Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How can an Australian get a job in the USA?

I'm constantly amazed at the amount of traffic my immigration posts generate. I get at least one question a week from people who have found my blog through Google. I respond to every email and I'm more than happy to help, as I like the idea that I can demystify the process for some and help them avoid many of the mistakes I've made along the way. I'm going to make an effort to answer some of the more common questions I get starting with this post. A popular line of questioning relates to jobs and how difficult is it to get a job in the US, or if it is possible to get a job in the US from Australia. Before I start, I have to call out the image I selected for this post. It is part of a game we play at work when brainstorming called, "What would the world's laziest marketer do"? Generally the answer is either use the word smart in a product name or stick a picture of two hands shaking in front of a globe. It's our way of avoiding hackneyed and trite cliches. Unfortunately in this case, I couldn't think of anything better to use. 

The first thing that needs to be understood about how the US immigration system differs from the Australian or British systems, is that the concept of a working holiday visa does not exist in the same way. This means there is no ability to get a visa while in Australia, travel to the US already authorized to work in any field, then immediately start work once a position is found.

There are some categories of visa that allow work in US in a different manner to the E-3/H-1B/L-1 visas that require sponsorship, but these are highly restrictive: 
  • F-1 Visa - Student visa that requires study at a US institution. Study in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) allows up to 29 months of practical on the job training. 
  • J-1 Visa - Exchange visa that is highly restrictive with regards to allowed jobs. Typically linked to specific programs, such as being an au pair, or working as a camp counselor. There are work/travel options, but again these are short term and restrictive with requirements around being a current student or recent graduate. There are companies that can sponsor a J-1 visa that permits travel and low level unskilled work, such as GrowUSA
  • H-2A/H-2B - Seasonal work visa. This is used for temporary work on the ski slopes or in agriculture.
These are all short term options that are likely to require working outside of your field. They are not good paths to permanent migration to the US, or even a semi permanent move. Most questions I get are from those looking to make a more substantial move with the aims of career advancement. 

If I look at the Australians I've met in the US, I'd broadly categorize them as follows:
  1. Found work through existing contacts with US companies. I fall into this category. 
  2. Transferred within multi national companies. On an L-1 visa typically. 
  3. Setting up a new office here for an Aussie or other international company
  4. Founded or was working for a Aussie company that was acquired by a US company and relocated
  5. Working on their own startup
  6. Spent time in the US on a tourist visa applying for jobs. Generally on an E-3 once they find work.  
  7. Well known within their field or industry and poached by a US company
  8. Spouse of someone in category 1-7. May be working through their own separate Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  9. Born in the US, or right to US residency/citizenship through parentage or marriage
  10. Won the green card lottery
In my case, I was able to find work in the US through a supplier at my Australian employer. I'd been working closely with them for 2 years prior them hiring me and had spent at least 12 months aggressively pursuing them for a job. I'd finished my MBA, so was looking both internal to my employer and externally for a step up. I had originally anticipated a role based in Australia with an APAC focus, but they made me an offer to move to the US. In their case this was a low risk move, as I was a known quantity and presumably they liked me enough and had faith that I could do the job in order to take this step. As an aside, the 3 jobs I have had since that orignal job in the US have all been through the contact network I've built in the US. I believe being one of many applications in a pile is an incredibly hard way to find work. 

I'm yet to meet anyone that applied for jobs online from Australia and was able to find work in the US. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I just believe it to be a corner case. I'm currently recruiting for 3 different positions and I won't even phone screen applicants from Southern California, let alone internationally. There are far too many good candidates I can find locally, without having to deal with the hassle and expense of relocation.

So this is not intended to pour cold water on people trying to find work in the US. Moving to the US is one of the best moves I ever made. I'm just saying be realistic and put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter that is sitting with a pile of resumes they have to review. Location is the simplest filter that can be applied to whittle this list down. 

The good news is that I know plenty of Aussies that fit in category 6, i.e. they spent time over here applying for as many jobs as possible and were successful in landing a job. The other good news is that as an Aussie, the E-3 is a very simple visa to obtain compared to H-1B. This has to be clearly communicated during the recruitment process, as not all potential employers will have experience with E-3. That said, the company hiring you has absolutely love you to go through the expense and hassle and there is no way to establish that sort of bond over Skype. If it is between you and a local candidate that has no visa requirements, they will pick the local candidate every time.

So my advice if you are serious about working in the US:
  • Come to the US and spend as long as possible meeting as many people as you can in your industry. There is no avoiding this if you are serious about working in the States.
  • Find the cheapest possible option for accommodation  If you have friends that will allow you to couch surf, go for that. Airbnb is another great source of cheap, non-traditional accommodation options. Craigslist also has cheap sublets, where you are able to stay short term in a place someone else is leasing. The less spent on accommodation, means more time you can spend in the US.
  • Meetup.com is a great source of opportunities to connect socially and professionally
  • Get a local US phone number. DataGo provide the opportunity to get the SIM card and number before you travel and ensure your roaming works correctly. No one wants to call your Australian number and roaming internationally with Telstra/Optus/Vodafone is massively expensive. You can also get a Google Voice number and use this as your primary, redirecting to a prepaid AT&T or T-Mobile SIM. 
  • Get a physical address, such as at a co-working space like StartupHQ or StartupHouse (both run by Australians). This also has the potential benefit of allowing you to meet others that may be able to help with advice or connections.
  • Book your flights through Flightfox. Shout out to another great Aussie business.  
  • Get a personal business card with your local US details. Despite the prevalence of mobile devices, this still is the most common way of making a connection with someone you meet.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn is up to date and make a connection request to anyone that you interact with. If you find a job you want to apply for, you can then see who in your network may have a connection to the company or hiring manager. Most companies have internal referral programs with financial incentives for recommending candidates. If someone you know is able to take the application straight to HR or the hiring manager, it will at least ensure your resume gets read.
  • Update all your social media presences (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to show that you live in the area where you are searching for work. 
  • Do your research prior to arriving. In the age of twitter and facebook, it is easier than ever to connect to interesting people and companies within your domain. 
  • Be specific in what you are looking for. People In the US are busy, but will be generous with their time if you can pique their interest. Don't expect someone to take a coffee with you just because you asked nicely. 
  • Work on your sales pitch. This does not come naturally to Australians, as our egalitarian society trains us not to be boastful. You must get very good at speaking about who you are, your achievements and how you do what you do better than anyone else. This is a core competency for Americans. I wrote a little about this topic here
  • Build your online presence beyond LinkedIn. It is easier to stand out if you are someone that has a voice and opinions, particularly if they relate to your field.
  • Stay positive, but be realistic about your chances of success. Worst case scenario, you get to have a holiday in the US and meet a lot of interesting people. 
I'd also recommend trying the green card lottery. Australians have one of the highest chances possible of winning as a percentage of applicants. This is still a low percentage just to set the right expectation and I will post in the future about some analysis I've done on this topic.

Good luck. If you find yourself in the Bay Area, look me up.