Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Welcome mat rolling out for returning Kiwis

Employers starting to see the benefits of overseas work experience.

Kiwis who have worked abroad are finding jobs more easily but they still need to sell themselves better.
Kiwis who have worked abroad are finding jobs more easily but they still need to sell themselves better.

Returning Kiwis are faring better than ever in the recruitment stakes and are being met with open arms by some employers.

According to the latest Hays Quarterly Report on hiring hotspots and recruitment trends, returning Kiwis in the architecture, construction, engineering and property industries in particular are slotting into jobs more easily than in the past.

The returners provide a brain gain, returning with more self-confidence, independence, resilience and skills than they had when they left and their ability to think globally is a bonus for some employers.

Hays chief executive Jason Walker says that given the shortage of candidates, employers are increasingly open to people who are returning home from their OE.

"Thankfully we're seeing more Kiwis returning from overseas, especially from Australia and the UK.

They are typically met with open arms by local employers who value their unique combination of local and international work experience and who want experienced staff to help deliver their projects."

That's certainly the case at property company Jones Lang LaSalle, where managing director Nick Hargreaves can't get enough of them.

"I am desperate for Kiwis who have worked overseas and returned.

"The people that resonate for us have decided they want to come back to New Zealand, have experience overseas and understand the global community we work in," he says.

Returning Kiwis have often found it harder than they expected to slot back into the job market. Sometimes their lack of "New Zealand experience" puts them at a disadvantage to local Kiwis - although they still rank higher than other immigrants.

While Hays is starting to see the tide turn on the ground, there is still a long way for Kiwi bosses to go.

Organisations such as the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Kea New Zealand still see considerable resistance from employers.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University says it is a paradox because New Zealand has the second-largest diaspora in the OECD after Ireland, which translates into really skilled people coming back. But those returners find it frustrating because they are not being used to improve business practice.

"There is still a degree of suspicion [by employers] about what [they] have done and will it suit New Zealand," says Spoonley. "One of the problems is that SME employers are not very innovative and don't value the experience that returning Kiwi professionals bring."

In the year to June, 28,000 New Zealand citizens who had spent more than a year overseas returned.

The plight of the returning Kiwi is being helped by the buoyant job market, which means a corresponding candidate shortage forces employers to recruit more widely.

Employers are not the only cause of the problem. Returning Kiwis could make their case a lot better.

Many, says career counsellor Andy McCormack of It's My Life, have unrealistic expectations and think they had a "great big role" overseas and will land the same role here. He recommends returning Kiwis reflect on what they want to achieve.

Penny Smith, employment manager at the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, says returning Kiwis sometimes find recruitment agencies can't translate their experience into something that can be used here. It's up to the returner, she says, to present their overseas experience in a way that is relevant to the job they seek.

"If you say: 'When I was in India I worked on a project with a $500 million budget,' it is not going to click," says Smith. "Take that experience and relate it directly to the role."

The chamber's website Newkiwis.co.nz offers assistance to returning Kiwis to smooth their path.

Smith and Kea New Zealand chief executive Craig Donaldson experienced the issue first hand when they returned. Smith found that having big brands such as the BBC on her CV did not have the weight she expected.

Donaldson adds: "Returning Kiwis often talk very eloquently about the amazing things they have done. Basically it scares the pants off the interviewer, who says 'you are way too qualified' or 'in six months you are going to take my job'. Or he can't see where all those amazing skills will fit in."

Returning Kiwis need to pitch their experience to the job the employer is hiring for, says Donaldson. "They still do a crappy job of doing that."

Returning Kiwis who do find it hard to get work could consider moving to Christchurch, where they are often welcomed thanks to the skills shortage in some sectors.

"Given the tight and thin local labour market in Canterbury, with male unemployment at 2.6 per cent (3.3 per cent total), employers are likely to see returning New Zealanders as an attractive source of skilled labour," a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokeswoman said.

- NZ Herald

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