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I'm an Australian software engineer in a bit of a limbo state between junior and established, having done a Masters degree before starting my first engineering job just under three years ago, kind of "skipping over" being an entry level hire in the industry here. Currently, due to reaching a perfect point in my life to do so, I'm looking to relocate to the US where there's more opportunities, a better lifestyle for me, and for the life experience of moving away from the city I've spent my whole life in to the place I've spent my whole life observing from afar!

The search for a role over there is going better than I was worried about initially, in that I was afraid my resume would be binned immediately when they saw I was Australian, but it's quickly become apparent that in a more competitive job market I might be not be considered for the same positions I'm pursued for here - especially with the relocation factor.

I'm considering whether I should be scoping my search to roles where I'd be competing against people with less education and experience than my own, e.g. junior roles, QA or support instead of development, et cetera - in fact such an opportunity exists with my current multinational employer. Once I had some experience in the US, I'm confident I'd be able to get back to where I am now career wise in a few years - but my concern is, would a "step backwards" on my resume raise any eyebrows? Or would it be easy to explain that I did what I needed to do to achieve my goal, overachieved in the more junior position, and perhaps even show a willingness to do what's asked of me while also making sacrifices for long term gains?

Edit with some extra info based on some questions/comments:

  • one of the "downgrade" roles is for a household name organisation

  • another is for my own current employer, and actually targets a big need/skill gap in the org right now

  • Australians qualify for a very good visa that's free and quick to obtain; also it requires that the role ask for a degree, so we're not talking about a downgrade to phone support here, more like a downgrade to a fresh graduate job

  • What's your visa situation? I do think that taking a step back may actually hurt your chances of getting a work visa. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 1 at 22:16
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I did the same thing... sort of. I moved to Belgium so my wife and I could experience Europe/European culture first hand (and travel, of course). I took my time and landed a role at an international company where only speaking English is ok.

My advice to you is don't downgrade. Take your time and you will find a job at your skill level. The US is ripe with opportunities for developers at all levels.

I would recommend not taking a position in QA unless that is what you really want to do. Don't get me wrong, QA is a fine position, if that's what brings you joy. But once you start in it and your resume reflects that you have been doing that for years (and not development), making the jump into anything other than a junior developer role becomes increasingly more difficult.

Take a junior dev role, if you must, but again, I don't recommend looking for something that is a step backwards. The important thing to remember is to know your strengths and sell yourself. It's worked for me for 25 years, and now my wife and I are living the dream.

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    Good advice on the experience concentration. Same issue seems to exist for engineers in defence vs pharmaceutical, for example, in US engineering firms. Lots of specialized experience depending on which route you take. – CKM Mar 2 at 2:55
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We all have goals. Most of us make sacrifices to achieve them. If you explained to me in an interview the decisions you made and the risks you took in order to achieve what you think is a better life for yourself I would respect it. It won't be a problem until you have a lot of those decisions to explain. Then you look flaky. Or unable to accurately assess what kind of lifestyle you want. Or unable to determine how to make it happen. This would be a non-issue for me.

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    I agree with this - I think the key point in this answer is that the change was a deliberate, planned action, and the (potential and hopefully temporary) "downgrade" was also deliberate. I don't think the OP should take the first junior level job they find, but if taking a junior job, and then working into a senior position, allows achievement of a goal, that's definitely not a problem - and may even be seen as a good thing, since it shows you can have a vision, then do what it takes to make it happen. – dwizum Mar 1 at 15:29
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It is hard to know if the "step backwards" would hurt or not. If you had the opportunity to explain (e.g. "I always wanted to spend a few years in the US...") a reasonable hiring manager would understand that, but you don't always get the chance to explain.

That said, I think looking to take a less competitive role will actually make it harder to get hired in the US: dealing with immigration, and paying for immigration lawyers, is a pain. If there are multiple strong candidates for a role, I think most managers wouldn't consider someone with comes with the extra baggage of dealing with immigration. The less competitive the role, the higher the chance there are many competitive candidates which don't require any extra effort to bring aboard.

Separately, on a well functioning team, the manager doesn't necessarily want an employee who is (significantly) "over qualified" for the role - it can lead to that employee being very bored (if he's only assigned the work of the role), resentment of that employee's peers (if that employee instead gets assigned more interesting work), etc.

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A drop in relative pay or seniority is unlikely to be a deal breaker (it may make it harder to get back to your previous level, but that’s going to depend on a variety of unknowns). Switching careers is more problematic in both the short and long term.

Short term, except for a short term contract, you are in the same position as people that are over qualified are — companies are likely to question your commitment to the position, figuring that you’ll stick around until your preferred position becomes available. If that position isn’t with them, then the effort involved in hiring you is likely to be wasted.

Long term, you have the same problem just in the opposite direction — if you’ve changed career tracks and stuck it out, that will make future employers question which is your desired track, ie will you stick with them for a reasonable amount of time.

Neither pay nor career track will be insurmountable issues, both are likely to have consequences. The least impact will come from taking a junior position, because it’s one you can fix without leaving your new position. If you take a junior position explaining that you are doing it for personal goal reasons, and hope to advance back to a senior position with your new company in a year or three, you will seem reasonable and committed as well as a nice bargain for a while. Once you’re back to your prior level, you shouldn’t have any future problems because of it.

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Of course it would lower the impression. To hurt your career simply because you really, really wanna live in the US screams of unprofessionalism and misguided priorities.

What happens when one day, you decide you really, really wanna move to Paris? Or London? Or Hong Kong? How can any employer trust you, a person who lets themselves be guided not by rational thoughts of self-improvement and intellectual stimulus, but by their desire to move to "places they observe from afar" (my word, the cringe) to change their "lifestyle" (wtf does that even mean? I've been in Sydney, and the lifestyle is exactly the same as in most big US cities).

I think you watch too much TV.

  • I appreciate your feedback, obviously, or else I would not have asked an open question - but it might be important to consider that ANY experience in the US would look good on a resume after a move back to Australia. Also the industry here is a little behind, so self-improvement and intellectual stimulus are big motivators also. – Toadfish Mar 1 at 5:31
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    What happens when one day, you decide you really, really wanna move to Paris? I thought you give a notice period, find a job in Paris and move. Curious to know what's conceptually wrong with that. – svavil Mar 1 at 11:58

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