How to apply for a job in Australia as a migrant

This second article in the series covers adapting your resume and going through the job application process for migrants newly arrived to Australia.

Here is the first article covering general advice for overseas candidates who want to find a job in Australia.

The purpose of this series is to help you avoid some common mistakes in job search, application and interviews due to cultural differences.

Indeed, what you might see as an asset can be perceived as a flaw. Let’s see how those blind spots can trick you.

Remove all irrelevant information from your CV

While it may be a requirement in your country of origin to put age, marital status, photo or even salary expectations on your résumé, Australian recruiters definitely don’t expect you to do so.

Even worse, this can work against you.

Have you heard of the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’? This very ancient image (first used by Herodotus) says that arrogance is not well accepted in Australia: nobody here is permitted to assume that he/she is better than anybody else and if anybody does so, they can get their heads symbolically cut off. It’s about being a meritocracy (ability and talent), not a popularity contest. Australia prides itself as a ‘Fair go’ country: everybody has a chance to succeed in life regardless of origin and material possessions.

Should I include a photo in my resume?

You certainly don’t want to be perceived as arrogant, but if you are physically attractive and include a photo when one isn’t required, it could backfire. (Regardless if this is potentially a form of discrimination)

Should I include my age in my resume?

As to your age or marital status, questions about those aspects of your private life are illegal during the recruiting process in Australia. This is done to prevent any discrimination. (This does not mean a smart HR professional can’t ask you these questions while taking you downstairs in a lift after the job interview is over! But you still don’t have to answer and could reply with a joke, like ‘Who is asking?’)

On the other hand, make sure your contact details are up to date and look professional. Don’t use an email address containing irrelevant / unprofessional words.

Get your resume proofread

Another important point: Get your résumé proofread by a native English speaker with good language skills!

‘Poorly written résumés from overseas professionals may fuel employers’ doubts about immigrants’ communication skills.’ – Karalyn Brown

Experience is more important than qualifications

‘Local candidates talk about their experience, achievements and success, while overseas job seekers focus on their qualifications.’

That’s the main difference mentioned by our HR consultant in regards to cultural mismatch. And our colleagues with an Asian background confirm this: there is a high focus on qualifications for Asian job seekers, both in the résumé and the cover letter, simply because that’s what is expected in their countries, be it India, Thailand or even Russia! They refer to it all the time, even if they apply for an entry level position.

While qualifications are still important in Australia, experience is equally or even more important.

‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’ – Confucius

We learn in a much more sustainable way through experience and Aussies seem to have understood that.

Applying for jobs where qualifications are required

Even if the job description explicitly mentions a degree, you shouldn’t focus much on it in your application (with the exception of very specific jobs requiring certifications, like accountant or nurse).

You should rather put the emphasis on your achievements in the relevant field. Where in your previous working history did you successfully demonstrated the required skills?

Use numbered outcomes whenever possible. See the difference in mental images you create when you read the following two sentences:

Applying for jobs where qualifications are NOT required

If you apply for a job that may not require a specific degree / qualification, like cleaner or barista but still mention your degree, you are very likely to be perceived as overqualified (hence not fit for the position as you are likely to be unhappy in this role and aiming for more before long).

So, our advice in this case would be to just remove the information about your degree as it’s irrelevant for this work. Anybody can be in a situation where they need a temporary job to provide for themselves or to keep a regional visa, there is no shame in it. It’s just a stepping stone. But you don’t necessarily want the recruiter to know about it if you really want this job.

However, even for hospitality jobs, some certificates are a pre-requisites if you wish to apply in full-service restaurants (=restaurant serving alcohol); i.e. RSA (Responsible Servicing of Alcohol) certificate, or those from culinary schools such as William Angliss Institute. But definitely, a BA or MA is not required and such a candidate would be viewed as overqualified.


Find referees before you apply as it’s common in Australia to be asked for references. However, instead of using up space in your resume for their contact details, simply state ‘References available upon request’, so you can inform your referees at the appropriate time.

Don’t put your relatives as referees! The only exception is if you are asked for a character reference, however, a colleague you are close to could be a better choice.

How many jobs should I apply for at once?

You might say to yourself: ‘I shouldn’t be too picky’ and end up applying for multiple roles in the same company. This is definitely not the best strategy! Recruiters can see all the positions you applied for in their Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and they told us:

‘When I see this, the same person applying for a developer, customer support, and marketing analyst position, I wonder what (s)he really wants to do? And I don’t believe the application anymore.’

We don’t doubt you might have all those diverse skills and could do all those jobs - people are increasingly versatile nowadays and switch industries more often. But if your application is too broad, you will suffer from it. What are you really passionate about? What do you want? Find it, then try and personalise your CV so your personality stands out.

Don’t underestimate ‘cultural fit’

“Can I work with him / her?”

Recruiters are increasingly looking for a good cultural fit for the company, so look for opportunities to give the interviewer an idea of what it might be like to work with you and how you could fit into the company culture you previously found out about, e.g. in SEEK company reviews.

To find out if you are at risk of this cultural mismatch, check out your country in comparison with Australia on the Hofstede cultural dimensions theory page.

We suggest you focus initially on the first two dimensions: power distance and individualism:

Once you are aware of these differences, you can prepare for them accordingly. For example, listing your hobbies in your résumé (if you have the space), or preparing for that question in the interview (which we will cover in greater detail in part 3 of this series).

We hope this article helps you with your job application process. If you have any stories to share on this, we would love to hear from you in the Comments. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series which will cover cultural differences in job interviews.