Waitressing In Melbourne (And How You Can Do It Too)

One of the most frequently-asked-questions on my blog is: How did I find jobs in Australia? Was it easy for me to find one? Did it pay well?

There are a thousand ways to land a job in Down Under but I can only share with you whatever I know from job hunting in Melbourne. My knowledge can be limited and the lessons that I’ve gathered from my experiences may not apply to everyone but let me tell you that it was an easy and painless process: I got a job in 4 days.

Working in cafes can be an option

Working in cafes can be an option

Now, when you come to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa, you have to rid yourself the usual Malaysian expectation (or illusion) that you might land yourself a permanent job in the industry that you desire. You are, after all, on a WORK and HOLIDAY visa. With the visa, you’re merely given a chance to stay up to a year in Australia, whether to work or to travel. Your main objective should be travelling, and working only serves as a way to sustain and support your objective. Hence, jobs that you would end up undertaking may be casual, part time and impermanent. Jobs like that are plenty, especially in the hospitality industry.

You might think: why would you want to be a waitress or a supermarket cashier when you have a Masters Degree in Biochemical Engineering? Unfortunately, there are hardly any casual positions in the Biochemical Engineering industry, and chances are, your money might run out before you find one. Casual jobs are not careers and neither are they yardsticks to define who you are or who you were. Your aim is to save money, easily and quickly, so that you can explore the vastness of the outback, enjoy the vibrant and beautiful Australian cities, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.

gumtree

My first job was a waitress in a medium sized restaurant. I found it on GumTree Australia which is a great website to find everything and anything you want. I was staying at a suburb called Thornbury, and wasn’t willing to travel into the city via trams; the only option was to find jobs within walking or cycling distance.

The roster was constantly changing but I made sure that I was scheduled for at least 25 hours a week. That left me with plenty of time for other jobs so through a friend (don’t underestimate the power of distant connections), I found another job in a busy cafe in Collingwood. I worked there for at least 12-14 hours over the weekend.

Both jobs paid me a minimum wage of 15 AUD an hour, which wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t a handsome pay but I worked with relative ease in both places. It was definitely better than slogging in an Asian restaurant with bosses who breathe down your necks, scream at you when you make a mistake and underpay you despite your efforts and hard work. Some employers still pay their staff 10 AUD an hour. The only problem with the first job was the working hours: my shifts started from 7pm till past midnight. By the time I got home, my boyfriend would be asleep and I would eat microwaved food alone.

A month later, I eventually found an even better job on Gumtree, also as waitress but at a newly opened pizzeria that prided itself as a place that serves food with a passion. I was paid 21 AUD an hour (before taxes), had better working hours, encouraging bosses and colleagues, and merely a 5 minutes walk from home. The bosses offered me free food, free beer and even sponsored me a barista class so that I could upgrade my skills.

HOW?

Like every other job, you need a resume. In fact, even in the hospitality business, the market is very competitive, especially in a city like Melbourne. To find a good job, you must view yourself as a hospitality professional. If you’ve never worked in hospitality before, highlight skills from your previous jobs or stints which managers may find desirable.

Excellent interpersonal skills is one, fluency in English is another. If you can serve a client in a professional setting, surely you can do the same in a restaurant or a cafe. Having a bubbly personality helps. Confidence is favoured. Tenacity, humility, hardwork and resilience are all equally important. If you can still smile under pressure, you’ll ace the interview.

Prepare a one paged resume, and email them to potential employers. The more application you send, the better. You can also print a few copies of them and hand them out to the cafes near where you live. Sometimes, handing out your resumes in person works better than mass emailing because managers could respond immediately to you. They could size you up there and then and determine if you’re a good fit for their team.

But before you do all that, make sure you have a functional Australian mobile number so that they can contact you.

TRIAL

To prove that you can do what you’ve put on your resume, managers usually put you through a trial. An unpaid trial should only last for an hour. A trial that stretches on for hours should be paid, whether in full amount or at least 75% of a typical daily wage.

