Let's rewind to the early days of my Working Holiday Visa (WHV), where I embarked on a journey of adventure and self-discovery. With no steady income, I immediately found myself participating in the world of couch-surfing and "will work for food." At the top of the list, I'm most grateful for Conor, whose hospitality was integral to support me as I established my bearings. None of the below would be possible without his willingness to take me in upon my arrival in Dublin.
After mooching off Conor for long enough, I left the comfort of the couch and began paying my own way. From Workaways to hostels, with funds dwindling, it was time to venture into the unknown job market. However, my unconventional approach to job hunting was a masterclass in what not to do.
Follow along as I share my unique approach to getting my first job, although it's not the approach most would recommend.
Gain experience outside your field of study
In my early quest for survival, the cultural exchange and hosting platform, Workaway, came to the rescue. It serves as a digital haven connecting participants with various work opportunities in exchange for food and shelter. A quick scroll through the website reveals two common themes of work: physical labor and childcare. I would soon attempt both.
The hardest part of finding work was planning ahead. I would email a host and get a response that they already had the next three months filled. Three months!? How could anybody plan that far ahead... I was lucky if I had a plan for the next three days. After a few declined offers, I was given a chance.
My first adventure led me to Clonakilty, a quaint town south of Cork, where I served as a live-in manny for a free-spirited German mother and her Lego-loving son. After this, I moved on to County Meath for a wooded escapade, chopping logs and wandering through forests.
Au pairing in Clonakilty
After taking the late afternoon bus from Dublin to Cork city, a second bus took me an hour south to Clonakilty. My new hosts met me at the bus stop in their little grey Renault and we drove to their cottage next door to the landlords, an older couple who owned the property.
The ad requested me to care for the boy during the weekend afternoons, and keeping him entertained with Legos and trains was a breeze. During weekdays the boy would go to school, so I would help pull weeds and tend to the flower beds.
The cottage had limited wifi, so I got well-acquainted with the two movies I downloaded before arrival: Steve Jobs and Zombieland. Not the worst choices, after all.
One afternoon, we strolled along the local beach, and with everyone getting along, I extended my stay and pitched in with other housework. In total, I spent 8 wonderful days there. On my last day, they dropped me off at the bus station, and I headed back to Dublin.
Farming in County Meath
My next adventure led me to the heart of rural Ireland, where bus access wasn't as readily available. My host kindly picked me up from a shopping center in the nearest town.
During the drive, I explained why I moved to Ireland and why I signed up for Workaway. He told me I was the first person he had actually hosted. The listing, requesting manual labor on his farm, remained active for many months. However, users would apply and then cancel or contact once and never respond.
As we drove down the long driveway, a charming farmhouse slowly revealed itself with a large front yard and trees lining the path. On the left side of the house was a chicken pen with four hens and a rooster. Two dogs came scampering up, barking all the while, as I stepped out of the car. It was mid-afternoon in January, so the setting sun cast an orange silhouette upon the house.
The house was cozy, with a modest kitchen, a sitting room adorned with a fireplace, and my bedroom boasting a plush queen bed. Following the tour, we quickly walked the grounds as it was time to bring in and feed the cows. With our first days work complete, we went in for dinner.
I asked how I could assist, but to my delight, he revealed another pleasant surprise. Years ago, he took a break from farming to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. His culinary passion came to life as he cooked dinner every evening. While eating dinner, we would watch British soap operas in the sitting room.
Not only did he own the farm but also the 10 acres of forest behind the farm. Despite my initial expectation of working with the cows, I found myself embracing the life of a lumberjack, chopping firewood to heat the sitting room.
One afternoon we wandered the forest and it was nothing short of a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia.
After two weeks of physical labor, I decided it was time to head back to the city. With my bank balance still in decline, I needed to secure a job to continue my journey. The Workaway jobs were saving me money, but I still had a monthly student loan payment and paying for hostels in Dublin.
Apply for jobs without a relevant degree or experience
I spent the summer before Ireland experimenting with videography and filmmaking which fueled my dreams of working in film production. However, my practical experience was limited to editing a film for the Knoxville 7-day Shootout back home. Undeterred, I applied for video and film-related positions, hoping to make my mark in the creative world.
I spent nights on the farm scouring the job boards. Instead of applying for jobs in my field (software development, engineering, etc), I submitted applications for camera operators and editing positions. Eventually, I widened my scope to anything related to media, social media, PR, or marketing. Basically, anything which might allow me to make some videos. To no surprise, they all wanted someone with a degree or relevant experience.
Social media and marketing
Many of the responses I received wanted details of successful social media campaigns I ran. I had none. Or they wanted me to demonstrate my knowledge of emerging trends. I had none.
One afternoon I received a response from a startup, a local company that sold healthy snacks. They needed someone to manage their social accounts and marketing activities. I could figure out how to do that. We discussed details and arranged for me to come to the office.
A few days later, a second company emailed me:
Got your application on Jobbio. Seen you have an interesting background and think I could put you in on some interesting data projects with computer vision. Are you still looking about for a good fit? Could be good to chat early next week if free?
That was the first message I received from John. That message changed my life forever. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After some back and forth, John invited me to visit the office for an interview.
Looking like Tom Hanks in Cast Away
In case you haven't seen the film Cast Away, all you need to know is that Tom Hanks has an overgrown beard and unkempt hair. This is a look I had perfected during my time on the farm. Out there I didn't need to keep up appearances.
However, anyone in their right mind would have cleaned themselves up before going to an interview. Have a shave, get a haircut, wash your clothes. Apparently, I wasn't in my right mind as I merely ran a comb through my beard and donned my signature hat. I introduced myself, my background, and detailed my experience of Ireland so far.
John explained the role he needed to hire. A customer-facing engineer who would work with top tier brands and retailers to integrate computer vision technology. He made sure to emphasize that the job would require a significant amount of travel all across Europe. The primary issue: this was only a 3-month internship.
As I left the interview that day, I didn't know which hostel I would be sleeping in that night. But I knew one thing.
This is the job I wanted.
Taking the first offer you get
Just like it's not a good idea to grocery shop when you're hungry, common wisdom warns against job hunting when you're desperate. Desperation is how we accept jobs we don't want.
An offer had come in from the Snack Company, and they wanted a swift response. While the Tech Startup required more interviews and a nerve-wracking coding test. There wasn't a question about which one I preferred, but how long could I hold out for a decision before risking losing both.
Getting a tech job wasn't initially my focus, since I hadn't studied software for close to a year and had no desire to take a coding test. But I dove into the test prep and surprised myself by securing a secondary live coding interview. To this day, I don't know how well I performed. But they hired me none the less.
Looking back, my journey defies logic and planning. A temporary year abroad morphed into over three years of life changing experiences. I found the ideal job that I never knew existed, and my unconventional job search led to unexpected paths.
This isn't a guide on searching for a job, but it proves that sometimes, the most extraordinary opportunities lie in the uncharted territories of life.