The Art of Guiding Newcomers in Their Career Journeys


Cema Santos provides career counselling, training, coaching, and mentoring for newcomers in Australia and overseas. She has developed the evidence-based Life-Career Roadmap for Newcomers program, designed to holistically support newcomers in developing specific life and career competencies, helping them to create and achieve a successful life and career in Australia.

If you're passionate about career development like me, you know each day is a new adventure. This rings especially true when we support those embarking on their journey in a new country or industry. Newcomers face unique challenges and opportunities, whether fresh graduates timidly stepping into the workforce or seasoned professionals venturing into a new chapter abroad. It's a path filled with unknowns and possibilities. And who better to navigate this journey with them than us, career development professionals?

As someone who has journeyed through the complex life of a newcomer, I bring a personal perspective to this discussion. Stepping into a new land as a highly skilled professional, I struggled with finding my place within an unfamiliar work culture while navigating the emotional and bureaucratic mazes accompanying such significant life changes. My journey has been both challenging and enlightening, through emotional highs and lows, exhaustive visa applications, and cultural nuances no guidebook can prepare you for.

The Emotional Rollercoaster

The emotional aspect of this journey cannot be understated. Leaving behind everything familiar to chase a dream in a place where you're a stranger, where every interaction and work culture nuance is different, is as exhilarating as it is anxiety-inducing. Those days of overwhelming doubt and questioning my ability to meet the challenge taught me the irreplaceable value of empathetic guidance in career development. It's more than job market navigation; it's about understanding and supporting the emotional journey of newcomers.

The Bureaucratic Labyrinth and Cultural Revelations

Bureaucracy presents its own maze, from visa applications to validating qualifications, making meticulous organisation and seeking expert advice indispensable. Moreover, cultural adaptation adds another layer to the journey, teaching me the importance of sensitivity and adaptability in new professional and social settings.

For example, the 'mateship' concept in Australia is pivotal in social and professional domains. It speaks to a sense of equality, loyalty, and friendship. Newcomers might find the informal work environment and communication style surprising, where first names are commonly used, and discussions often occur over a cup of coffee or even a beer after work. This contrasts sharply with cultures that adhere strictly to hierarchical and formal communication in the workplace.

Another situation I hear newcomers commenting on is the "tall poppy syndrome," where standout achievements or seeming overly ambitious can sometimes be viewed with scepticism. This contrasts sharply with cultures that celebrate high achievement and visibility. Adapting to this more understated approach can be a surprising hurdle for many migrants, requiring a nuanced understanding of local workplace dynamics.

Furthermore, the Australian emphasis on work-life balance, including flexible working hours and the importance of taking leave, might be a refreshing change for migrants used to more rigid structures. Understanding and embracing these cultural nuances can significantly impact a newcomer's integration and success in the Australian job market.

Systematic Differences: Navigating the Australian Job Market

One significant hurdle newcomers must overcome is understanding the Australian job application process. Resumes in Australia typically include specific details that might be rare elsewhere, such as a summary of one's career objectives and critical competencies. Cover letters are expected to be concise and tailored to each job application, highlighting how the applicant's skills and experiences make them the best fit for the position and the famous selection criteria. What are they?

Moreover, the importance of 'local experience' can challenge many skilled newcomers. It's not uncommon for employers to prefer candidates who have worked within the Australian context. This preference can seem like a Catch-22 for newcomers who need a job to gain local experience. Career development professionals can play a crucial role here by advising on strategies to overcome this barrier, such as volunteering, networking, or taking up short-term contracts to build an Australian work history.

The First Job: A Stepping Stone, not a Lifetime Commitment

For many newcomers, there's a deeply ingrained notion of job loyalty, where staying with one employer for a long time is considered a virtue. However, the Australian job market often operates differently. The first job is commonly viewed as a stepping stone—an opportunity to gain local experience and skills that can be leveraged for future roles. This approach encourages personal growth and career development rather than a lifetime commitment to a single employer.

