generalising, and since they target students based on countries or ethnic groups, are racists. In my experience its not the business owners who got the problem, its those know-it-all recruiters and supervisors who spoils the day for everyone.

    In my opinion, Australia is growing as a multicultural and equal oppurtunity country where everyone are immigrants( even the indigenous I learnt). If some pinheads wanTed to spoil that culture, damn them.

  5. Anonymous

    International students are bringing a lot of revenue to Australia. One of the reason why students come here is because of easy immigration rules and promise of opportunities. Students certainly do not come here JUST FOR EDUCATION. Trust me, the quality of education is much better in many countries. Nobody is going to spend thousands of dollars in education in Australia and then go back to their home country where there is no recognition for Australian education. Students are definitely expecting good opportunities. BTW “Mark” this link is for you.
    If you have seen it you will understand that it is the international students that fund the education of many domestic students. There is a search engine called google (a very good one) try doing some R&D before you post a comment. Its not that difficult to use, I am sure you can do it.

  6. Angus Pryor

    Totally agree that international students bring a lot of value to Australia. As long as they meet the visa requirements, I have absolutely no problem with them staying on and/or working in Australia in the context of their studies

  7. Luella

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  8. Muneeb

    Friends, I am from Pakistan presently studying in Federation University here, i am in desperate need for a job to support myself. If anyone out of those reading can help me out in finding a full or part time job, that would be a great favour… Looking forward to receive some response from all those people reading it

  9. Anonymous

    Well, Australia is racist. I was born and raised in Nepal, educated in India and USA. I have two Master’s degree in Biomedical Science, one for India and one from the US. I chose to move to Sydney as my wife already Australian Permanent Residency. Now I feel that moving to Australia has been the biggest mistake of my life. I was invited to Garvan Institute for an interview. And know what I was baffled even before I shook hands with my interviewer, Rob Salomon – Core Facilities Manager, because his first question was, “You are not local? Are you?”. I actually felt like retorting back with “I thought only aborigines were locals. Where were your ancestors from?” but I restrained myself and only replied with a “NO”. And guess what despite my over 10 years of knowledge in Flowcytometry, I didn’t get the job. Probably, Rob was very much into hiring locals for the job. My suggestion to Rob – if you are so intent on hiring locals, I expect “LOCALS ONLY NEED APPLY” in position advertisements. To all those who are thinking of coming to Australia to study or work in Biological/Molecular Sciences field – my advice will be to stay away. Go to USA, atleast they won’t be so blatantly racist as Robs of Garvan. There is lots of scholarship opportunities in the US compared to Australia and less racism. I am also moving to the US iin 2015. Bye Bye Rob, you won’t have to see my non-local ash anymore. Hope you remain happy with your locals.

  10. Eye Opener

    Quite interesting comments…

    But funny part is though Australian employer don;t want to recruit Indian or so directly and don;t consider the education and experience as same they do outsource and then get cheap labour… look at all 4 major banks they full of that….

    what a double standard…

    Stop outsourcing or stop making excuse…

  11. Kimball Edwin Durand

    Get Qualified ( is one excellent company for RPL and career development. Every day I count the days i approach the end of graduation. A quick note of my experience tell me that I qorked with what counts as a good company for all times. I constantly remind myself how this is going to change my life as it progresses. At the end of the day , I will get my dream of Working in Australia. So I am sharing this in order for other to have a clue where to go to and have very good

    RPL for Australia.

  12. bigozt

    No wonder Vetassess fcuked up my assessment & aspirations to migrate to Oz, because it is full of incompetent imbeciles like Michelle. Now they’ve got in, doing all they can to keep others out. Anyway, this article fully re-confirms my decision to move to the U.S.A. Oz’s “Local experience” mantra is just plain bullshit. No wonder there are few global Oz companies.

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