Moving overseas on a working holiday visa is incredibly daunting, particularly if you are going by yourself. After making the decision to relocate temporarily and organizing the red tape one can become quite overwhelmed by the weight of the decision. During this time remain positive and courageous but more importantly grateful. How lucky are we as a generation that we have the opportunity to participate in cross cultural visa programs that fund our travels in the process?
We must never forget our good fortune.
Personally, I have taken advantage of reciprocal visa agreements allowing me to work in England, Canada and Ireland all of which I have done solo during various points in my life. I fully empathise with the stress those wanting to take the plunge feel and the anxiety that obtaining employment can generate. From the moment you land you will be juggling finding a place to live and a job, the latter of which you can start to organise prior to your arrival.
Having lived abroad several times now, I have compiled a list of my top 10 tips to help you find work easily all of which have been drawn from both my mistakes and success stories. My aim is to always help people by encouraging them to live their lives by their rules and honour the dreams they have for themselves. When making a life changing decision we are met with many factors that might discourage us. It is my hope that today’s post boosts your confidence whilst helping you best optimise your time on your working holiday visa.
1. What do you really want from the experience?
As part of your decision to travel on a working holiday visa you need to consider what you want to gain from the experience. Once you know your truth you will be able to set realistic expectations about the type of work you want to do, the hours you seek and if you’re ready to make the sacrifices that come with working abroad.
Prior to moving to Ireland in 2015 I was working in banking for a wonderful company and an even better team. I was content but something was still missing in my life, which lead to me contemplating making the move abroad. Given my age and burgeoning career this was undoubtedly highly risky and was met with several negative opinions. However, most working holiday visas cease to be available to those above 30 years of age. As I was fast approaching that cut off all that mattered to me was not living a life with regret and wondering what could have been. Ask yourself does the risk outweigh the reward?
2. Do your research
It is very easy to romanticise what your life abroad could be like particularly if you’re in a rut in your home environment. This is a natural thought process but be careful not to over-indulge these daydreams because ultimately it is an unproductive way of thinking. Participating in a working holiday program is a decision that I encourage everyone to do but to do so responsibly. In order to position yourself successfully to find employment you need to do you research about your host country particularly in relation to their unemployment statistics and global markets.
For example, back in 2009 I was desperate to move to Ireland and was adamant that I was going. Now there was an external factor (a fella) that was clouding my judgement and just general recklessness that dictated my life during that period. I urge you all to think with your head and not your heart when making this decision. Fortunately, after speaking to Irish friends living in Sydney and researching the Irish economy I quickly shelved the idea because of the Global Financial Crisis. The timing was not right and had I gone through with obtaining my working holiday authorisation it would have been financially disastrous. Do your research.
3. Skills and documentation
In addition to the several factors that contribute to making the decision to travel on a working holiday visa you also need to reflect upon the skills you have to offer. It is beneficial to write these down and to critically examine what you can do to improve your chances. For example, what educational/vocational certificates will you need to bring to showcase your abilities? For those where the host language is different to their own a language certificate demonstrating ability is not only beneficial but in some cases a necessity.
If you are looking at just working casually in hospitality perhaps obtain accreditation pertaining to responsible service of alcohol and gambling or do a first aide course if you are wanting to work as a nanny. If you are planning to work in an office environment many agencies will require new candidates to undertake testing in word, excel, power point and typing. Do your study. In addition, be sure to update you resume to industry standards and have someone edit your work. If you are writing a resume in another language I would advise using a professional translation service and obtain written references always. Needless to say a recruitment agency or potential employer is not going to make an international call so think ahead on their behalf.
4. Timing is everything
Along with researching your host country’s economy you also want to determine when the best time for you to arrive will be. For example for those coming to Australia, January is typically a quiet month with most recruitment agencies picking up again in February. Before booking your flight you might want to contact overseas recruiters or agencies that specialise in aiding those travelling on visas to get a professional opinion about peak periods.
You will also want to consider university timetables namely when new graduates will flood the market as this will naturally make finding employment that much more competitive. Lastly, it is advantageous to consider the season in which you will be arriving and how that will affect your chances in terms of what you are looking for. For example, if you’re moving to Canada during winter, as I did, and don’t wish to work or live anywhere near the ski fields you might be hard pressed to find work. So it is not just a case of examining the country but the city that is of interest to you and how seasonal employment might hinder or benefit your situation.
