The Recruiter's Soapbox

Karen and Jo

Interview With Karen Wood | An Account Of An Expat’s First Year In Australia


We are often asked questions regarding transitioning from overseas recruitment markets to Australia.

What are the big differences in recruiting here versus other markets?  What can you expect?  What are the challenges?  What are the hurdles that you may not have thought about?

We always answer these questions to the best of our ability but then wondered, is our advice out of date?  It’s now 17 years since I made the move and a lot has changed since then!  So, who better to give us an up-to-date point of view than a Consultant who moved to Australia last year.  Barton Mills assisted Karen Wood with moving from Scotland to Australia in 2015.  Karen is currently celebrating her one year anniversary in Sydney.


Introducing Karen Wood


1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?


I’m originally from the Orkney Islands in the tropical north of Scotland (about 30 degrees colder than Australia but a comparable number of sheep).

I left island life aged 17, spent a brilliant four years studying in Edinburgh and France and then escaped to Brisbane for a few months, post-graduation, to postpone becoming a “real adult” and feed my netball addiction. Upon returning to Edinburgh, I started my career in recruitment. Sadly, the role of All Blacks physio wasn’t deemed applicable to my degree – I had a belated word with my high school careers adviser – and Kirsty Gallagher didn’t look like giving up her presenting role on Sky Sports any time soon either.

I’ve been in Australia for almost a year now, having enjoyed an awesome few weeks en-route travelling through Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore with two of my best friends. It’s my anniversary with my work wife, Joanna Reid, on November 23rd (I know she’s feeling the pressure to get me a good present!)

I’ve always recruited in the Accountancy and Finance space, starting my career in the transactional and part-qualified world – which was a brilliant grounding as a graduate – and latterly specializing in the qualified contractual market. I was lucky enough to work for a very supportive manager in Scotland who allowed me to shift into the senior marketplace relatively early in my recruitment career and the geek in me really relishes the fact my role involves constant learning around all things banking and financial services and related developments.

2. When did you move to Australia and what prompted the move?

I arrived here in November 2015, having decided that 25 years’ worth of 17 degree summers and horizontal rain was enough to break the resolve of just about anyone! I remember very clearly walking up the steep hill to work, being battered by the very best of Scotland’s winter weather, my sizeable golf umbrella destroyed by gale force winds, and thinking: “I just can’t do another year of this.” (I’m sure that was the much edited, polite version of my thoughts, wandering into the office like a drowned rat!)

In all seriousness, it was very difficult to leave the company I worked, my family and one of the most beautiful cities in the world but I’m a huge believer that international experience and being thrown out of your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do. The fact I love sport also played a pivotal role – my friends regularly joke whether I’m here to recruit or play netball – and the draw of combining work with playing as part of one of the best talent pathways in the world was too good to pass on.  Additionally, I’ve always enjoyed the Australian accent. Or at least, I did find it attractive…

3. Moving from one country to another obviously means that you walk away from an established desk as well as your client and candidate relationships; how have you found the transition to your “new market”? 

The reality of being a contract consultant and having a healthy day book was that it wasn’t easy to walk away from, and it was difficult to think about having to re-build this. I’m incredibly fortunate to work for a very established business, with deep-rooted relationships, so I’d say that the transition has been easier than I’d anticipated in that regard. However, nevertheless, you have to put yourself out there, to differentiate yourself from being “just another British recruiter here for a jolly in the sun” and that takes time.

I’m lucky enough to be at a stage with some of my clients and candidates that I’m getting to know them very well and I look forward to further developing that in time. Australia is incredibly relationship driven and I now realize just how important it is to not only know the client/candidate’s technical strong suits, but the personal elements that make them a delight to work alongside too.

4. What are the differences between your old market in Scotland and your new market in Sydney?

Personally, my biggest challenges have been adapting to the predominantly fixed term contract nature that accompanies the temporaries space in my market and getting a feel for the caliber of candidate that best fits these roles; candidates that will often have to undergo an extensive interview process which mirrors the permanent process.  Certainly within my space, the three to six month project finance roles and the “career contractor” fit seem to be less prevalent within Australian FS than they were back in Scotland.

I most enjoy how open to meeting and educating us the hiring managers/recruitment partners we work with are. I found that the UK third party/internal model would, on occasion, work to inhibit these conversations and relationships and that managers didn’t always see the value in meeting with a specialist recruiter.

In hindsight, I honestly don’t know how I ever filled these roles without getting a sense for the people recruiting them and taking a full, 360 brief. I’ve learnt more about Financial Services in one year in Australia than I did in three and a half in Scotland and I’m incredibly appreciative of the time these senior individuals give to me to understand their requirements and provide them with the best possible talent.

Aussies like coffee a lot more too. Maybe that’s the real secret to relationship building…

5. What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Australia? Did you experience any culture shocks?

I always enjoy the general inability to distinguish accents which seemed very obvious to me in the UK. I’m mistaken for being Irish about twice a week and my flatmate’s nephew tells me I “sound like Geordie Shore.” I love the Irish and work with some cracking specimens but I’m a very proud Scot. My flatmate’s nephew is ten, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt/tell him to re-evaluate his TV choices. Being a Scot presents its own challenges, particularly when ordering my breakfast – a scrambled egg bowl might well be a minimalist, hipster take on a scrambled egg roll, but not quite what I asked for…

I was also shocked that the very normal concept of a “furnished rental apartment” rarely exists here. I spent a fun few weeks on a sofa, got promoted to an air bed, then the air bed on the bed frame. The mattress arrived fashionably late after about three weeks. Flatmates with white goods are worth their weight in gold – choose them wisely!

6. Are there any negatives to living over here?

The chocolate is bloody awful. That aside, honestly, no. Sydney has a very laid back, active culture, beautiful scenery and you can escape the CBD in all of ten minutes on public transport, which is rare to find in such a bustling metropolis.

7. Is there anything you miss about home? 

Missing family is without a doubt one of the hardest aspects to living so far away. I’ve finally got my Dad onside with FaceTime (poor Stewart is camera shy). That aside, I miss a proper fry up: no avocados and green juice, please – I want a dirty Glasgow breakfast and a real cup of tea! I also miss a Bar Napoli pizza at 3am after a night in Fingers Piano Bar – both institutions I’d give a solid 10/10 review on TripAdvisor and that I cannot advocate a visit to highly enough if you ever find yourself in Scotland’s capital!

8. What advice would you give to overseas Recruiters who may be considering a move over here? 

If you keep returning to the idea, and the desire to change things up doesn’t disappear in time (irrespective of great opportunities on home soil), just do it. It’s a very relationship driven market, your UK based training will set you in great stead and the lifestyle is second to none. I’m lucky to work for an exceptional company who really value work life balance and a positive, energetic culture and from conversations with friends in the industry, we’re not alone in this regard. You’ll also find that you soon gravitate towards people in a similar situation and, before you know it, you have a “home away from home” group of ambitious, interesting friends. I even know a few token Australians, just for good measure…

9. Would you do anything differently? 

In hindsight, I’d have appreciated my Friday bacon and tattie scone roll so much more…



If you would like to hear more about our overseas recruitment program you can check out our video, or get in touch directly for a consultation with one of our specialists.