Before I arrived in Australia to begin my Working Holiday Visa, I had heard of plenty of people who had done the same thing, and the general attitude towards it seemed to be that you could find a job in a bar, restaurant or on a farm with no problems whatsoever. For any readers unfamiliar with the concept of a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), it’s a temporary visa which allows young adults under the age of 31 (or 35 in some cases, the lucky sods) to work in the host country under certain conditions; for example, in Australia a WHV-holder cannot keep the same job for any longer than six months, and may earn themselves a second year visa by completing 88 days of eligible rural work. It is intended to allow the recipient to work while vacationing, to supplement their travel fund, rather than to provide an opportunity to enter or re-join a professional field, and so backpackers holding a Working Holiday Visa tend to take on casual or manual jobs as they make their way through the country. I was rather blasé about the whole thing, having heard that it was easy to find work, and, having only ever worked in the same specialised occupation my entire adult life, not really understanding the challenges that these kind of casual roles could present. Therefore,I thought it might be helpful to lay out my experiences in a blog post, in case it can help anyone else in the same position!
1. Selling perfume in a shopping centre
I’ve written previously about my initial experience of job-hunting in Brisbane, the city I’d picked to start off my time in Australia, and how I lasted one day in this terrible role which involved standing in a shopping centre trying to persuade passers-by that they wanted to buy some overpriced perfume. It was a commission-only job, meaning that you only got paid a percentage of what you personally sold. After working for twelve hours and making not even a cent, I decided that this was not going to be my new glittering temporary career. Websites such as Seek, Indeed, Gumtree and Backpacker Job Board are the places to look for jobs in Australia, but they are full of advertisements for these kind of jobs – look out for phrases such as “direct marketing” and “retail sales”, and titles calling for hospitality or call centre staff who want a change of scene. They will promise you all sorts of rewards, but the reality is that, unless you are the stereotypical ruthless hard salesperson, these jobs are not going to pay your rent, let alone for any trips.
Score: 0/5. I do not recommend.
2. Cold-calling the general public to book appointments
I have also previously written about this one. It was pretty simple; the job was to cold-call unwitting members of the Australian public to try to persuade them to have a tax consultant come round to their house to advise them on using their tax to boost their superannuation (old-age pension). I was surprisingly good at this one (you’d be amazed how many people are willing to make an appointment for a stranger to come to their home because a random British chick called them up and suggested they do it!), but I only lasted a week, deciding to leave after it emerged that I would not be earning the promised $250 per week base salary until I had “shown commitment to the company”. I never received the commission that I should have earned from the appointments that I booked, and because I had no evidence that I had ever worked there, I couldn’t do anything about it. I haven’t seen this company advertising for workers for a long time now, so it looks like they might have gone out of business. If you’re embarking on any kind of position where the salary is partly commission-based, make sure you get something in writing about what you can expect to earn. I wish I had been able to haul them to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Score: 0/5. I suspect the company were dodgy, and cold-calling isn’t fun.
3. Face-to-face charity fundraising
This was the first genuine job that I succeeded in getting; one which would actually pay me the minimum hourly wage! I started off working door-to-door, then moved to work direct for the charity, approaching members of the public out on the streets to try to persuade them to sign up as a monthly donor. “Chuggers” get a bad press, particularly in Australia, and I can understand why; most of us don’t like being approached as we go about our day, and unfortunately some charities do make use of marketing companies for their fundraising programmes, who often use unethical practices in how they process donations. However, when out on the streets I worked for Oxfam, who employ their fundraisers directly, paying them an hourly wage and letting them go if they are not generating more in donations than they are costing the charity with their employment, and who are very transparent about where the money goes, so I believe that I was doing an ethical job. Some people thrive in this role, but unfortunately I just wasn’t very good at it, so I didn’t last too long. However, it did finally give me the chance to build up my travel fund a bit and get firmly stood on my feet in Brisbane.
Score: 2/5. This wasn’t for me, but if you pick the right charity, it’s a legitimate job which many Working Holiday Visa holders enjoy.
4. Selling health insurance in an outbound call centre
An agency found me this job after I’d applied for a different one with them which wasn’t accepting people on Working Holiday Visas. An insurance price comparison website (known for its adverts with some cute African animals with Eastern European accents) was seeking a number of temporary employees to make outbound sales calls for a two month contract during the busy season for renewing health insurance in Australia. This was the most intense job I’ve ever done; after two weeks of training and a crash-course in the details of Australian health insurance, we were onto the phones and trying to sell, working up to fifty hours per week towards the end. It was emotionally and physically exhausting, but with a good hourly wage, plus overtime and commission, I was able to save a lot of cash for my onward travels. I discovered that this kind of high-pressure sales environment is absolutely not one in which I thrive (I remain, to this day, totally bemused by the morning ritual whereby our team, nicknamed the “Sales Dogs”, had to chant “DOGGY DOGGY DOGGY!” before marching to our desks to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out”), but I made it to the end of the contract (unlike one-third of the original set of people hired) and I can’t complain about the money that I came away with.
Score: 3/5. Again, this wasn’t for me, but the money was amazing, and many Working Holiday Visa holders do end up enjoying this kind of work.
