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How to move overseas for work and boost your career

With borders open and the world feeling safer, young Australians are once again embarking on a popular rite of passage: moving overseas for work. Whether it’s through an internal transfer or independent relocation, international experience offers huge growth potential for your career – especially when you return home.

‘Moving to another country to work is an exciting opportunity, and it’s such a wonderful time to be globally mobile as international borders are reopening,’ says Associate Professor Alfred Presbitero, senior lecturer and Master of Business Administration (International) course director at Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law.

Even better, Australian employers really value this sort of experience, which can boost your career when you come back to Australia.’

Deciding when to go overseas

An estimated one million Australians live and work overseas, and the cohort is expected to grow to 1.35 million by 2030 in line with increasing ease of travel, global demand for skilled workers and internationalisation of labour markets.

The UK, US, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East are popular destinations for Aussie expats. According to a 2021 survey, our diaspora spans every industry, with financial and professional services, IT and telecommunications, and education and academia home to the largest representation.

A/Prof Presbitero, who has lived and worked in the Philippines, Singapore and now Australia, says an internal transfer with a multinational company is often the easiest pathway to landing a role overseas. ‘The company provides all the support that you need, like relocation, training and translation services,’ he says.

Independent relocation can be more difficult as you need to apply for jobs on your own and potentially manage your relocation, but A/Prof Presbitero says it’s far from impossible. ‘A lot of people find jobs on employment websites or in their networks.’

Crucially, even though many Australian workers head overseas in their mid-to-late-20s after clocking up a few years with local employers, he says there isn’t a perfect age or amount of professional experience to have under your belt before you go. What matters is having the soft skills essential for success in an overseas posting.

Effective communication skills, interpersonal skills and, according to our research, “cultural intelligence” are incredibly important,’ A/Prof Presbitero says. ‘As long as you’ve developed these critical capabilities, you’ll be well placed to survive and thrive in another country.’

Maximising your experience

Likewise, getting the most out of your time overseas, professionally and personally, has a far greater impact on your future career than the length of your tenure, Dr Presbitero explains.

‘In some of the research I’ve been doing, we are showing that it’s not really the time that you spend overseas that matters in your career progression – it’s in the quality of those experiences,’ he says.

‘If you’re living in another country for 10 years, but you’re not really effectively dealing with the locals or finding opportunities to develop your skills, then that amount of time would be nothing compared to someone who stayed for five years and tried to get all the learning experiences that they could.’

Establishing good-quality relationships with your colleagues and other stakeholders, being promoted or challenging yourself with a lateral move sideways and fine-tuning your cultural intelligence to suit the local environment can ‘help you move your career forward when you return to your home country’, A/Prof Presbitero says.

What to do when you return home

The majority of Aussie expats return home within five years with experience and competencies that Dr Presbitero says are highly valued by Australian employers. This means that for many professionals, repatriation provides a much-desired career leg-up.

‘The natural progression is that you move to another country, get extensive experience – five years would be extensive – and then move back to Australia and look for a higher-level role than what you had overseas,’ A/Prof Presbitero says.

‘Maybe you’ll be the country manager or head an entire department. There’s an enlargement of responsibility, because experience overseas is considered a helpful mechanism for you to be able to expand.’

It can be tempting to play down your international experience when you’re back on home turf for fear of tall poppy syndrome, but securing a more senior role often depends on your ability to show potential employers how you’ve developed during your time abroad.

‘Sometimes people who are aspiring to move to a higher role when they return to Australia neglect to evidence their experience,’ A/Prof Presbitero says. ‘They will say they’ve been overseas and that’s about it.

‘If you’re targeting a role back in Australia, it’s important to demonstrate how your international experience has contributed to your personal and professional growth, as the employer will want to be convinced that you’ve gained the most out of the experience overseas.’

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A/Prof Alfred Presbitero
A/Prof Alfred Presbitero

Senior Lecturer,

Faculty of Business and Law,

Deakin University

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