This post is part vi of my (very lengthy) series on Moving to Australia. Use that link to read the overview post or use this link to see all of the posts in this series.

The truth is that it can be hard to find a job, until you find 1 and then suddenly have 3 (when it rains, it pours). Let’s figure you’re not making a career move, so I’ll discuss casual job options, where to find job postings, and how to deal with tax & superannuation.

Casual jobs work on a roster system, and don’t promise full-time or even part-time hours. Not to say you can’t end up working 40 hours on a casual job, it’s just not classed as full or part-time, which is an important distinction because it means you don’t get any benefits, but you also have the right to put in N/A’s (non-available dates) and you get paid at a higher rate than permanent staff members (WHAT?!). True. When I worked at ANZ (the bank), all the base level employees got paid the same amount ($23/hr) and then casual employees get a loading of 25% in lieu of benefits. That means I actually made almost $29/hr. Slick deal.

Before I go any further, you need to get a Tax File Number (TFN) to legally work in Australia. (And, as mentioned in part v, you also need an Australian bank account to be paid into.) The TFN application is really quick and free, but can take up to a few weeks to arrive. That should give you plenty of time to find a job if you’re not being too picky about where you work.

Remember the restrictions on your visas. For Students, you can only work 40 hours per fortnight (2 weeks), and for Working Holidays, you can only stay with one employer for 6 months.

The typical steps for getting a job in hospitality (bar, café, restaurant) are as follows:

  1. Make sure you have TFN (& RSA, if needed, explained below)
  2. Hand out resumes
  3. Come in for a “trial shift”.
    Legally, you must be paid for this. It may last 1 hour, it may last 8, but they want to try you on, so to speak. If you get this far, it is likely that you will get the job unless you really make a mess out of it. Also, you’ll need to bring your RSA with you. It’s a huge legal deal to not have it on you or on file at your place of business. Like, $10,000 fine for the company.
  4. Eagerly await phone call
  5. Get the job!
  6. Go in to fill out your information, like TFN, address, bank details, etc.
  7. Get sent your first roster

Here are your best bets, employment wise:

·  Bartending: I struggled so hard in the beginning to get a bar job, because I didn’t have previous experience (that’s a real Catch 22, pals), but after the first crappy bar I worked at, I got hired super snappy. I have worked at 6 different bars, believe it or not (but you better believe it). It’s a super easy job, pays well because of the hours, and is really fun (minus the 4am sign off time). To work anywhere that serves alcohol (so bars, restaurants, cafes, etc.), you will need to have a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate (RSA). When I moved to Victoria, I had to re-do mine, as different states have different requirements, so plan to do it in the state you’ll be in for work. The one I linked above is the course I did in Melbourne, it was only a few hours long and cost $40. On the other hand, I paid close to $150 for my RSA in NSW. The class is actually pretty useful, mostly the standard drink information.

By law in Australia, all alcohol packaging has to display the number of “standard drinks” included. Think of it like the alcohol content equivalent to one shot of vodka. Using some of my class knowledge: 1 standard drink is defined as 10g of ethanol, so 1 standard of wine is like a small glass and 1 standard of beer is a bit less than a can, etc. It’s doubly useful in real life, because it’s a consistent way to count your drinks. “I drank one bottle of red wine, so I had about 7 standard drinks, no wonder I am on the floor.” It’s also a great money-saving tool. For instance, a goon sac (cask wine) is about 30 standard drinks for $10, whereas a bottle of vodka is only 22 standard drinks and costs about $30. It’s simple mathematics, my friends.

I should also mention that bartending gets paid about $20-25, plus pay at rates of “time and a half” (i.e. 1.5x normal pay) on Saturday (so also after midnight Friday), 2x on Sundays (so also after midnight Saturday), 2.5x on Public Holidays, and 3x on Sunday Public Holidays. I once earned $65/hr for Easter Sunday.

·  Nightclub photography: I haven’t personally worked this job, but I have a heap of friends who have. Do you own a fancy looking DSLR, have a professional flash, and have basic editing skills? You’re in. They seem to be constantly hiring, and every club will have one or a few on rotation. You usually work about 3 hours, starting at 10/11pm depending on when it gets busy, and finishing at 1/2am. For this and all your editing, you can get $100-200 a night. If you know how to use Lightroom, edits should take about an hour, so that’s $50/hr to walk around and photograph drunk people. Plus, you are allowed to drink on the job since you aren’t serving alcohol and the bar will usually give you a few free drinks each night.

·  Waitressing (or waitering?): I worked at an Indian restaurant for a year, which was awesome because of all the free curry. There are heaps of restaurant jobs floating around, but be careful about pay “under the table” or “off the books”. A lot of restaurants want to save money by paying you less, so they won’t declare you on their taxes. It means you have no protection under Fair Work, which is the government bureau that protects employees from shady shit, and also that you will not be getting great money. The advantage is, though, that you also don’t pay taxes. When I worked at Curry Palace, I got a disgusting $40 per 3 hour shift (so like $13/hr?), but I stayed because I wanted to sneakily work more than my allotted 40 hours a fortnight (applies to Student Visas) and also because I liked the free food.