This perspective can be liberating but also requires a mindset shift for newcomers. It encourages exploring diverse opportunities and being bold when moving on when seeking new challenges or growth. Understanding this can dramatically affect how newcomers approach their career paths in Australia, encouraging them to embrace change and continuous learning as positive steps forward.

Understanding the Australian Pay Cycle

The pay cycle is another aspect of working in Australia that can surprise newcomers. Unlike in many countries where monthly salaries are the norm, wages are often paid weekly or fortnightly in Australia. This frequent pay cycle can be a welcome change for many but requires budgeting and financial planning adjustments. It's a shift highlighting the broader theme of flexibility and adaptation needed for all aspects of migrating to and working in a new country.

Embracing Networking and Volunteer Work

In Australia, networking and volunteer work are not just buzzwords but essential keys to unlocking career opportunities. For many newcomers, 'networking' can feel foreign or intimidating. It's more than just about making professional connections but about building genuine relationships that provide support, advice, and opportunities. 

Take a closer look at Juliana's story, which beautifully demonstrates the power of this transformation. Originally from Brazil, she encountered significant hurdles in landing a job within her HR expertise upon moving to Perth. Despite being well-qualified, the shift from her professional life in Brazil to establishing herself in the Australian job market was challenging. During this transitional phase, Juliana navigated unfamiliar professional landscapes while taking up hospitality roles to support herself financially.

Juliana’s participation in my mentoring program marked a turning point. I encourage my mentees to immerse themselves in networking events as a practical application of our lessons. Juliana embraced this opportunity and attended a networking event with me that allowed her to showcase her skills and aspirations and visualise a path to achieving her career goals in Australia—a notion she had begun to doubt.

The impact of this event on Juliana was profound. Within three weeks, she secured her inaugural role in her field in Australia. This breakthrough was more than just a career milestone; it represented a pivotal moment in overcoming the feeling of being viewed as a "second-class citizen"—a sentiment all too common among newcomers. 

Volunteer work, too, is a fantastic way to gain local experience, improve language skills for those who need it, and meet people from various backgrounds. Although this concept might be unfamiliar to newcomers used to a more transactional job market, it's a practice that can significantly enrich their personal and professional lives.

The Challenge of Social Integration

The challenge here isn't about open hostility or discrimination but rather the subtleties of social integration. Many Australians have built social circles through school, university, and early careers. These established networks can seem impenetrable to someone just arriving in the country. For newcomers, the question often isn't how to meet people—that can happen through work, events, or activities—but how to move from being an acquaintance to a friend.

Bridging this social gap requires effort from both sides. Australians can make a significant impact by being more open to including newcomers in social activities beyond the workplace or formal settings. Something as simple as an invitation to a barbecue, a local sports event, or a family gathering can make all the difference in making someone feel welcomed and valued.

For newcomers, the key lies in being proactive and open to new experiences. This might mean stepping out of one's comfort zone to attend local events, joining clubs or groups aligned with personal interests, or volunteering for community services. It's also about patience and understanding that deep connections take time to develop.

Looking Ahead: The Path Forward

As career development professionals, we're more than just advisors; I see us as allies, advocates, and cheerleaders. Our mission? To guide individuals to land jobs and carve out fulfilling careers that mirror their dreams and contributions. This journey demands our commitment to continuous learning, ensuring our guidance stays relevant and impactful.

Before we part ways, I want to emphasise something crucial: newcomers are more than their job titles or just the roles they fill. They've journeyed to our beautiful country, eager to contribute with their skills and talents, not to become second-class citizens in a first-world country full of opportunities. 

Integrating Personal Experience with Professional Guidance

My journey as a newcomer in different cities and countries has shaped me professionally and personally, enriching my understanding of newcomers' challenges and fuelling my passion for supporting their transitions. 

I want to remind you that helping newcomers navigate their career paths carries profound significance. It transcends mere employment; it's about assisting individuals in crafting new lives.