We decided to have lunch. She’s a sweet girl from the Philippines who’s trying to get into nursing. She’s also on a working holiday in Australia and while her main goal is to pursue nursing, she’d like to find some type of work to fund her stay in Australia.
During lunch, I asked her if she found a job and she responded by saying that no one would hire her and she just gave up. She’s spending her time studying for a nursing exam these days.
“How did you get a job so fast?” she asked. “Why is everything so easy for you?!”
I was a little annoyed by her assumption that everything was so easy for me because it wasn’t. Did she think a job just fell out of the sky and onto my lap? Sure, I’ve met people who’ve found a job after three days of looking. Sadly, I was not one of those people.
Yes, having English as my first language was an advantage, however, landing a decent job still wasn’t easy. Also, I’ve met tons of people who didn’t have English as a first language and still landed a decent job. So there’s no excuse.
Today, I’m going to tell you the struggle I went through to actually find a paying job in Australia. It was far from easy.
When you’re on a Work and Holiday visa or Working Holiday in Australia, looking for work can be daunting.
The visa has restrictions. Rules are different for every country that holds the WHV, but a common one I’ve found that many countries share is that you can only work with the same employer for no more than 6 months. I’ve met people who’ve found ways around the 6-month rule such as switching the name of employers within the same company (if the company agrees of course) so it doesn’t look like they’ve worked with the same employer for over 6 months.
However, the visa is called a Working Holiday (Or Work and Holiday for Americans). The point is to work and travel – not just work. Everyone has different motives but mine was to work and travel, and although everything didn’t go as planned (what really goes as planned?), that is exactly what I did.
Australia is a popular destination for the Working Holiday. I’ve hardly met Americans but I’ve met tons of people from all over the world: Canadians, Europeans (especially Germans – so many Germans), and Asians.
People come for different reasons: to experience a different country and culture, to improve their English, to drink cheap alcohol every night and then call Mommy & Daddy when they run out of money (not that I’m judging – OK, I’m judging a little).
Some work in retail. Others work in hospitality. Some work on farms. Others work in office environments. There are a number of jobs you can do and it’s not impossible to find something within the 6-month rule. However, finding a decent job within these conditions might be a bit challenging.
There are those who work cash-in-hand (under-the-table) jobs. I’ve never done this and till this day I’m still unsure of how one finds such a job. However, I’ve met tons of people who have. For example, many people come to Australia from Asian countries for a new experience and to improve their English speaking skills. Quite often, they don’t feel confident in their English speaking skills to look for a job that pays the Australian minimum wage (which is pretty high compared to America) and ends up working in an Asian restaurant for way lower pay than what they deserve.
The cash-in-hand pay is usually anywhere from $8-$10 per hour, which might be acceptable in America but with that pay-rate it’s difficult to get by in an expensive country like Australia. I had a roommate from Taiwan who worked in a Chinese restaurant for $15/hour, which is unusual for a cash-in-hand job. I believe $15 is still bit lower than the minimum wage but it’s a good pay-rate for an under-the-table job. It’s not impossible to find good pay under-the-table.
I didn’t want to work such low paying jobs, especially since the cost of living in Australia is really high. In the beginning of my journey, I had a mindset that I would work any job and when people asked me what kind of job I was looking for, I’d respond with “anything”.
However, after working just “anything” jobs, my answer started to change. There comes a point when I refuse to be treated a certain way or take jobs/continue working jobs that make me unhappy. Is a few dollars the tradeoff for being treated like crap?
Typical backpacker jobs are available quite often. However, these types of jobs didn’t appeal to me after working a couple of them as they, well, sucked. Like, really sucked.
My First Paying Job In Brisbane
I tried looking for work in Sydney for 5 weeks. When I couldn’t find work, I decided to head to Brisbane, which is in Queensland.
It was warmer than Sydney but I also struggled to find work in Brisbane. Within the first week, I went on a job interview with a fundraising company. I wore a black dress with a black cardigan and threw on a pearl necklace.
The interview was a bit strange. I sat next to a girl in the waiting area who was also interviewing for the job. She wore a t-shirt, leggings and flip-flops.
An Irish guy interviewed me who was exactly my age. I know this because he told me we were born in the same year. I didn’t know how to respond to this.
Two days later, the girl who wore leggings and I were both hired.
Then two days after starting the job, I quit.
Let me ask you something. Do you want to stand on the street and bother people and ask them for money that they don’t want to spend? No? Yeah, I didn’t either.
Though I must admit, they made the job sound exotic and colorful. The money they offered wasn’t bad either. I believe it was $20 per hour plus commission.
There are many fundraising/street-standing jobs in Australia and they target travelers and backpackers because they know they need money. They also tend to fire people who don’t get enough sign ups per week. Of course I can’t speak for all companies, but I ran into a guy who was in training with me for the fundraising job. While I quit after two days, he tried to stick it out. When I ran into him, he said they fired him for not having enough sign ups after one week of working there.
My Second Paying Job In Brisbane
After quitting the fundraising job, I was feeling a bit low. I continued looking for work but felt really stressed. The only thing I’d do is sit inside of The State Library of Queensland all day and look for work. As you can imagine, it was not fun.
I decided to take a break and visit Noosa (an hour and half from Brisbane, located in the Sunshine Coast) for a few days to relax a bit. When I came back, I received a call from the hostel I was staying in asking if I wanted to work for accommodation. I had to clean the kitchen and roof terrace every night for a few hours. I agreed but it was a bit annoying at times if people had a party and left food and empty beer bottles everywhere.
