International students: Why your differences are your strengths

INTERNATIONAL students have a lot to offer prospective employers, says Graduate Program Manager Teigan Margetts. As such, she’d love to see more employers giving them a fair go.

Give international students a fair go

I was recently discussing the topic of international students with a graduate recruitment acquaintance of mine. She mentioned that she had hired an international student once, and it “didn’t work out” so she wouldn’t take that risk again.

The unfortunate fact is that I should have been taken aback by her comment, but I wasn’t. I hear and see discrimination, overt and covert, towards international students on an almost daily basis in my industry. For a nation that was built by immigrants, it appears we really aren’t giving international students a fair go.

In the recent graduate recruitment season, more than 200 companies opened their doors to university graduates. However, only five of those were willing to accept applications from international students. Given that universities have up to 80 per cent international student graduates, many of whom would like to at least start their career in Australia, the percentage of international graduates who obtain a position here must be frighteningly low.

Why aren’t companies hiring international graduates?

Reasons often cited include visa and retention issues, and communication and ‘cultural fit’ concerns. The visa issue concern is partly justified, in that you can’t technically offer a graduate a full-time continuing employment contract without full-time continuing work rights. However, there is an easy workaround — a fixed term contract for the duration of the graduate’s visa (which is now at least two years, due to recent changes in immigration law).

Concerns that companies may have about sponsoring the graduate after their temporary visa has expired are largely unjustified, given that by that time the individual will have a very high chance of gaining permanent residency. Retention issues, I believe, are just an excuse.

From my experience with international students, their gratefulness for the opportunity often translates into intense company loyalty, ensuring that the risk for ‘not getting back what you invested in them’ from a graduate program perspective is marginal, if not non-existent.

In regards to communication concerns, certainly, it is advantageous but not essential to be a native English speaker in Australia. However, considering that communication is 55 per cent body language and 38 per cent tone of voice, are we placing too much emphasis on the 7 per cent ‘words’ that international students may occasionally struggle with?

In terms of cultural fit, graduate programs are built on the premise that graduates are ‘blank canvasses’ that can be moulded into whatever is required by the organisation. Given this, why are we worrying so much about ‘cultural fit’? Could it be that we don’t value diversity as much as we say we do?

In my opinion, international students are too often seen through a ‘deficit model’ – that is, what they lack as opposed to what they offer. However, what they offer can, and often does, compensate for what they lack.

I’m stereotyping, but in my experience international students have an absolutely fantastic work ethic, and more willing to take on basic tasks without complaint, as opposed to some particularly ‘Gen Y’ local students who demand ‘important, interesting , CEO-esque work’ from day one.

More importantly, however, international students can far outweigh local students in what I call the ‘accumulation of leadership capital.’ This refers to a general maturity, resilience and understanding of life that is built through one’s previous experiences, and assists with both the transition to working life, and future career success.

In reality, international students are far more likely to have accumulated this type of capital — they have acquired maturity and independence through having to relocate and settle in to a new country half way across the world, they have built resilience through facing challenging situations in their home country , and they have acquired a rich cross-cultural understanding of life through living in multiple countries, with no support from family or friends.

And if this isn’t enough, in the global economy that Australia operates, we are increasingly relying on resources in Asia and India, so it can’t hurt to hire someone who ‘speaks that language’ literally and culturally.

So come on, Australia. It’s time to give international students a fair go.

Teigan Margetts works as the Graduate Program Manager at Ericsson, recruiting and developing talented young graduates from engineering/IT and business backgrounds. Teigan was also an international student in Sweden, in 2008 and again in 2010-2011.  As such, she is a passionate advocate of all things diversity and inclusion, particularly in the international student space where she intimately understands the challenges faced by students and actively tries to help them see their differences as strengths.

Teigan will be running a workshop on ‘Finding your point of difference’ at the upcoming Melbourne International Student Conference. Register now for a great weekend for students to develop themselves personally and professionally, and should not be missed out.

There is one comment

  1. SD

    I think this article is fantastic. Great to see some one within the industry has the courage to stand up against what is happening.

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