Australia is the great British backpacker’s dream; falling into jobs wherever you land, earning at least double your UK wage and all in a sun filled country. That has not quite been my experience not least because my travelling wardrobe was not put together with the foggy breath, temperatures I’m suffering right now in mind! But hey, now that I’m employed it’s my right to give advice to the great unwashed isn’t it? So here she my two cents on finding a job
Landing in Perth in January, I immediately went on the hunt for rural work with a friend, Kelly, who had already been looking for the previous two weeks. With over 100 online applications each and multiple trips to ‘The Job Shop’ and other employment agencies, we had generated no leads until The Kingsley Motel called up our Perth Hostel asking for some house keeping staff – it wouldn’t count towards our second year but at least we’d be out of the city and closer to the farms.
It is a good idea to get yourself out into a farming town, but look up the dates of harvests and plan this carefully, as it can often be a commitment to a good long drive to somewhere whose only appeal is the work prospects. Kelly and I didn’t look this up, and arrived at the end of the avocado season and with apple season yet to start. We were jobless for a month but at least we had a lot of cheap avocados and lived rent free in return for house-keeping duties.
For us a working hostel was a last resort, it’s not a hard choice between a private room and dreamy double bed and an unstable, squeaky iron bunk bed in a crowded room of 8 sweaty people and their ponging working boots. But then again, if I’d not had Kelly for company it would have been much more appealing; without any real bars, pubs or meeting places my best friend in Manjimup, besides Kelly, was a small scruffy dog with a lopsided face.
We’d been in contact with Abdul, the owner of the Manjimup Backpacker’s Working Hostel and after a few weeks he rang us with the offer of the puppy job, providing we could steel ourselves to get along with 60 puppies every day, oh and moving into his hostel was a condition of the job. After spending one night in a fog of cigarette fumes, swatting the flies swarming out of the kitchen and trying to wash avoiding the blood that was smeared throughout the girl’s bathroom we settled on paying him a reduced rent so that we could keep the job but carry on living at the Kingsley, allowing him to rent our beds out to someone else. It may take a few weeks to find a job after you arrive in one of these hostels, but often they have buses to take you to work if you don’t have a car and they have a lot more connections with farmers than you could hope for so, if you’re struggling give a working hostel a go.
Melbourne was a whole different kettle of fish. I’d heard finding backpacker work here was hard, but never having failed an interview before I hadn’t quite bargained for how hard. I spent my first two weeks dossing around, playing the tourist, drinking into the night and getting up late to mooch around a gallery here or a museum there, thinking I’d be working within days of starting the job hunt. Not quite the case! Two weeks down, over 60 online applications done and over 30 CVs handed out and I still had no reason to be out of bed before 10am, other than the free breakfast coming to a close.
Charity work seems to be the most abundant role in Melbourne. According to Gumtree, most of the companies are constantly hiring. PO (the company I ended up working for) had a new intake every Thursday to replace those from the previous week who didn’t pass evaluation or were smart enough to jump ship before they became institutionalised. Charity work is draining and soul destroying, the people you speak to will take it personally and will blame you for their sudden attack of guilt. If you can stand it, look for a position with a base rate of pay and not just commission; in the five days I lasted I made 3 sign ups for just $15 a month. The commission would have been pitiful, but I still walked away with $800 odd dollars, after tax, for my efforts. I had considered becoming a serial charity trainee, applying to all the companies in Melbourne, getting paid for their training week (which inevitably I wouldn’t pass) then being fired and moving on, or maybe at some point I’d lose my conscience and actually get good at it, who knows!
I spent hours trawling Gumtree on the state library computers (where you can book half hour slots at a time) but in my opinion that’s not where you are going to find anything other than charity work. If there are cafes or bars advertising on there, look up their numbers and call them directly, they’ll be much more impressed with that small amount of effort than a voiceless, faceless online application. Good, old fashioned face to face resume dropping is the most effective method. Melbourne, the breakfast capital of the world, is crawling with cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs which overspill every lane way you peer into. You could take round 100 resumes and not make a mark on the scene, so somewhere WILL be hiring.
You can print in black and white at the state library for 15C a page. I’d recommend not saying that you’re a backpacker or that you’re not Australian anywhere obvious on your resume, just to get your foot in the door. Obviously places want to hire someone who will be sticking around. But most importantly, ask to speak to a manager rather than just giving your resume to an underling and hoping it’s passed on, and then give yourself a good hard sell. I got three trials from managers who told me they weren’t hiring but listened to me when I explained my background in waitressing and barista work. Technically in Victoria you need your RSF to handle food, and I think this also goes for waitressing, but at my current job I’m not on the books, paid cash in hand and can get away without an RSF, so I would advise not spending the money (around $60 depending on who you do it with and you have to attend a day course) on it unless you get a job that requires one. You’re given a couple of weeks to obtain it after you start working anyway. RSAs are more strict for serving alcohol, but the leeway still applies for you to obtain it after you start work.
If you’ve handed out resumes galore, buttered up managers until your teeth are aching and you can’t take it any longer, Peter Pans (a Backpackers travel agent with a shop in most cities) has a job club which you pay $69 to join. They help you craft your resume and send you a list of new jobs in your area suitable for you based on your work preferences every day, they can help with farm work as well. Supposedly you can even claim the $69 back when you claim your taxes on leaving Oz.
Lastly, make sure to pack at least one smart outfit when you fly out, to make a professional first impression at interviews. If you look like you’ve just dragged yourself away from a drunken month on a Thai island you’re going to struggle.
This advice stands for whatever city you find yourself in; dress smart, get your face and personality out there and be persistent. But if you are hunting in Melbourne, like me, be prepared for low; $15 an hour isn’t uncommon here yet I have friends on $20 in Byron, $23 in Perth and closer to $30 in Sydney!