Claudia R. Alvarez
"There is a light at the end of the 'local experience' tunnel".
Claudia R. Alvarez
Country of Origin: Mexico.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Uluru. Upon arrival: Surprised by the cold weather in Melbourne. Photo courtesy of Eri Brody
By Trini Abascal
Claudia has excelled not only in the corporate environment, but as an entrepreneur. Her passion for Mexican food and expertise in logistics has been the fundamental tools for the start-up of her business, Poblano. By showcasing a wide range of products, Claudia hopes to eventually bridge the gap between Mexico and Australia.
Tell us Your Story
I came to Australia to study English for six months at Melbourne University, Hawthorn Campus. I never intended to move here. However, at the end of my English course, I was interested to pursue a Master degree in International Trade at Victoria University. While I was studying, I also taught Spanish at the Vocational Language Learning Centre (VLLC). Before finishing my degree I thought that perhaps gaining some work experience here would improve my chances of a better job in Mexico. I decided to apply for jobs, but I struggled to find my first job in Australia. I got advice from a recruiter to start doing voluntary work to gain “Australian experience”. I went through all my list of acquaintances and it turns out that one of my students at VLCC was starting his own company and agreed for me to do voluntary work for his company. I was thrilled and my first role was to do business analysis. After a month my boss told me that as his company was just starting they did not have a postion for me. However, based on my skills, he could refer me with one of his local suppliers. Thanks to his referral, I was offered a job as Imports Sea Freight Manager at WCBM, a freight forwarder company. Everything was ideal, except the location of the job, the commute was 3 hours a day. Nonetheless, I was determined to get this first "local" experience and it was the beginning of a successful professional carreer. Currently, I work as an Operations Manager at Polymer Direct, a plastics importer. I oversee the end to end supply chain and manage all the national distribution and warehousing while in charge of contracts with 3rd Party Logistics providers and shipping lines. Interestingly enough, this is the company where I did the voluntary work. I have been working here for 4 years now.
Three years ago, me and another Mexican girl decided to start our own company: Poblano. Our motivation was to share with Australians and Mexicans the products and ingredients we missed so much from Mexico. It has been a sour sweet road, but when we see the smiles in the faces of children and adults when they have a Pulparindo in their hands, it makes it worthwhile.
We started as an online store, but given the current demand for Mexican food, we now supply to a large number of Mexican restaurants. After 10 years of arriving in Australia, or as my mother always tells me “the longest six months she has ever seen”, I am still here and loving every second of this adventure. I am working full time and at the same time trying to grow Poblano.
Get the local experience - While searching and failing to secure interviews even for entry level jobs, I finally stumbled across a German recruiter who told me very abruptly (but I thank her for that) that I was never going to find a job because I had no local experience. She explained to me that overseas experience is not relevant here, unless your expecience is in a top position job or your career is in high demand. Her advice was to do voluntary work. After a month, it would be more likely, that the company would either employ me or refer me with someone else. She also mentioned that after my first "local" job, it would be really easy to get the next ones. I followed the advice and after doing voluntary work and working in a company for only 6 months, I applied for other jobs and noticed the difference: instead of the rejection letters, I was getting appointments for interviews.
Spontaneity - Australians are very organised and they like to make plans to meet with other friends well in advance, whereas we Latinos are more spontaneous and we are like: "hey, I am in the neighborhood, can I come to your house for a coffee?" I still find it hard to adapt to this lack of spontaneity when meeting friends.
Competitiveness - Because in our countries it is difficult to get a job, we become very competitive in the work place, so it translates to a high degree of passion about our job. We are also used to high pressure and long hours. Australians are hard workers as well, but they value more their life-work balance.
Tolerance - Australia is a multicultural country and Australians are very tolerant to other cultures. I have never felt as a stranger here (apart from a cricket game, which I have given up understanding). In Latin America, we don’t have the opportunity to experience multiculturalism.
Piece of Advice
Smile - Down the track, I learned that during a job interview, 50% of the approval process is related to the perception on how you will fit in the company’s environment and how good you relate to other colleagues. So, being friendly and smiley is as important as how knowledgeable you are.
Don’t give up - If you are feeling it is too hard to get a job in your field remember that there is a light at the end of the "local experience" tunnel.
Bring warm clothes - Probably no one will tell you this: if you are coming to the southern part of Australia, bring lots of layers and warm clothes. It will make the difference to your comfort and will save you money as clothes tend to be cheaper overseas.
Respect road rules - There are many speed cameras and police officers enforcing road rules. I managed to adapt to this after paying a couple of fines. It is for everybody’s safety.
Over the next few years...
Claudia will continue to expand the range of products available at Poblano, while also developing her professional career. Her dream is to be able to work half the year in Australia and the other half in Mexico (two summers in a year!). On 13 September Poblano will participate at the Mexican Festival at Federation Square, they will be selling their products and giving advice on how to use some of the more exotic ingredients available. If you wish to contact Claudia email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t miss the Mexican Festival!