June 11, 2014
Whether you’re seeking new experiences and cultures, want to add some unique skills to your portfolio or want to find a summer job in a fun, new environment, working abroad can be a valuable experience.
A good choice for Americans who want to work abroad in a professional capacity is to choose an English-speaking country. But even when a country’s native language is English, there are still cultural differences to navigate. Over the next few weeks we’ll share cultural tips from professionals who are either from or have worked extensively in English-speaking countries around the world.
Working in Australia
Richard Perkins is an American who worked in Australia as an engineer for an engineering consulting firm between 2006 and 2008. According to Perkins, one of the most pronounced differences between the Australian and American cultures is the concept of work-life balance. The standard workday in Australia is 7.5 hours, compared to 8 in the U.S., and employees in the tech industry don’t put in the long 60-70 hour workweeks that many of their American counterparts do. This value on quality of life over business can be a welcome change for Americans, but it does have implications.
“There’s a living adjustment in Australia,” said Perkins. “Because Australians are so focused on quality of life and balance, necessities are inexpensive–rent, food, gas–but luxuries that Americans tend to take for granted, such as media, electronics and books, are very expensive. In addition, a lot of service businesses are closed on the weekends. For example, grocery stores and pharmacies might only be open for a few hours on the weekend, if at all.”
The working environment in Australia may be more noticeably different for women, said Perkins.
“There seem to be assumptions about the role of women in the workplace that wouldn’t have flown in the U.S. but were supported by the women there,” he said. “For example, in my firm only about 2 percent of the scientists and engineers were women, and there were no male administrative assistants.”
Perkins said that if you are a woman going to Australia in a technical role, “It might be hard at first, but Australians respect assertive women.”
When You Interview
As part of the value placed on work-life balance, Australian companies tend to aim for sustainable business growth rather than exponential growth. Perkins said that while large international companies might focus on impressive past achievements during an interview, most Australian companies place a higher importance on cultural fit.
“Australians value people who are easy to work with and get along with everyone,” Perkins said. “They want you to do good work when you’re working but to also know when to have a good time.”
According to the Lewis Model of cultural types, Australian culture is similar to that of the U.S. in that we both tend to be data-driven planners, but Australians are a touch more emotional than Americans, as evidenced by their priority on cultural fit when interviewing job candidates.
Other Cultural Details
The main cultural difference that Perkins noticed between Australians and Americans is that, “We’re much more politically correct in the U.S. Australians are more coarse.”
Perkins admitted to being taken aback occasionally by the Australian sense of humor.
“They have a very dry sense of humor, and they tend to make fun of themselves first in order to beat others to the punch.” Perkins said, “Australians are very forgiving, but they will laugh at you.”
Tips and Caveats: How to Get a Job
Perkins offers the following tips for Americans who would like to find a job in Australia:
1. Be flexible: Australia is a smaller market than the U.S., and you can’t always specialize in one distinct area. At Perkins’ firm most engineers worked in two to three different business groups. Perkins recommends making sure you have the ability and willingness to work in multiple functions within your company.
2. Take a risk: It can be extremely hard to secure a job in Australia while still living in the U.S. Perkins tried this with no luck and ultimately restarted his engineer job search when he arrived in Australia. Once in the country, Perkins found a job within four months even though he “was being picky.” Risks should be taken with caution however, which leads us to the next tip.
3. Make sure it’s a calculated risk: Check out the local economy before you go. In 2006, when Perkins decided to move to Australia, the economy was doing well, which allowed him to find a job in his field and be picky about which company he worked with.