5. Update or Delete
One of the best pieces of professional advice that was given to me during my university years was to take the time to update your LinkedIn profile OR to remove it completely knowing it was going to remain incomplete. A half-finished profile is not a positive reflection of who you are and can negate what you are marketing about yourself in your resume. For example if you state that you take pride in paying attention to details, your time management skills and always getting the job done a recruiter/employee who examines your profile only to discover it is incomplete will not see evidence of these claims. Every little bit helps, so give yourself the best chance possible to market your skills and to network. This is not the time to be shy.
If you’re intending to live and work in a country where the language is different to your native tongue first let me commend you for your bravery. I can only assume that like me, you are doing this to improve upon your language skills and cultural immersion is the best way to accomplish this goal. Having lived in Montreal many years ago in an effort to immerse myself in everything French I appreciate first-hand how intimidating this can be.
With that said your language skills (should they not be at a working level) will affect your chances of gaining employment quickly and unfortunately before making this decision you need to be honest with yourself about your competency. This is by no means to discourage anyone, but having struggled tremendously in Montreal I was not able to make the most of the opportunity. I would hate for someone else to be in that position because they didn’t prepare themselves. As such, you might want to consider going at a later date when you have a stronger foundation or be proactive and use the challenge as the chance to enrol in more language classes, listen to music, watch films etc. Start to expose yourself to the language as soon as possible, all day and every day. You don’t have to be fluent but confident.
7. Know the rules
Every working holiday visa is bound by rules and regulations that differ according to citizenship and these rules are always changing…. I am looking at you Great Britain. It is your responsibility to know what you can and cannot do whilst travelling on this visa, information which typically can be found on embassy websites. Some visas only permit retaining employment with one company for a set period of time whilst other visas are more relaxed. When you are searching for employment guaranteed recruiters/employers will ask you about the limitations of your visa as they naturally don’t want to get themselves in trouble. Being able to answer these questions effectively reflect on you positively and showcase that you are an organised individual. In addition, it is beneficial to have photocopies of your documentation on hand typically with a post-it note attached with the embassy’s website so recruiters/employers can confirm what you are stating.
8. Save those pennies
It might be deemed negative but I believe in preparing for the worst case scenario when travelling on a working holiday visa. In the event you are unable to find work as quickly as expected or if something you had lined up unfortunately falls through you need to be financially prepared for all outcomes so as to avoid having to come home before you’re ready. Plane tickets and visas are not cheap and once a working holiday visa is activated it cannot be taken again. Yes, it is an unnerving aspect to consider but the reality is you only have one opportunity to get it right. Circumstances sometimes cannot be helped but you need to strategize in order to make the most of this precious time. It is not just a case of saving as much possible but researching the cost of living in your host country. By doing so you are able to create a budget and set a realistic financial goal (minus expenses) in order to live comfortably should work be hard to come by at first.
9. Prepare your contacts
Generally about two weeks prior to your departure date start compiling a list in Excel of possible contacts. Again this depends on the type of work you are doing and if you are using the services of relocation companies like 1st Contact or electing to go solo. Personally I have always gone solo, that is my financial preference, but this does require more organization on your part. If you’re utilising recruitment agencies your spreadsheet will need to include their email, contact number and the name of the person who overlooks particular sectors if possible. Be careful when deciding which recruitment agencies to use as some are more niche as to the talent they seek and the companies they work for.
10. Arrival plan
Once you arrive in your new country the first thing you will need to do is to acquire a mobile phone with your new local number. You will then need to update your resume and cover letter to include these new details so you are ready to start actively looking for work right away. Next you will be able to open up your pre-prepared excel spreadsheet and start composing emails to recruiter’s with your inter-changeable cover letter and resume attached. Because you have already taken the time to compose a list of contacts, this process will be much quicker as you will only have to copy and paste relevant details over.
Living and working overseas has been the story of my life, it is something of an addiction that has been filled with many ups and downs. I have made mistakes. I have been reckless. I have been ill prepared. As a result I have been burnt but ultimately learnt my lesson to get it right the next time round. When I arrived in Ireland at 29 abiding by this list, derived from my experiences in London and Montreal, I not only found work within days but worked right up until the expiry of my visa. Luck definitely played its part, that is a fact of life, but preparation was critical to my success.
Working holiday programs have changed my life for the better and like anything presents an array of challenges. Overcoming these and living abroad will only serve your growth as an individual in every way a person can be transformed. Good luck in your endeavours, be courageous, be confident and if you ever need advice please don’t hesitate to contact me.