Managers can be busy but that shouldn’t put you off from asking questions when you’re on your trial. Asking questions is a good way to show interest but don’t bamboozle them with a litany. Instead, ask a few, do what you can, look around and see if you could figure out some tasks on your own, and use your own initiative to do things that you weren’t asked to do (especially if you know how to do them).

Having a smile plastered on your face at all times always helps. In France, you might be seen as an idiot but in Australia, friendliness and a great personality are prized.

Some managers may not discuss your wage, your employment possibility or your schedule right away but you have the right to know. Find a quieter time to discuss with them instead of walking home puzzled and wondering if you’ve been hired.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY

money

If you’re new to a city and haven’t got any offers lined up, don’t be fussy. Pick up the first job that comes along your way, learn what you can, and continue to look for better paying jobs.

However, a good job isn’t just about the money. A good job means you get to work with positive people and get a decent amount of working hours so that you could save a lot in a short time. A good job should also provide enough amount of challenges to keep you on your toes and help you grow but without exhausting you.

If you can keep a (or a few) good job going for a few months, you’d be guaranteed a very healthy bank account. Living costs in Australia can be astronomically expensive so having a good cushion helps. In fact, the smarter way to start your Working Holiday visa is to find a job before embarking on a cross country expedition.

SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!

Eating out can be expensive. So can partying, drinking and moving around. If you really want to save as much as you can, learn to cook. Buying groceries, cooking and sharing food can really help stretch the dollar. Consume less alcohol if possible. Drink at home with friends, instead of at a bar. Invest in a second hand bicycle. Cycling keeps you healthy and your money intact.

AND IF WAITRESSING ISN’T YOUR THING…..

You can easily find other casual jobs in retail, admin or agriculture. If you are up for living in the outback, you can find easily find jobs at The Job Shop  picking or harvesting fruits, tending to the land and animals, working in outback motels or pubs, etc.

If you prefer a temp job in offices, you can contact temping offices or recruitment agencies directly. You can find a good deal of looking for work here.

All in all, working and travelling in Australia on a Working Holiday visa will help you realise your potential and open you up to other opportunities and possibilities that you’ve never dreamed of. A friend once said: when you discover that you actually do enjoy working as a pizza maker, a barista and as a waiter for 70 hours a week, despite being a Master Degree holder in Engineering, then the world will surely open up to you. With great certainty, you’ll know that there’s nothing in the world that you cannot do.

Good luck!

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Ying Tey

Ying Tey (Piccola Ying) is a Malaysian freelance writer based in Germany. She’s always in the pursuit of adventures and tales; so far, she’s chalked up 68 countries to date. She’d previously funded her travels by teaching English on Costa Cruise Ships (yes–including the one that sank!), by making caffè lattes in London and Melbourne, and by writing copy for a Singaporean advertising agency, that persuades you to buy a Mini Cooper instead of a Toyota.


Today, she just wants to inspire you with stories that will make you take the path less travelled.


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8 comments

  • Ryan 03/04/2013   Reply →

    Great write up twin! 21 Australian dollars an hour seems pretty darn good!

    • Piccola Ying 04/04/2013   Reply →

      It is. Definitely the kind of job that you want to pick up for fast cash.

  • Marco Zingaro 03/04/2013   Reply →

    In France, you might be seen as an idiot but in Australia, friendliness and a great personality are prized. — Love it. 🙂

    PS: Who’s the mysterious “Mister A”?

    • Piccola Ying 18/04/2013   Reply →

      Ah, I’ve told you about him before, Marc. Maybe someday, you’ll get to meet him. 🙂

  • Jacqueline 11/04/2013   Reply →

    I just stumbled into this blog but I have to say that what I’ve seen is great so far! I like how personal your writing is and find your experiences exciting. Haven’t set off for travel (yet) since I need to get a few things out the way.

    • Piccola Ying 11/04/2013   Reply →

      Hi Jacqueline,
      Thanks so much for stopping by. I try to keep it light and conversational while talking about my travel experiences. I do hope that you’d eventually get to set off to travel someday because it’s just so fulfilling. 🙂

  • Juiny C. 20/08/2014   Reply →

    Your story has reminded me how I earn my living in Melbourne by selling bread & variety of drinks at a tiny shop in Chinatown 🙂

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