Now a project manager for electric car pioneer Tesla, David Campbell spent two years studying for his master’s in New Zealand. We asked him how international study has helped him in his career, and got his advice on how to stand out in an increasingly competitive global job market.
An interview with David Campbell
What did you gain from studying in New Zealand? Did it make you more employable?
Half the battle with getting the job you really want is simply getting through the door and in front of the hiring manager/ director you will be working for. In my experience, most people in the US have a fascination with New Zealand due to its place in film and pop culture, and when searching for work I was almost always asked about it.
New Zealand is regarded as a leader in renewable energy development by the rest of the world, so despite the country’s miniscule consumption footprint, the impact of New Zealand policy is outsized compared to many other countries. I wanted to learn from New Zealand’s approach to energy and how some of those choices could be applied in the US.
What inspires you to work in the renewable energy field?
The renewable energy field is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it’s typically filled with mission-driven people who are seeking to change the world for the better, so there’s a sense of collective effort.
There’s a lot of variety in the work opportunities as well – one could choose to write government policy, consult for other businesses, or work with a commercial enterprise marketing renewable energy products or even develop entirely new products. There are a lot of directions you can take your career.
What do you think are the benefits of studying overseas, for work and for life?
I think there is tremendous value in going abroad at any time in life, but studying abroad is one of the most important experiences for a young person especially.
As you’re forming your opinions and values, it’s so critical to expose yourself to as many different points of view and perspectives as possible. I essentially spent the better part of my 20s working and studying abroad to enlarge my lens on the world.
Has studying overseas given you a more global outlook?
In brief, yes! I think that most folks who have spent a reasonable amount of time in another country will create a lasting bond and increase their level of empathy and connectedness.
What do you think helped you stand out above other potential candidates when you first applied to work at Tesla?
My resume was very diverse by the time I applied for a job with Tesla, but I can say without hesitation that my international experience was a major draw for the hiring committee.
When you’re competing with a field of highly qualified individuals, almost everyone has a solid background and track record, so you can set yourself apart from the pack by brandishing an experience few others will have had.
What qualities do you look for in new hires at Tesla?
I look for individuals that are strong team players, and know how to be an A player and a supporting player when necessary. I look for strong communication skills, and a willingness to learn new skills unprompted by a manager or leader. Ideally you’re looking for someone you consider an equal, and each of you are doing your best to make the other more effective.
What advice do you have for students to help them achieve their career goals?
I think there’s a lot of noise out there today that says “find your passion” and “just do what you love” that can be really crippling for those who haven’t found their passion yet. It’s okay to not have a clear direction or know where you’ll end up in 10 years and still excel at what you’re doing in the present.
Try and expose yourself to as many career ideas as you can, and imagine yourself in that role for 15 years – will you still be happy then? Will it give you the time to travel, or raise a family, or get rich, or tend your garden in the evening? Get clear on what matters to you and it’ll be a lot easier to narrow down the long list of possible career paths available today.
Do you have any advice for students considering studying in New Zealand?
Go – you won’t regret it! Studying in New Zealand was an incredible time in my life that I think about almost daily. Don’t waste time considering it, just do it!