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Networking the Kiwi Way

Anna Fyfe, one of our Job Search Professionals, has written this insightful article where she offers an insider view of networking — the New Zealand way.

Find out about the importance of networking and how to do it successfully in New Zealand.

You want me to do what?!

Often when I suggest that my talented migrant jobseekers get in touch with complete strangers here in NZ, and ask to have an informal chat over coffee (or Skype) about their experience and skills, and in order to gain valuable information about the current state of their industry in NZ - I am met with skepticism and suspicion. Ranging from "Why would someone I don't even know agree to talk to me?" through to, "But we would never dream of doing that in [insert country of origin as appropriate], it's just not the done thing." Shock horror!

In my experience as a NZ-born Kiwi (who works primarily with international jobseekers), making new contacts and networks here in NZ, seems for many to be the most uncomfortable part of the whole job search process - particularly for newcomers. It's often a job search tool that would-be migrants avoid for as long as possible (before I start pressing them on it and asking who they have connected with lately). But truth be told, to sit at home night after night, behind the safety of a computer hitting "apply, apply, apply" on one application after another, is not often going to yield fantastic results, particularly if one considers that the majority of available positions are never advertised, and belong to that mysterious beast we like to call "The Hidden Job Market".

For migrant jobseekers in particular, I have realised it often takes a real switch in mindset to commence the networking process, and to fully appreciate that, as part of their job search in NZ, they will perhaps, have to do things quite differently to the way they've done them previously, and in their home country.

My Experience as a Jobseeker

On my own return home to New Zealand after some 7 years away in London (and following a career change from journalism to migrant/refugee work), I came back to a city I had never lived in, and zero contacts. But fortunately for me, being a Kiwi and knowing 'how things work' here, I set about organising informal meetings with the manager or chairperson of every migrant and refugee organisation I could find. My aim was not to ask them "Do you have a job vacancy for me?" but instead, to take 20 minutes of their time, maybe buy them a coffee, and ask what was happening in their sector - what was being funded and by whom, where the future was headed for NGOs, and finally, given the skills and experience I now possessed, where did they think I could fit in, and who else did they suggest I talk to.

Sounds simple, right? I know for me it wasn't too bad an exercise, but I had advantages - I knew the culture, I spoke the language (I understood the accent!) If placed in the same situation in say, China or France, I would've been very daunted - and less confident about navigating the cultural nuances, or whether my approach was even the right one to take at all!

I think cautious/nervous jobseekers should take heart about networking in NZ, as when approached in the right way, without the pressure to "know about a vacancy", generally people here will be helpful to those who reach out to them politely asking for advice. Don't forget it's also rather complimentary to the person being asked - to know that someone rates your knowledge and experience, and genuinely wants to know what you think.

Think like a kiwi

I would encourage migrant jobseekers who are despairing about making progress in the NZ market, to take a deep breath, put a bit of a "kiwi"hat on, and start sending those thoughtfully written emails and LinkedIn messages to people who might be able offer advice or a few words of wisdom about NZ - and to remember that you're dealing with a different culture to that which you may be used to. A culture that is generally fairly informal, that isn't big on hierarchy, one with few degrees of separation (e.g running into the Prime Minister isn't that difficult here), and one where an email from a stranger will not generally be viewed with with instant suspicion - and where you might even get an answer!

Tips for connecting in NZ:

  • Keep it fairly informal - we don't tend to use titles and prefer a first-name basis, even when we don't know someone.
  • We don't call generally call people 'Sir' or "Madam", and rather than feel respected, your NZ listener (or reader) may feel awkward.
  • Maintain a bit of humility - job seeking is of course about showing off your skills and achievements, but New Zealanders tend to be put off if this is done in too overt a manner. We can be a bit reserved in this respect.
  • Recognise that most New Zealanders are generally indirect communicators, most requests will be delivered in a very roundabout way, rather than directly.
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