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May 08, 2005

Looking for work in New Zealand

TimB reminds me that I have been awfully dilatory about posting on my NZ migration experiences. Many apologies. I've been jotting down notes, both on the general migration process and the specific experience of job hunting in the software development field, but not got around to posting them. Hope this is useful, Tim.

My experience is that the NZ IT job market is extremely buoyant at the moment. I started looking for work in mid-February: within two weeks, I had my first offer, and another week after that, I had three more.

You can therefore usually ignore the big warnings on many job adverts which say, "Only people legally entitled to work in NZ may apply for this job." I panicked a bit when I saw how many jobs seemed to rule me out in this way. It turns out, however, that this is only intended to discourage dilettante types who haven't considered what's involved in migration and merely think NZ might be amusing this week. If you're in country, and you don't have to go back to settle your affairs, and you can persuade them that you're committed to immigrating (the phrase "My permanent residence application went in on Friday" works really well here), most employers will forget that clause as quickly as you can say "Priority Occupations List."

In fact, if the advert doesn't say "Only people legally entitled to work in NZ," then feel free to apply from out of country. One of my colleagues got his job by phone, and was therefore able to get a work permit before entering the country, and I've heard of UK nurses and teachers getting offers the same way.

Be warned that just being in country is not enough. Employers are aware of the "LSD trip" -- Look, See, Decide -- where someone turns up thinking NZ might be fun, gets a job to see whether it is, and then bails after a few months when they decide it's not. You need to demonstrate more commitment than just a return ticket. Expect to get asked "Why do you want to come to New Zealand?" at every interview. Try to work a derogatory remark about Australians into your answer: it will prove you have bought into the mainstay of Kiwi culture.

Once you get a job, expect the employer to be keen for you to start asap. It will depend on the employer, but do not plan to land your job offer and then take your holiday. If you want to see the country before starting work, enter as a visitor, go sightseeing first, and then start looking for work.

I realise these are contradictory messages. Some employers are so keen they will offer you jobs from the other side of the world; others will be deeply dubious unless all four grandparents were native-born Kiwis. So it goes. Kiwi companies are small, and individuals' personal experiences count for a lot. If a manager or HR bod has had one bad experience with a LSD immigrant, they may be prejudiced against all immigrants; if not, they may be so keen to get the talent in that they'll take even speculative enquiries. I've been told that looking for work while being in country is the "sweet spot," and it worked well for me, but obviously I haven't tried any other routes!

Some other observations:

* Because travel in NZ is slow, applying for jobs away from your current location is more painful than in the UK. Travel times between the main centres (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) mean air travel is the only option -- Auckland to Wellington by car is a full day -- and that is a barrier for some employers. You'll have to live somewhere while looking, and wherever you happen to choose will affect who is willing to talk to you.

* From my experience, although most companies and jobs are in Auckland, Wellington companies are more responsive. If your focus is on finding and starting work quickly, you may want to base yourself near Wellington rather than near Auckland. However, many companies have branches in both cities and will happily do preliminary interviews at the 'other' location. In fact for the job I accepted I interviewed only in the 'other' location and spoke to my future boss only by phone.

* Kiwi companies regard culture and getting on with people as very important. (Sometimes they take this to extremes. One interview process I went through involved only one technical question; the rest of it was entirely cultural, and consisted primarily of them relating incidents of transvestitism in the office. Remarkably, they felt they'd got enough from this to make me an offer.) Almost every company will ask you to give an example of an interpersonal conflict and how you resolved it. So if you haven't got a fight with a co-worker under your belt, go off and have one quick.

* Kiwi companies will require, and take up, technical references. I was asked not just for my provided 'human resources' type references but also for a colleague who had worked with me, and someone who had worked for me during my management era. (Royston and Matt, thank you for your patience: I owe you both beers next time I'm in the UK.)

* If you want to get out of the big cities, you can do, but do think ahead. The reduced salaries (by 30%+, compared to Auckland and Wellington) are not necessarily an issue -- nobody comes to NZ for the money -- but (a) in popular centres like Queenstown, salaries may be down compared to the cities but living costs may be up; and (b) smaller towns will rarely support multiple IT employers, so if the job doesn't work out, or when you outgrow it, you will probably have to move to find something new. A friend also warns that, when you move on, you may encounter the question, 'If you're so smart, why did you have to go to Stewart Island to find a job?' The obvious response to this is to leap across the desk, smash your interviewer's face into his desk and yell, 'It's all about lifestyle, you clod!" But I haven't really tested whether interviewers find this a convincing response.

* Related to the LSD issue, I was told that I would find employers more responsive if I had a NZ email address. I don't think this made any difference, as my normal email address is not recognisably country-specific, and I was able to give a NZ postal address as well, but it's probably not a great idea to present UK addresses for both postal and electronic mail. Apart from the usual generic email providers, you can get a free NZ address from Orcon, including free POP3 access.

* If you come to NZ without a job in hand, don't plan to job-hunt any time from mid-December to mid-February. Because Christmas/New Year coincides with the summer holidays in this hemisphere, companies tend not to be interested during this period. (I'm passing on advice here, and can't confirm it from personal experience. For example, I received one warning that things might stay tough right through till May, when budgets had been finalised, but for me that worry never materialised.)

Final cautionary note: at the time of writing, according to local news, the economic mood is becoming pessimistic. At the moment, things are good, but an increasing number of employers are doubtful about prospects for the near future. I suspect this primarily reflects the manufacturing and agricultural industries, and that the technology sector will remain an employee's market, but no warranties express or implied, etc. I know my company, for one, is still recruiting like a thing possessed.


Best NZ IT job site: Seek. By such a distance that there's no point mentioning any others.

IT recruitment agencies from whom I got good results:
* Alliance IT
* Enterprise IT
* Absolute IT

May 8, 2005 in UK-NZ Migration | Permalink


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Great post Ivan. Contradictory messages are the norm in job hunting and it is great that you give people that. While it would be wonderful if it was possible that there was one great way to move to NZ and find a job in software development your experience and comments show that there are many ways to get it done.

Posted by: Steven Kempton at May 9, 2005 11:56:38 AM

Hi Ivan, I hit NZ in a couple of weeks. I´m afraid you´re email address is currently "filed" on my laptop, when we talked before you suggested a beer, so if you are not busy around the 26-27th I wouldn´t mind meeting up.

Posted by: TimB at Oct 13, 2005 8:36:14 AM

If you are moving to NZ, you are welcome to place a free ad on the website http://www.headhunters.co.nz

Cheers and Good luck!

Posted by: Rob at Jun 13, 2006 9:26:27 PM

Hi! I intend to go to NZ as a tourist, then stay with friends while looking for work. I am an Early Childhood Educator and a teacher. Do you think I can easily find a job in Auckland?



Posted by: marissa at Apr 26, 2007 6:17:04 PM