A week later, I was upgraded to a full-time cleaning job with pay. And, yes, it was full time – 40 hours a week. I alternated between the two sister hostels the manager owned – cleaned bathrooms, rooms, scrubbed the bar floor (at 6 a.m. – yuck) and cleaned the kitchen. If I didn’t do something right, the cleaning manager would make me do it again (i.e. scrubbing the bar floor).
Not only was this a really bad job but I was also getting paid crap: $371/week plus accommodation, which meant sleeping in a dirty staff room that smelled like goon (gross chemical infused alcohol that backpackers drink because it’s cheap). I also didn’t get along with some of the people I shared the room with and in the end, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t come to Australia to work a crap job in a hostel and be treated unfairly. I worked the cleaning job for 3 weeks before quitting. And I’m glad I did.
Job Hunting In Melbourne
Admittedly, I avoided Melbourne because of the cold. But I actually think I’m more drawn to colder places than warmer ones. It’s the Chicagoan in me.
When I arrived, I looked for work straightaway. I got in contact with recruitment agencies and went in for employment registration. A few weeks later, I received a 3-day assignment for a data entry project. Never in my life have I been paid so much for entering data. I believe it was $24.54 per hour. For entering data.
The work was boring but the people were nice and there wasn’t much pressure to get data entered by a certain time as there was a group of us who worked together. It was very different from that time I worked a data entry job in the states and was treated like crap.
It was only a 3-day project then they didn’t need me anymore. But the money earned from those three days helped pay for a few weeks of rent.
I began to feel hopeful. I registered with a few more recruitment agencies. But when I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, I started to lose hope once again. It was mid-August (month 5 in Australia) and I had less than two grand in my Australian bank account. It wasn’t like I was doing anything fun with my money – just rent and food.
And at my lowest point, I called my friend, Rita, who lived in Sydney at the time for a pep talk. I met Rita in Sydney and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s from Italy and told me a story of how she went to Germany, hired a biked and rode all over handing out resumes. She lost 3 kilos (what’s that in pounds?) in one week riding a bike all over town but in the end she found a job.
“Try,” She said. “It doesn’t cost anything.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear to restore my confidence. With a few simple words she changed my perspective.
This line left lingering in my mind long after our phone conversation. Although I already knew this to be true, it all of a sudden clicked in my head – kind of like an Oprah “A-HA!” moment.
Try – It Doesn’t Cost Anything.
It was simple but effective. I started to take action and started seeing results from it.
Something happened after I spoke to Rita on the phone. I tried a little more. I decided to not give up. I was confident that everything was going to somehow work out. I felt like anything was possible. It felt almost magical.
I started with shops.
Melbourne has A LOT of shopping centers, and I’m pretty sure I walked around ALL of them. This time, instead of walking into stores and asking if they were hiring (like I did in Sydney), I looked for hiring signs within the windows of shops. I’d do one of two things.
- Walk in and hand in my resume to the manager.
- If the hiring sign had an email address, I’d take a picture or write down the email address and go home and write a cover letter within the body of the email and attach my resume and hit send.
I surprisingly started seeing results.
Of course, some people didn’t consider me since I was on a WHV as they didn’t want to take the time to train me if I could only work for a limited time. I got in the habit of leaving out the fact that I was on a WHV on my resume unless I was applying through recruitment agencies. If they asked, I wouldn’t lie. But leaving it out helped me be considered.
One time, I walked in one store that had a strict policy of not hiring people on a WHV. I thanked the lady working in the store and began to walk out when she stopped me to give me a few tips on other places that I can apply. Although I didn’t have any luck within this particular store for employment, I received a lot of helpful tips from the lady who worked in this one particular store.
I walked into another shop (a shoe shop) and the lady didn’t care that I didn’t have experience in selling shoes but was impressed with the variety of experience on my resume, including volunteering at a Vietnamese community as an English teacher. She said she’d hold on to my resume (a few months later she called me in for an interview).
I started getting calls for interviews at shops. Things were starting to look up.
Then I received a call from a recruitment agency for a 4-6 week assignment at a hospital doing administrative work. I said that I was interested and they submitted my resume over to their client.
I have a love/hate relationship with recruitment agencies as I’ve also worked with quite a few in the states as well and I know very well how they work. It’s a good way to find work while traveling, however, I’d suggest not to only depend on them as, in my experience, they tend to call you for assignments (sometimes even send you on interviews) and if you’re unsuccessful they tend to not follow-up. But when you are successful, they’ll definitely call you.
I was successful for this particular assignment and given that I had office working experience in my past helped. My official title was Administrative Officer, and I was basically working for one of the directors of the departments of the hospital. My job was to make her life easier by scheduling appointments, keeping track of her calendar, emails, editing paperwork, write-ups, attending meetings and taking notes.
My direct boss was lovely and really pleasant to work with. The people I worked with were also really pleasant to be around. The job was only supposed to last for 4-6 weeks but lasted for 5 months until they found someone to permanently replace me. The job was in a suburb and since I was living in the city, I had to take the train to work daily. Although I really wanted to find a job in the city, I was grateful for the opportunity and to work with really kind people. And the $25 an hour helped. A lot.
Of course most of the money I earned was spent quickly. This included necessities like rent, food and transportation. And then it included non-necessities like expensive concert tickets, wine, dining out and travel.
And that’s how I got a job. If I didn’t get the job at the hospital, I would have found something else. I’m sure of it. Because when you really want something, you’ll somehow make it happen.
So, no, it wasn’t easy. I just didn’t give up.
Have you worked abroad before? Tell me about your experience.