Path from NZ to the States is not so well trodden, but is well worth the effort.

For ambitious New Zealanders seeking some international career experience, the traditional route has been to the UK - a slightly over-crowded flat in London with friends waiting and a job at a known company - what's not to like?

But with San Francisco an easy 13-hour direct flight away and Silicon Valley, the epicentre of the global tech boom, more bright young things are heading over to pursue careers in tech and related areas. The route is not as well trodden - visas and applying for green cards need to be negotiated - but the rewards can be phenomenal.

Fleur Knowsley, currently corporate counsel at Google Fiber, based in Mountain View, California, had accepted a job in London in 2007 when she was approached by the prestigious US law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore and went to New York instead.

The Victoria University law/economics graduate and Kensington Swan lawyer, had to sit the New York Bar exam when she first arrived and was at CSM for four years, gaining experience in mergers and acquisitions, corporate advisory/investigations and securities.

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"My $25,000 NZ education has far and away equipped me better than any kid from an Ivy League school here," she says. "When we graduate in NZ, we can do it all, buy and sell property, argue motions, conference with a client."

Knowsley's next step was in-house at HBO's distribution team in 2011, negotiating and drafting licensing and distribution agreements.

Knowsley thought out her career trajectory in the US carefully. " I spent three or four years developing a network, focusing on three main interests - media, sports and tech, and worked every day to maintain it."

The lawyer decided to job hunt again in 2013 to make sure she would be eligible for a green card and be able to stay in the US. She has been there on an H-1B visa.

"With each job change, I had to convince the employer it was worth it to apply for a visa for me," she says.

When interviewing at Google Fiber, she made it clear her accepting the job was dependent on them agreeing to apply for a green card on her behalf.

"I probably got rejected from 50 jobs before receiving the Google offer," she adds.

Nick King.
Nick King.

Now corporate counsel at Google Fiber, Knowsley is busy rolling out the business in states throughout the country and thoroughly enjoying the new work.

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Knowsley has acquired a more direct management style in the US.

"Companies expect you to take charge and be the quarterback on the project, coordinating with the other business teams," she says.

Another Kiwi enjoying the boom in the Silicon Valley is Aucklander Nick King, who was promoted to head of marketing, Android and Chrome devices (for work) at Google in 2014.

His US career began at Microsoft's head office in Redmond, Washington, in 2007. He had been an infrastructure solutions specialist at Microsoft New Zealand and was asked to go to the US to work as a technical product manager.

By the time he left Microsoft in 2013 for Google, he was a senior marketing manager and known in the international market with good contacts at Google.

"In enterprise product marketing, there is a pretty small population of about 300 of us worldwide," he says.

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King entered the US on an L-1 visa, which is for employees who have worked for the same company overseas. He was able to get a green card within a year and was naturalised last year.

The St Kentigern's old boy ran his own business during his BBS at AUT, managing IT services for small businesses.

"I learnt how to take a product to market and how to manage a business," he says.

In his spare time, King, 34, now coaches start-ups in Silicon Valley, helping them with their business plans and defining their go-to-market strategies.

King describes the differences between management styles in the US and NZ.

"Decisions that used to go to eight to 10 people in NZ, could go to as many as 40 to 50 people globally. You become a master of stakeholder management.

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"There is a real focus on culture and diversity, ensuring that you have a diverse team to make sure you're truly able to create an innovative approach in your marketing."

Shannon Brown.
Shannon Brown.

King is just where he wants to be. "There are so many things going on in the Android and Chrome space - it is as if someone has given me the keys to a Ferrari and said to drive it fast. There are infinite opportunities."

While King and Knowsley are well entrenched in the States, there is a flow of young Kiwis going in and out of the US working for as long as they can and then planning their return.

Last year, 2013 AUT communications graduate Shannon Brown spent seven months at the Kiwi Landing Pad, the business hub based in San Francisco for NZ companies with US aspirations. On a J-1 cultural exchange visa, she was writing blogs for the residents and engaging the KLP community online.

For her final five months, Brown got a job as a paid intern at Voxer, the company behind the Voxer Walkie Talkie Messenger app, popular among teachers and remote workers.

Finding work in San Francisco was not easy.

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"I was not standing out from everyone else. I changed my tactics when I applied for Voxer."

In the email subject line, she simply put: "Your next marketing intern."

She was confident and prepared and got the job on the same day.

"It taught me how confidence is really key," she says.

Shannon recently signed a contract at Sky TV as a brand coordinator.

Follow these tips

• Try the green card lottery. Each country has an allocation and surprisingly few New Zealanders apply for it.
• Don't be afraid to get in touch with people who you think will be good contacts in the US.
• A lot of people are pretty approachable.
• Believe in yourself — if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.
• You have to persevere and want it badly enough. Move on from rejection.
• Big companies don't care about the visa situation. It is a tiny barrier to entry in the scheme of the cost of hiring good people.

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