New York state of mind

Working in the Big Apple can mean taking a big bite and going for it, Stephen Lacey writes.

Working in the Big Apple can mean taking a big bite and going for it, Stephen Lacey writes.

Frank Sinatra once sang of New York: if you can make it there you'll make it anywhere. And to some extent that's still the case. The cachet derived from doing a stint in the "city that never sleeps" cannot be denied; there's a very good reason Mad Men is set in NYC and not in Buffalo.

Each year thousands of Australians try their hand at making it in the unofficial capital of the world; Australians such as digital strategist Annabelle Smith. The 28-year-old recently spent two years in Manhattan with a major marketing firm.

Smith, who has a BA/BCom, majoring in marketing and PR, had been working with Sydney-based PR agency Torstar Communications as an account manager when she inquired about the J-1 Visa (see breakout).

"I was single and didn't really have any commitments in Sydney, so I thought it was as good a time as ever to do it," Smith says.

"So I applied and got the visa, quit my job, packed my bags and moved, settling in a share apartment in the West Village, Manhattan."

Smith says she didn't have a job lined up, so she started out bartending. "Initially I planned to work for just a few months and come home, but New York blew me away. I loved the energy of the city and the people, the way they are so driven and determined to make their dreams come true ... as corny as it sounds."

When she made the decision to stay longer, she began looking for jobs in marketing. Despite her impeccable credentials it was a long, slow process. A few employers had issues with Smith's visa status (the J-1 is limited to 12 months). However, she soon discovered it was her CV that was holding her back.

"I found it hard to even get to the interview stage, until a local told me that the problem was my resume, it was just too long and too detailed," she says. "In the US, resumes are kept to one page; that's as far as any employer will ever read."

With the rejigged resume she landed a job with a digital marketing agency, specialising in digital and social media strategy and communications for luxury fashion and lifestyle brands such as Tiffany and Co, Calvin Klein and Estee Lauder.

Smith noted some differences between working in the Big Apple and working in Sydney. "For a start the pay was a little lower in New York, but aside from rent, the cost of living is a lot cheaper than in Sydney," she says. "Then again, there was a lot of temptation to shop, so I didn't actually save much money.

"Plus I found it a little bit more cut-throat in Manhattan," she says. "It's very competitive and you don't have the same labour laws protecting you, so you are easily hired and fired."

Before Smith's J-1 Visa expired, she transferred to an E-3 Visa (see breakout). Rather than renewing the E-3 visa again, she chose to return home. "Being over there made me appreciate how good we have it here in Australia," she says. "I missed our lifestyle and the beaches, and ... there is a lot more camaraderie here, and socialising with co-workers away from the office."

So, has working in New York City made a difference to her career prospects back in Australia? "My time in the US has definitely given me more credibility," she says.

"There have been so many opportunities come my way related to my time in New York.

"In terms of digital marketing, New York City is more advanced than Sydney, at least a year ahead, so I

was able to apply what I learnt to my work here."

Smith has been consulting since her return, but is in the midst of launching her own digital agency, Social Playground. "I'll be using many of the ideas that I picked up in New York; ideas that haven't been seen here before," she says.

US visas

Annabelle Smith relied on two types of visas to enable her to live and work in New York City:

■ The J-1 is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain medical or business training within the US. Every month more than 170,000 participants work, study or teach through the J-1. Categories include physician, au pair, intern, student and teacher. There is also a range of government and academic programs available. Apply here: canberra.usembassy.gov/exch_visitor_visa.html

■ The E-3 is a visa available only to Australians working in a "specialty occupation" (i.e. you'll probably have a bachelor's degree) and renewable in two-year increments. Spouses of E-3 visa holders may also work in the US. Since the visa's introduction, 2000 to 3000 have been issued every year. Apply here: canberra.usembassy.gov/e3visa.html

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