5. Picking peas
This brings me to the farmwork chapter of my time in Australia, and my first attempt at completing the 88 days of specified rural work required to earn a second Working Holiday Visa. I have already written in detail about this experience; please do give this post a read if you are looking to do farmwork, as I explain some of the things to look out for.
Score: 0/5. I have nothing positive to say about this job.
6. Grabbing manky potatoes and onions in a vegetable factory
Again, I have already written an account of my successful completion of my 88 days in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. I can’t really complain about it as it got me my visa, but it isn’t a job I would particularly be looking to take on a second time (18 months later, I have only just been able to start eating potatoes and onions again!).
Score: 3/5. The work was mindless and the whole experience of living in a rural working hostel was excruciating, but it served its purpose, and I did manage to save some money.
7. Telephone charity-fundraising
When I landed in Sydney after my travels through the Northern Territory, I needed a job fairly quickly. There’s plenty of call centre work for Working Holiday Visa holders in Sydney, but this was the only position that I interviewed for which didn’t involve high-pressure sales, so I took it. I worked for a company which runs “upgrade campaigns” for various charities, which entailed calling existing donors to tell them about what the charity was currently working on, and to ask them to increase their monthly donation. I found this a lot easier than the face-to-face fundraising work that I’d previously done, and I wasn’t doing too badly with it, but family matters called me back to the UK for a couple of weeks, and upon my return to Australia I realised that my heart was calling me back to Brisbane, so I wasn’t there for very long.
Score: 3/5. I’m not a fan of outbound calling, but this was a decent job which paid a good hourly wage, and they were very open to employing Working Holiday Visa holders.
8. Christmas Retail Assistant at a pop-up store
This was the best job that I had throughout my whole two years on a Working Holiday Visa in Australia (and quite possibly one of my favourite jobs that I’ve ever done). I was working for Sunnylife on the pop-up stores that they were setting up over the Christmas period in various shopping centres around Brisbane, selling their gorgeous pool inflatables and cute summer accessories to shoppers who were keen to buy. I loved the brand, I worked with some fantastic people, the hourly wage was brilliant, especially at weekends, and I genuinely enjoyed going to work every day; I even liked the buzz of the hectic final few sales days before the holiday! I was also able to pick up some extra shifts with their parent company, Mr and Mrs Jones, in their similarly-lovely permanent shops.
Score: 5/5. I loved this job, and I was able to save an epic amount of cash for my travels.
9. Kitchen-hand turned admin assistant and receptionist
I started off my next role at a small, family-run cake and confectionery business hand-wrapping chocolate brownies (at a rate of eighty per half-hour – not as easy as it looks!) before being “promoted” to the single role of admin assistant and receptionist, processing all of the customer and corporate orders and generally keeping things running. I use quotation marks because it turned out to be nothing like a promotion; in fact it turned into a bit of a nightmare. There were so many orders coming in that I had to work overtime by several hours pretty much every day to stay on top of everything; yet, mysteriously, my online timesheet would always reset to the time that I was supposed to finish, meaning I didn’t get paid for any of this extra work. The boss would send me text messages in the evening or at 8 o’clock in the morning on my day off to ask about the status of orders; they just didn’t seem to trust me to do the job, and attempted to micro-manage me to a ridiculous extent. I should have left weeks before I did, but, having depleted my travel funds on my recent Western Australia trip, I didn’t want to leave before I had something else lined up; plus (and I have no idea why), I felt a strong sense of guilt about leaving them further short-staffed without having a reason to give for my departure.
Score: 2/5. This might have been OK for a while if I’d stayed in my original kitchen-hand role.
10. Travel Expert at an online travel company
When I saw the advert from TourRadar seeking Working Holiday Visa holders for six-month full-time contracts on a good annual salary, I was pretty sure it was a scam akin to those first couple of jobs that I took on when I was new to Australia. However, I was keen to escape the kitchen, so when I was immediately invited to interview, and then offered a job on the spot, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. I made completely the right decision – I had a fantastic final few months in the country talking about travel all day, and working and socialising with some fabulous people. My role was to work on the sales side of the business, answering customer enquiries by telephone, email and web chat. It was fast-paced and challenging, but I loved sharing my passion for seeing the world with the customers, and helping them to do the same, and I’d learnt in my retail job that I perform well in this softer, inbound kind of sales environment. I made friends for life, saved up a wad of cash to travel through Queensland and then onto New Zealand before coming back to the UK at the end of my Working Holiday Visa, and, had I not wanted to pick up my original career of librarianship again upon my return home, I would have accepted their offer to go and continue working for them in their Vienna office.
Score: 5/5. I got to work in the travel industry, meet some awesome people, and boost my travel funds to the extent that I still had some left over when I eventually came home. This particular job could even have turned into a new career path for me.
I suppose, on reflection, my main piece of advice for anyone looking to experience life in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa would be to make sure you always have enough money saved to escape a bad situation, whether that’s a rural working hostel failing to offer you enough work to cover your expenses, or a city-based company who are simply not paying you what you should be earning, or who move the goalposts once you start work. With some planning, some perseverance, and a little bit of luck, you can have a wonderful one or two years living and travelling in this unique country.