Monday, 24 December 2012

It's not what you know, it's who you know

This blog post has been written an unintentional follow up to my original post about working in New Zealand. One of the biggest attractions about working in Queenstown is that it's the place to be in New Zealand; it has stunning mountain scenery, year-round adventure activities and hedonistic nightlife - all in all its a town driven by tourism.

So, apart from the main cities (Auckland and Wellington) and regional seasonal work, Queenstown is a good place to look for temporary work. The best time to look for work is before the two main seasons, summer and winter (with spring and autumn being the shoulder seasons), where you can get jobs such as working for local adventure activity companies, jobs at Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski fields, or even general work in the hospitality sector. It is possible to find other jobs in the town during the main seasons because of the high turnover of backpackers passing through with working holiday visas. As long as your prepared to work unsociable hours for the minimum wage, there are plenty of jobs in bars, restaurants, convenience stores, retail shops, etc.

Personally, I've found it quite a difficult experience to find work in Queenstown having dropped off lots of CVs into shops, hotels, the local cinema - basically anywhere which had a job going and for work which isn't particularly challenging, especially when it would be easy to pick up quickly with some on-the-job training. So far I've had trials at a pizza restaurant and a convenience store both with their own "interesting experiences".

My first trial was at The Cow pizzeria on Cow Lane, working as a kitchen hand. I found out that there was a job available through the hostel we were staying at - this can often be the best way of finding out about jobs in Queenstown, through word of mouth as well as checking out the Lakes Weekly Bulletin, and job search websites such as Seek or Indeed. Having arranged a trial with the chef, I spent three hours in the kitchen rolling out pizza bases till my arms ached, as well as being shown the ropes by the current kitchen hand. Having impressed enough to be asked back the next day, I was given the impression that the job was mine for the taking as I was asked to bring my IRD number (for paying tax) and bank details with me. Returning to the kitchen the following day it was another arduous exercise of making pizza dough and rolling out bases to within an inch of their life. However, after three hours I was told that I could go as the restaurant had some more people they wanted to trial and they would be in touch soon having taken my contact details - a complete turn around from the day before when I thought I had bagged the job!

The Cow restaurant on Cow Lane

It came as no surprise that after a week I still hadn't received a phone call, not even to say "thanks, but no thanks" - a text message might have even sufficed! So I decided to go back to The Cow to get an explanation, however, I was fobbed off with a convenient excuse from the main chef that they were still trialling another person and that he had lost my phone number but would let me know soon. What really drives me mad is when people can't even be up front about not wanting you for the job. If the chef had at least been honest and said "I'm sorry but you're not the right person for the job" then that would have been fine, it's worse when people string you along and toy with your emotions especially when you're dependent on finding a job to get some stability. To be fair I'm not sure if I would have been suited for the job as it was quite hectic with all the tasks that needed doing, and in all honesty the kitchen hygiene standards left a lot to be desired, with the regular kitchen hand eating the soggy salad with his fingers before preparing the next set of pizzas. The boards that the pizzas were served on weren't even washed between servings, just the remnants of the last meal scraped off, and last but not least the gluten free pizzas were just frozen pizzas bases!

My other experience was at one of the City Express convenience stores in town. The job was advertised in store and the manager was keen to meet potential applicants after screening their CVs. Personally, this was my least preferable choice of job as the hours were largely unsociable and the store manager was very condescending at the best of times. Having worked a couple of 3pm - 1am shifts, to say it was quiet would be an understatement  - it was pretty much the ghost shift! However, this is possibly due to the lack of people visiting Queenstown because of the shortfall of snow throughout the winter season, which has had a big impact on all the ski fields and local businesses, but that's another story...

City Express on Church Street a.k.a. the Kwik-E-Mart

Its a pretty soul destroying experience working into the early hours of the morning on your own whilst the rest of Queenstown is having fun, but needs must! Every so often you might get a group of customers break up the monotony but as the evening progressed they'd be getting more and more wasted. Pretty much all the products in the store are unashamedly overpriced (although the prices aren't on display so it's like your stereotypical corner shop from the 90's!) but the tourists who use the store are too lazy to shop around and are frivolous with their money as they're on holiday. The tedious list of staff rules were a joke, with one particular rule stating "No friends or family to visit whilst you are working".

The abridged version of the prison staff rules - part one...

...part two of the grammatically inconsistent nonsense

I found out quite quickly how serious the company were on enforcing the rules when Lizzie dropped into the store to say "Hi" on her way home from work one evening, after about 10 minutes I got a phone call from the store manager explaining that the security company had called him to say there was a person hanging around by the checkout for too long - FFS talking about taking surveillance to the extreme! I though the security cameras were there to keep an eye on the customers not the staff! In all seriousness I felt that I was being constantly monitored with 7 cameras in the store, especially when I had to open up the store at 7.00am one morning and I got a text message from the store manager at 7.02am trying to find out why the store wasn't open despite having just putting my key in the door...

Fortunately, I have managed to find a better job in the meantime but when I think about the store manager and how he had penny-pinching down to a fine art, with cost cutting measures and a massive mark-up on the goods in the store, it reminded me of Apu from The Simpsons and his Kwik-E-Mart. Especially, when the store manager was justifying that you could still sell microwaved frozen pies which had been put under a heated lamp for 10 hours because "it's what they do in Mobil garages!"