·  Café job: This might include baristas, who need to be quite trained and it can help to do a course, or just wait staff. Either way, busy work with fairly good pay. I briefly worked at a café in Melbourne and it is a constant amount of walking, definitely a Nike shoe sort of gig. For all of these jobs, it is a great idea to say that you have experience, even if you do not. They won’t be able to fact check jobs listed on your resume in America, so just err on the side of caution and do a healthy bit of fibbing.

·  Promo work: I worked in promo for several years, with Momentum in Sydney and then Marc Edwards Agency in both Sydney and Melbourne. It can be fabulous work, but it can also really suck. Advantages: really flexible, great as a second job to just pick up shifts when you’re free, lots of free shit, pays really well (depending on the jbo, $25-40 an hour, plus the bonus rates like you get with bartending (i.e. 2x pay on Sundays). Disadvantages: inconsistent, constantly doing different work so it’s hard to ever get into routine, but also surprisingly easy to get bored when you’re working alone and handing out juice samples in the supermarket. Big bonus: I’ve actually gotten 2 other jobs from companies I did promotional work for (my job as a bank teller and my job in a bottle shop).

Here are some examples of work I did during my promo days: worked a Christmas party at a pub dressed as sexy Santa handing out candy canes ($50/hr, worth the shame), handed out free shots and promotional products to people at a bar ($30/hr, “sampled” many shots), worked at a department store Revlon counter ($25/hr, got bulk free makeup, but had no clue what I was doing), sampled Wild Turkey at a liquor store grand opening ($40/hr), sampled San Pellegrino in the supermarket ($25/hr), handed out gourmet granola samples at a fun run ($40/hr), managed tables at the Bledisloe Cup rugby match between Aus and NZ ($30/hr), and worked in the ANZ Bank booth during Melbourne Uni Orientation Day to promote the new banking app ($35/hr, aka how I met a recruiter, got a full-time job as a bank teller, and briefly dabbled in finance).

It is a frequently embarrassing job, I’ll be honest. But I have brought home box after box of free alcohol, soda, food, t shirts, beach bags… They are pretty much always hiring, because it’s like contract work. To get a job in promo and be paid at the higher rate, you’ll want an Australian Business Number (ABN).  It’s free to get, just follow the link above. You’ll be paid without any tax being withheld, but you’ll need to pay tax at the end of financial year on any earnings above $18.2k (see more about tax below). And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a model to do it (just look at me!), you only need to be super bubbly, which can be easily faked.

·  Bottle shop: There is heaps of work to be had on the liquor store side of things. I got my job at a massive wine cellar after doing several promotional shifts there, funnily enough. I basically spent half my day doing homework at the cash register in between serving people and the other half sampling wine with my boss, a crazy, middle-aged Greek man. You get paid great rates, similar to bartending, so on Sundays you could make about $35. Plus, the hours are better. Since you are serving alcohol, you still need an RSA, but it’s a much cruisier job than bartending.

·  Retail: I have never worked in retail, but it’s obviously another nice option. No RSA needed. A lot of these jobs have a minimum quota for the amount of stuff you need to sell each day, though, which can be stressful. Other than clothing, jobs at the supermarket are also an option, electronics stores, bookstores… apply online to most of these.

·  Banking: I’m going to mention banking just because I worked there, not necessarily because it’s easy to get. Now, that’s not to say that I was at all qualified for this job, it was just pure luck. I met the recruiter while doing promo work with the bank at a uni Open Day and enquired about positions, he gave me an interview, and I somehow finagled a position. I loved my job at the bank, and only left because I had to move back to Wollongong for a pesky research grant, so I can’t recommend it highly enough. I got to feel like an actual adult for a while. I worked 8-5, commuted in on the train like a big girl, wore heels to work, and got to handle large sums of money. I once wrote a bank check for 8 million dollars, true story. It was terrifying.

If you want to live the corporate life, apply for a vacancy online. The Big Four are CommBank, ANZ, Westpac, and NAB, but there are also St. George, IMB, Bank of Melbourne, Bendigo Bank, BOQ, Macquarie Bank, Bank SA, etc. This is what they want: someone pursuing a career in finance (now, they knew I was studying medicine, but I got
around this by acting super interested in learning a new industry and “expanding my wealth of knowledge”), someone with a degree in finance or something related (also snuck around this), someone willing to commit years (I promised 3 years, even though I ended up leaving before 1, but it was not on purpose), someone with quick math skills (mention it frequently in the interview), someone with great people skills (play up the bubbly thing), and someone with a passion for sales (that is a huge, and the least likeable, part of the job). Really emphasise these points in your application and interview, and you may be able to slip through the cracks like me! Or perhaps this really is you, in which case, you stand a good chance.

