Four years ago I was on a road trip, traveling along the east coast of Australia from Cairns to Sydney! As soon as I returned to Sydney, I kicked off my job search.
I wrote the following post a few weeks after landing a job, publishing it elsewhere. Since it hasn’t been online for a couple of years, I wanted to give it life again.
For six years before heading to Australia I provided guidance to 18-22 year olds, coaching and counseling them as they navigated the career decision-making process. Bright and engaging university students came to my office to share their hopes, discuss their fears, and take action steps in discovering what life may hold after graduation.
One of the goals of many students was to live, travel, volunteer, or work abroad. With my strong interest in travel, I quickly became known as the “go-to” counselor for all things international. I was no expert by any means, but I loved introducing advisees to new resources and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
After several years of supporting others in following their passions, I decided it was time for me to take my own advice and chase my big dream — to live in another country for a year. Australia captured my heart in 2006, and the country’s Work and Holiday Visa made it the ideal choice for transforming a dream into reality.
My primary aim in Australia was to live and travel with minimal emphasis on the work. However, no matter how much I had saved for the year Down Under, I knew the working portion of a working holiday would eventually become a necessity! And, I was slightly curious if I would be able to follow the guidance, tips, and advice I had shared with so many students to secure a new work experience of my own half way around the world.
Looking back now on the job search quest, I am reminded of some valuable lessons and am glad I listened to my own advice.
Take advantage of the opportunity to explore different interests
Before leaving for Australia, many friends, family members, and colleagues asked if I intended to look for work at a university, particularly as a career counselor. I was surprised at their surprise when my answer was no. After all, I can always return to career counseling in the future, and there may never be a better time in my life to explore other interests. Why not try something new that I may not necessarily pursue as a long-term option back home?
I love food and have a rather even split between eating very healthfully and having a wicked sweet tooth. A commitment to exercise and interest in nutrition (yes, even with the chocoholic in me) reflects my desire to live a healthy lifestyle.
With these interests in mind I looked into a few fitness centers, cafes, and restaurants, and started a list of “potential places to work”. In the end I did not apply to most of them, but it was a good exercise to help me brainstorm ways of trying something new.
Be open to unexpected opportunities, keep your eyes open, and tell people what you’re looking for
Several times through the first few months of travel, I was encouraged to apply for opportunities I would never have imagined! One of these intriguing offers presented itself when I was not looking and least expected it.
Mid-way through a 6-day tour of the Outback, our guide mentioned that the company was in need of “hosts” to cook, clean, and assist on the slightly higher end tours that cater to an older demographic. At our next stop I asked the guide for more details, and before I knew it, I was chatting (i.e. interviewing!) with the manager by the campfire. While I may not possess stellar cooking skills, I can clean and play hostess like a champ! What really dazzled him, however, was my knowledge of Aussie sports. Once I mentioned my favorite players and teams by name (which just also happened to be his!), he was so impressed that he gave me his card and encouraged me to follow up after the tour. I would never have thought to look for work with a tour company operating in the Outback and was amazed that such a unique opportunity had simply fallen into my lap!
Know your values (career/work and personal) and use them to guide you
At whatever stage we begin to ask ourselves “what do I want to be ‘when I grow up’” or “what will I do after high school/college/uni”, I think we often look to our skills and interests to find answers and pay less attention to our values. A good career counselor encourages one to assess how our skills, interests, personality, and values may (or may not!) work together to suggest possible career paths.
As I considered the job search, my primary aim was to work for an organization whose mission and/or culture promotes a healthy lifestyle. Because I chose for this to be the guiding force in my search, I decided not to pursue the Outback tour company’s offer further.
At the time I was unsure of my decision – how many people get an opportunity to sleep under the stars, meet a new group of people every few days, and see some of Australia’s most beautiful land, all while getting paid to do so?! But what I learned on my own tour helped me make the right decision: The tour food was not the healthiest, and while it was fine for a week, I did not want to eat that way for months on end. Due to weather and early morning starts, we only managed a few hours of sleep per night. Working for the company would mean even earlier starts. Between the lack of food options and sleep, I knew I wanted to treat my body better and would wait for something that was more in sync with my values.
A personal value that came into play was a need for honesty. Once I returned to Sydney and began actively searching, I found that nearly all positions of interest wanted applicants with 2+ years of hospitality experience or “all around cafe” experts with significant experience. Other than years of babysitting, one summer of telemarketing, and two summers of clothing retail, all of my work as been in the university research or advising setting. Several acquaintances or new friends told me to lie and say I had experience – if I didn’t, I would not find a position, and apparently people made up previous experience all the time on their CVs/resumes! I know Sydney, like many big cities, has a competitive job market. Locals and travelers vie for the same positions, and without related experience, a job seeker is unlikely to be considered. But padding my resume with fake experiences and lying during an interview were not options for me. If I could not find a job with my current experiences and skill sets, then I wasn’t looking hard enough.
In my experience, taking our values into consideration often helps us make choices between two equally attractive options and can help us make the difficult (but wise) decision of not pursuing something.
Keep your search manageable
When I returned to Sydney after 3.5 months of travel, I had an interview right away that a new friend helped me secure with her aunt’s organization. While I waited for a response, I revisited my list of “potential places to work”. I considered contacting them all at once but decided to prioritize my options and contact only 2-3 per day, via email or in person. In doing so, I hoped to keep communication and potential interviews more manageable. I am so glad I did!
On day four of the job search, I dropped by a cupcake bakery (so much for eating healthfully – but remember the sweet tooth!) and asked to speak with a manager. After just a few questions, she offered me a “trial” for just a few days later! The next day, I visited an organic food store to follow up on an email I had sent earlier in the week. Once again, the manager asked a few simple questions and then offered me a trial on the same day and time as the cupcake manager. Wow.
Thankfully the choice between the two was relatively easy. Cupcakes are great, but surrounding myself with organic produce, gluten free products, and people who care about wellness made the health food store the clear winner. As the search moved much more quickly than I anticipated, I was glad to only have a few options to consider.
So where am I now?
After successful completion of a trial at the organic food store (in which I was thrown right into the thick of things to see how I’d respond!), I have been a cashier at the store for just over a month! I would never have guessed this is where I would be just a few months ago, but looking back on the search I see how everything led me to this point. I chose to focus more on the type of organization I wanted to work for and less on the job title itself.
By working at the store I receive a free staff meal and two free coffees per shift. I have learned to identify fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are new to me. The employee discount at our café means I can buy healthy, delicious meals on the cheap. Most of my coworkers are young and friendly; customers amuse, entertain, and challenge me daily; and on every shift at least one person takes note of my accent, asks why I am here, and encourages me in my decision.
I am not sure where life will take me in the next few months, if I will eventually return to career counseling, or what the long-term future holds. But just like my job search, if I give space and time to the process and allow for the unexpected (with a dose of thought, planning, and intention), I know it will unfold as it should.
featured image via Flickr creative commons