Lessons Learned on a (No) Work and Holiday Visa in Australia


This article was contributed by Sarahelena Barrios. 

G’day from a recent college graduate currently holding a Work and Holiday Visa for the Land Down Under! I am currently writing to you a week before my flight out of Australia to New Zealand and, shockingly enough, I have been employed a total of ZERO times. When I signed up for my Work and Holiday Visa in Australia, I had so many ideas about how it was going to go. However, one thing was certain, I was going to get a job. I was certain that cafe and bar owners would see me and fall head over heels with my zero hospitality experience as I packed my bikini for a December summer. With my zero dollars earned (US or Aussie), it’s easy to just get frustrated at my employment shortcomings but we are learning from and finding growth in our mistakes in 2020 so let’s figure out where I went wrong, shall we?

I didn’t change my resume

In hindsight (hello, 2020!), I cannot believe I handed the same resume I used in college and to apply to law school to the owner of a bakery looking for front end staff. What was I thinking, you may ask? Answer, I was not. 

Lesson: Tailor your resume. If you don’t want to tailor it to each job, at least tailor it to the general kind of work. An academic resume is for academia and a hospitality resume is for hospitality. 

I was unrealistic about my qualifications.

Like I said up top, I fell into a bit of a fantasy land whenever I thought about what life would be like in Australia. I assumed jobs would just fall into my inexperienced, naive lap as soon as they heard my adorable US accent! 

Lesson: Have or be willing to gain experience. If your story is similar to mine, leaving college life to live abroad and make some money outside your field of study before the realities of post-grad life set in, you may not already have the 2+ years of experience that some restaurants or cafes are looking for. If that’s the case, volunteering at Lentil As Anything (a pay-as-you-feel restaurant run by volunteers) is a way to get your feet wet in the hospitality industry for a great cause. 


I only applied to jobs online.

Thinking I was being productive, I sat down and combed through sites like Gumtree, Seek, and Facebook groups and shot off probably 20 resumes a day to cafes, restaurants, and aquatic centers. I would call it a day after an hour or two and go explore the city and dedicate myself to the Holiday half of my visa.

Lesson: Print some of those tailored resumes and hit the streets. Feel free to spend the day exploring the city, but leave breadcrumbs! Stop by a cute cafe for a flat white? Chat to the barista and ask if there are any openings. Go to a nice restaurant or bar for a bite to eat? See if the waiter/ess knows of any opportunities. Starting conversations like this might feel awkward at first but people are usually really receptive and, if they do need someone, having your resume on you can lead to a quick interview or trial!

I waited to take/didn’t take certification courses.

Every time I saw a job that required an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) or a Food Safety Certification I scrolled right past it. How could I shell out for a certification course when I didn’t even have a job? But this meant I scrolled past a lot of opportunities

Lesson: Factor some certifications into the initial cost of your trip (if you want to work in hospitality). These certifications usually only take a day to complete and it opens you up to a lot more job opportunities. 

But even with my depreciating funds, I have loved my time in Australia! I’ve been welcomed by old friends and had the fortune to meet wonderful new ones along the way. The coffee, culture, and meat pies in Melbourne are not to be missed! But if you’re going to any country on a Work and Holiday Visa, it’s important to enjoy the latter but not completely forget about the former.

Happy economically viable travels, folks!

Meet Sarahelena: Sarahelena Barrios is a 22 year old, mildly freckle faced lover of foreign grocery stores. Follow along on Insta as she does all her pre-law school traveling! Keep up with her on IG. 

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