For this job, it’s a bit of a different hiring process than the bullet points I wrote above for casual jobs, even though it is still technically “casual”. You will apply online and the application is really annoyingly long, you’ll then get emailed a number of online tests to do. They are things like speed counting change and “what would you do if” customer service scenarios. You’ll come in for an interview and then, if you get the job, you’ll have to fill out a bunch of forms to have background checks conducted in Australia and the US (or any other countries you’ve ever lived). It takes forever. The time between getting the call that the job was mine and actually starting was almost 4 weeks. Oh, and I should mention that as a casual you will work at a number of branches. Since I didn’t have a car and my supervisor liked (pitied) me, I mostly worked at one, but did spend almost the whole month of May helping 2 branches other than my own while they were short-staffed. It can be good variety, but also stressful.

·  Tutoring: Regardless of whether you are studying here, you can advertise your skills as a tutor. I would suggest posting on gumtree, any university related FB groups (e.g. UOW Students Buy and Sell), and even physical ads around campuses. There is good demand for tutors for high school students in Year 12, prepping for their big final exams (standardised for each subject, called HSC in NSW). There is also a lot of want for university level tutors, mainly in subjects like biology, chemistry, anything math related, and any language. I tutored 2 different students in organic chemistry while I was taking the class with them, so I just worked ahead and explained things as we did them in class. I charged $35/hr and they both happily paid that for 2hrs every week all year. If you speak another language fluently, this is probably the easiest way to become a tutor, as there are always language students looking for someone to practice dialogue with.

·  Demonstrating university classes: This will be significantly easier if you are attending the university and have taken the class previously, but if you’re qualified you could still be hired anyway. The structure of classes at university is a single lecture that every student attends for every subject, run by the professor(s) in charge of the class, and smaller groups in a tutorial and/or lab class, taught by “tutors” or “demonstrators”. I teach a 2nd year biomechanics lab during autumn session and cadaver labs for 2nd year musculoskeletal functional anatomy and 2nd year clinical biomechanics during spring session. Not only does it look impressive on your resume to work for the uni, but you get paid so well. If you already have a degree, try applying for any tutor or demonstrator positions in subjects closely related to your degree. If you’re studying here, suck up to your professors and get great marks during your first year, then email them and ask to teach those classes in your second year.

·  Freelance editing & transcribing: For a while in Melbourne while I was struggling to get a job, I did contract editing through a site called freelancer.com (people also use airtasker.com). You create an account, list your qualifications, and then make bids on jobs that match your skills. It will be things like $80 to transcribe a video or $30 to make edits to a uni paper. It’s not very glam and definitely not very consistent, but it can be a great supplementary income or a great way to bring in a little bit of money until you find something better. I have personally used Freelancer and can verify that it’s legit and deposits money into your account, and I know other people who use Airtasker and like it.

Some good places to look for job openings:

  • Gumtree
  • Seek (app or online)
  • Indeed
  • University pages
  • Directly on retail chain sites, supermarket sites, bank sites, etc.
  • Freelancer or Airtasker
  • Promo pages on FB, like “Sydney Promo Group”
  • Shove your resume into the hands of every bar, restaurant, and café manager in a 20km radius

Boring tax crap

So I’ve already discussed the need for a TFN (and the possible need for an ABN), but what about a Superannuation Fund? Super is like America’s Social Security, but actually functional and sustainable. Legally, your employer must pay into your Super every month, an amount equal to about 10% of your wages (but it comes from their end, not out of your salary). When you get your first job, they will ask if you want to elect your own Super fund, or use theirs. It doesn’t matter, but you can get a Fund through most banks and it will appear on your online banking, so it might be easier to monitor that way. I had a hospitality Super from my first employer and a Super through ANZ (mandatory for bank employees), so I transfer it all into ANZ and now I can keep tabs on my retirement savings (!!). If you do not stay in Australia until retirement, you can actually get your hands on this money when you leave by filling out this form. 

The other important tax information is actually, well, tax. Our end of financial year is June 30 and you have until the end of October to submit your tax return. You use your TFN and some other personal info to create a MyGov account, see all the details here. Every year, I forget how I logged-in the previous year, so I have to go back and read stuff, but it’s crazy quick and self-explanatory once you’re in. All your employers will give you a summary of your earnings for the FY within a couple weeks of the date, or you can just add it up yourself off your payslips that should be emailed to you every payday. You just need to specify your earnings, how much tax you paid, and any exemptions you want to claim (probably not, if you’re just casual; I’ve never done it, but my boyfriend claimed our car as a work purchase and got a lot of money back). You put in bank details, and any tax money coming back to you will just get popped into your account, usually within a week of submission!

The Australian government considers you a foreign resident when it comes to any benefits for you, but, if it involves them taking money from you, you are a “resident for tax purposes”. Basically, if you live and work here, you will be taxed like any other Australian. The tax-free threshold is $18,200 as of the last time I did my taxes, so you can earn up to that amount in the financial year and “claim the threshold” when filing your return to receive all your tax back, which might be $2,000ish. Anything over that amount will be taxed in the lowest income bracket, which is still not great. Still, it will likely result in some money back unless you really raked it in. Example: If you earn $25,000 in the FY, you will be taxed on only the $6,800 that exceeds the threshold. The tax will be something like $1,000, but the tax that was withheld from you over the year will definitely be higher than that, so you should still get about $1,000 refunded to you. And that’s my very unqualified explanation of the tax system.