The next time you're tempted by a convenience store pie, think about how long it's been sitting in the heater!

Continuing back on the theme of looking for jobs, one of the best sources of local information is the Lakes Weekly Bulletin, which is published every Monday around 1.30pm on the website and is available in print every Tuesday. However, it's best to be on the internet waiting for the online edition as it seems quite a lot of people are all searching for the same jobs and it can pay to be the first off the block with casual work. Quite a lot of the jobs advertised will be part-time (often 20-30 hours) so you might find yourself trying to juggle two part-time roles at once or even working for accommodation if you're staying a hostel.

Quite often I've found prospective employers don't have time to read through reams of résumés/ CVs very thoroughly so it's worth pointing out your relevant experience and skills when dropping off your CV. Also, if you haven't heard back after 3 or 4 days it's always worth doing a follow up to keep your submission fresh in the employer's mind, plus it makes you seem keen and eager for the job, but you can also come across as annoying if you don't get the balance right.

There are a number of job agencies in Queenstown, however, we've really had mixed experiences with these as they often talk the good talk but rarely go out of their way to push work in your direction. I guess it's because so many people register with these agencies when they first arrive in town that you're often just a name amongst hundreds of others. I got a phone call from the Queenstown Job Agency the other day, 6 weeks after I first registered with them asking if I was still looking for work! What a joke! If we hadn't found a job by then we would have tried our luck back in Wellington or Auckland instead - it's such a waste of time for everyone involved that it takes so long for recruitment staff to actually get back in touch with you just to find out if you're still looking for a job...

However, sometimes finding a job can come down to who you know more than based on your own merits, as I found when I mentioned to a housemate that I applied for a job at a zipline eco-tour adventure company. He kindly offered to put in a good word to the course manager as he was mate, but I felt if I was the right person for the job then I should be offered the job based on that and not anything else. I also had a very different experience when I applied for video editor role at local sky diving company called Nzone. Not only didn't I receive any sort of acknowledgement to confirm receipt of my application (which was submitted a week ahead of the closing date) but also I had to call the General Operations Manager, Jon Rowe, to find out that my application hadn't been considered properly because of my work visa...

After convincing the manager to take another look at my application I asked him when he would be getting back in touch to which he said that he would get back to me the same day. Two days later I phoned up again to find out what he thought of my application only to discover that the position had been filled as New Zealand residents get first priority for full-time jobs and that no one else had even been considered outside of this criteria. I was pretty cheesed off that I had to ring him up twice and so I sent a strongly worded email to express my opinion and make a complaint. A couple of hours later I actually got a phone call from the man himself as he was pissed off that I had called into question his professionalism, which also involved him threatening me, that "Queenstown's a small place" - implying that I shouldn't mess with him as he could make my life difficult here because of who he knows...which comes back to my original point and something that has fast become a cliché from my experiences here: "It's not what you know, it's who you know".

Having gone round and round in circles on the phone I at least got him to concede that the job advert didn't describe the role as being permanent, if it had I wouldn't have wasted my time and he wouldn't have had so many other pointless applications to wade through. This is the actual job description taken directly from the Lakes Weekly Bulletin:

Unless I'm mistaken where does it say "for New Zealand residents only"?

What really puzzled me was Mr Rowe's definition of a "full time job", to him this meant it was a permanent role - this is different to my understanding, and was particularly surprising coming from someone who is involved in hiring new employees. He claimed that people on working holiday visas that myself and Lizzie are on couldn't apply for "full time jobs", however, this contradicts the work we did in the Bay of Islands where we working up to 60+ hours a week. For someone who is involved in recruitment he should really get a better understanding of the difference between the terms "permanent" and "full-time" before trying to make someone who has taken an interest in an exciting job opportunity, feel like a second-class citizen. Overall it was a pretty disheartening response, especially considering the current situation with young Kiwis emigrating to Australia for higher wages and a better lifestyle, whilst those travellers who are willing to fill the gap in the market are overlooked.

To add insult to injury, once you've been in New Zealand for more than 183 days on a working holiday visa, you no longer eligible to claim all the tax money you have paid back, but only a proportion on the earnings where you've overpaid tax! So you can't apply for permanent jobs because you're not a New Zealand resident but you're not entitled to a full tax refund because you're considered a New Zealand tax resident - go figure!?!

Last but not least, some jobs tend to carry a gender bias and women might find it easier to get jobs in bars,   cafés or doing housekeeping work, whereas guys might find it easier to find labouring jobs or kicthen-based work. It's technically against the law to employ staff based on their gender, but it seems to happen more or less everywhere.

Queenstown is a fantastic place to live, however, it seems that it's the English expats who have come to New Zealand for a better life and opportunities, are the ones spoiling the experience for everyone else. As one friend quite rightly pointed out, Queenstown can be a bit of a C.U.N.ext T.uesday soup!

Once you've got over the hurdle of finding a job, don't expect to save much money especially with the combination of minimum pay work, part-time shifts and spending your wages straight back into the town. However, I guess its the "Queenstown experience" that attracts people here in the first place!

**Since writing this post, I've been lucky to get a couple of better jobs and although I stand by my original view, at least I've been able to try things that I wouldn't have considered at home, plus there have been some small perks of the job...**

It's not all bad when you're out and about picking up stock from the airport on a beautiful day 

1 comment:

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