How I worked my way around Australia, and how you can too (post-pandemic)

Australia’s international borders are shut, and backpackers are not permitted into the country for the time being. Coronavirus is all anyone can think about – it’s effectively shut down the tourism and travel industry while folks are stuck in lockdown. The death toll is now over 1 million globally and hopefully there’s a vaccine on the way.

But there will be an end to this awful pandemic, it will not last forever. And when it’s over, why not take the opportunity to go see the world?

During the past 2 years, I’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of finding employment while on a Working Holiday Visa, and understanding some of a nuances that go with it. I’ve made a few blunders along the way, and taken some risks that led to amazing rewards.

When I arrived in Australia almost two years ago, I had a bed in a dorm room, no friends, no job, and a very rough plan. I thought finding a job would be the easiest thing ever, but I spent the first 2 months mostly unemployed (while also travelling a little and hitting up the beach, it wasn’t completely horrible…) I made the mistake of thinking “I have a degree from a good uni! I have work experience! It’ll be so easy!” I was wrong.

Through lots of trial and error, I’ve managed to find some security and found out what it means to hustle. Now, I’ve made friends from all over the world, have had several jobs that I’ve loved, and have seen and lived in some amazing places.

Here are my top tips for finding a job in Australia, even if you’re already here or want to come post-pandemic:

Network. “It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know,” said my friend Cas, who works in the Western Australian mining industry. Backpackers talk to each other about everything – hostels, jobs, et cetera. Even if staying in a hostel isn’t your scene, you should still give it a go for a few weeks just to network with other backpackers. Another hostel tip is to stay on top of the jobs board. Lots of farm or labouring employers will go to hostels in search of last-minute workers (I know this from working front-desk positions). By talking to other backpackers, you’ll get a read on the local job market and hear about jobs through word-of-mouth. Be highly social and make friends with everyone.

Get the proper certificates. In Australia, certificates are like golden tickets for employment and are required in so many fields. For example, handling alcohol requires an RSA, being a barista almost always requires a barista training course, working with children requires a WWC check, and a white card is required for construction work. Most certificates cost between $100-$200 and are definitely a smart investment.

If you have any certificates from your home country, can they be converted in Australia? Research this before you arrive!

Find a way to diversify yourself You will probably a difficult time finding a position in what you got your degree in. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it will be difficult. On a Working Holiday Visa, you are limited to 6 months with an employer, which deters employers from hiring backpackers for more committed roles. For this reason, I recommend finding a way to lend your skills to a more casual field. Hospitality is the easiest industry to get a job in, such as bar, restaurant, or cafe work.

For example: from my experience in journalism school, I have good people skills and an effective communication style which lends itself to reception and customer-facing positions. By keeping my mind open to learning new skills, I’ve worked my way around Australia by working in front-desk/admin roles in various hostels.

Going back to basics and door-to-door knocking to pass out your CV is another tried-and-true tip from my friend, Brian. This was echoed by everyone else I’ve spoken to whose worked in Australia. Have an idea of what you’re looking for, and get out and apply in-person. I know someone who went to alllll the boats in the Whitsundays and got a dope bartender job on the spot, so hey – it works!

Job ads receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications – Backpacker Job Board, Facebook groups, Jora, Seek, and Indeed are all good resources, but you need to make yourself stand out from a pile of resumes! Instead of just sending in your resume, make a follow-up visit, send a follow-up email, or a make a phone call at the very least.

Don’t be afraid to move around If you’re just not clicking in a particular hostel or town, things just aren’t going well or you’re unhappy, don’t be afraid to take the risk and move elsewhere. A vibe in hostels is so essential, and sometimes it just isn’t there. Some cities and towns are notoriously difficult to find work in, and strange as it sounds – smaller towns like Broome or Kununurra in WA and Airlie Beach Qld sometimes have better job opportunities for backpackers than larger cities like Perth.

If you’re being mistreated or being taken advantage of in some way, listen to your gut and leave! I’ve already written about this, but it’s important to reiterate – a job (no matter how much you need the money or the 88 days) it is not worth your mental health. And being abused verbally, physically, or financially is never ok! Be wary of sham contracting.

Get your 88 days done early! And don’t be afraid of them – some of your closest friends will most likely come from your regional work.

Consider internships/working for accomodation in hostels. These are good for a few reasons: 1. They are a great way to reduce your living costs in-between jobs while you’re looking for work, 2. They’re a great way to make friends and meet people, and 3. You’ll learn various skills you can use to find other jobs. For me, an unpaid receptionist WFA position led to having the skills to get paid reception roles.

Remember that your first job in Australia will probably be the hardest to get, employers want employees with Australian work experience. Once you have some Aussie work experience under your belt, other jobs will be easier to find.

Another thing I’ve learned? Life isn’t all about the job you have. Travel teaches you things you just can’t learn in a classroom. So why not take the leap and try something a bit different? I’ve met people who are ex-bank managers, financial planners, carpenters, engineers, and even fashion designers who put their careers on hold to go travel the world. And that’s ok. Life isn’t a race, it’s meant to be enjoyed.

Interested in applying for a working holiday visa? Check out my article here. And watch the video with some helpful tips from someone I met travelling!

Robin’s video is filled with helpful tips about finding work in Perth.