“There’s no need to panic. Always remember that whatever you’ve learned in life, you have gained skills that you can use in the workplace,” says John.
“The trick is learning how to effectively communicate the qualities and skills you have developed to your employers.”
Here are John’s top tips for identifying the qualities and skills that can help you convince future employers you’re the right person for the job, plus advice from international student Marie Hwang and international graduate Divya Kataria.
1. Assess your technical skills
Technical skills, also known as hard skills, are the skills you need to perform specific tasks that require specialist knowledge. Examples of technical skills include programming, design, project management and photography.
Diyva Kataria, who studied in New Zealand before getting a graduate job as an engineer, says she included software skills on her CV because they were particularly relevant to engineering jobs.
“Even something as basic as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel, write it down. That way, the employer can see you took the initiative to teach yourself to use software.”
2. Highlight your personal skills
While technical skills are important, John says you shouldn’t focus on them at the expense of personal skills.
“One of the most common mistakes I see international students make when they submit job applications is putting too much emphasis on technical skills,” he says.
“They forget there are other things employers are looking for, such as your personal skills – being able to work in a team, being able to juggle multiple priorities, being resilient. These are key characteristics that employers are looking for.
“When an employer has experience working with an international student, what they’ll find is that international students are generally hard working, very dependable and very loyal to employers. These traits are highly valued by Kiwi employers.”
Marie Hwang, a Korean student who is studying for a Master’s of Professional Accounting and Finance at Massey University, says most international students develop important personal skills from studying away from their home countries.
“Most international students have independence and time management skills because they have to do daily life and studying on their own. So those are good skills that employers look for.”
3. Recognise your cultural capital
“One of the things international students don’t realise is that, yes, English is not your native language, but you speak another language. I think that in itself is amazing,” says John.
“Think about this as your cultural capital: your understanding of your own culture group, and how people behave and think. That’s valuable in the workplace.”
John says international students can make the most of their cultural capital by working for organisations that operate in both New Zealand and their home country. “Because you understand the landscape in New Zealand as well as in your home country, you can serve as a bridge between the two countries.”
Marie gained her first part time job in New Zealand, at a restaurant, by showing her employer that she loved languages and enjoyed talking to tourists from all over the world.
“I believe that culture and language are the most important and valuable things that international students can bring to their workplace,” Marie says.
4. Discover your ‘value-add’
What is your value-add? John defines it as what your contribution can be to a company and a team.
“Students are used to saying, ‘I’ve done a degree. I have the skills. I want a job.’ But in New Zealand people ask you, ‘Why do you want to apply? What do you want to contribute? What are you passionate about?
“Employers in New Zealand want to know who you are on a personal level and how you would be able to contribute to the company. If you’re clear on your value-add, employers will be very excited to hire you.”
Divya says she has found that New Zealand employers want to know the qualities that set you apart as a person, whether that’s going to the gym or enjoying hiking.
“Ultimately, New Zealand employers are looking for a wholesome person to join their team. They want to see how you can connect with the team and with the company culture,” she says.
And that’s where international students have a real advantage, says Divya.
“What sets international students apart is that we come from a different country and a different culture, so we can adjust to changing environments and situations. We can adjust to the company culture better than other applicants.
“As an international student, you’ve got a lot to offer.”