During the early days of my WHV, I managed to sustain myself without having any steady stream of income. Benefiting from a mutual connection and a friend from university, I saved a significant sum of money by living on people's couches.
I'll never be able to fully express my gratitude to Conor for his extended hospitality. None of the below would be possible without his willingness to take me in upon my arrival in Dublin.
After mooching off others for long enough, I left the comfort of the couch and began paying my own way. I stayed in different hostels around Dublin, which got me exploring new parts of the city. However, the bank account was approaching zero as surely as the river flows downstream. While I did work on a few minor website ideas and write a few blog posts, I didn't have any semblance of a plan to keep myself ready for the job market.
Below is my experience on how not to search for a job.
Gain experience in anything but your field
Without a doubt, one of the saving graces during my period of unemployment was the website Workaway: an online marketplace to pair individuals who are looking to work in exchange for lodging/food/transportation. A quick scroll through the website reveals two common themes of work: physical labor and childcare. I would soon attempt both.
The hard 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 found my opportunities.
Enter the Germans and the Farmer.
Au Pairing in Clonakilty
My first experience with the work exchange was serving as a live-in manny for a German mother and her son.
I got the late afternoon bus to Cork city and a second bus one hour south to Clonakilty. They met me at the bus stop in town and picked me up in their little grey Renault. We drove down the single-lane roads to a little cottage where they lived next door to the landlords, an older couple who owned the property.
The request in the ad was to mind the boy during the weekend afternoons. It was easy to keep him entertained since his primary interests alternated between Legos and trains. During the weekdays the boy would go to school so I would help pull weeds and tend to the flower beds.
Living outside of town the cottage didn't have the strongest wifi and streaming wasn't feasible. I hadn't prepared very well. I became very well acquainted with the only two movies I'd downloaded before arriving: Steve Jobs and Zombieland. There are much worse options to have.
One afternoon we ventured out to the beach for a stroll.
Since everyone was getting along, we agreed to extend my stay and I contributed to any other remaining housework. In total, I was there for 8 days. On my last day they dropped me off at the bus station and I made the trip back to Dublin.
Once again I was back in the hostels. That is until I went to the farm.
Farming in County Meath
My next adventure took me out west to the middle of Ireland. This time the busses didn't travel nearby, so my host picked me up at a shopping center in the nearest town.
During the drive, I explained why I was in Ireland, what I'd been doing, and why I was doing Workaway. He told me I was the first person he had hosted. The listing was posted for a while but people would apply and then cancel or contact once and never respond.
As we drove down the long driveway the tall slender farmhouse slowly revealed itself with a large front yard and trees running along the adjacent path. On the left side of the house was the chicken pen with the 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 sun was on its westwardly decent with an orange glow silhouetting the house.
He showed me the house with a quaint kitchen, the sitting room with a fireplace, and my bedroom with a plush queen bed. We quickly walked the grounds as it was time to bring in and feed the cows. Out the back of the house is a long shed that separates the driveway from the farm.
With the work finished for the day, we went in for dinner. I asked how I could help but he shared another pleasant surprise. Years ago he took a hiatus from the farm to pursue his dream of being a chef. He enjoyed cooking and would prepare a delicious meal every night. We would eat together every night and then sit by the fire watching television.
My primary task while living there was not actually to work with the cows. As it turned out not only did he own the farm but also the 10 acres of forest behind the farm. He used some of the firewood to heat the sitting room and needed help chopping the remaining logs. For the next two weeks, I was a proper lumberjack: beard, ax, and wellies included.
One afternoon we wandered the forest. It was nothing short of a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia.
After two weeks of physical labor working outdoors in January, I decided it was time to head back to the city. I reviewed the status of my ever-dwindling bank account balance. Even though working at the Workaways was saving me money, I still had my monthly student loan payment plus my hostel on arrival back in Dublin.
Now I really needed to find a job.
Apply for jobs without a relevant degree or experience
Before my move to Ireland, I spent the summer experimenting with videography and filmmaking. Through a friend of a friend, I became the editor for a crew working on the Knoxville 7-day Shootout (we had to write, film, and edit the entire film in 7 days).
With this one published film under my belt, of course, I was ready to enter the workforce of film production.
I spent a few nights on the farm scouring the job boards for listings. Instead of applying for jobs in my field (software development, engineering, etc) I really wanted to work with film or video. I submitted applications for video operators and editor positions. Then I widened it to anything in the support of video and film. To no surprise, they all wanted someone with a degree or relevant experience.
I widened my scope to anything related to media, social media, PR, or marketing. Basically, anything which might allow me to make some videos.
Social media and marketing
Keep in mind that even though I'm a "millennial" I am by no means a social media expert. Many of the responses to my applications requested details on successful social media campaigns I ran. I had none. They wanted me to demonstrate my knowledge of emerging trends. I didn't know.
One afternoon I received a response from a startup, a local company that makes and sells 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 after that I received another response:
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 ever received from John. This is the only reason I'm still in Ireland. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After some emails back and forth, John invited me to visit the office for an interview.
Look like Tom Hanks in Cast Away
In case you haven't seen the film Cast Away, all you need to know is that about halfway through 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 a proper 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 and my background. I explained a little bit about what I'd been doing so far in Ireland. In these situations, there's a fine line between sounding adventurous and lazy.
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 office I was barely certain where I was staying that night but I knew one thing.
I wanted this job.
Take the first offer you get
Another warning they teach us when preparing for the job search is about not getting desperate. Desperation is how we get into jobs we don't want. We don't have the leverage to negotiate or explore other options.
There wasn't a question about which one I preferred, but how long could I hold out for a decision to be made. Company A was waiting for my acceptance, but Company B wanted to conduct another interview and make me take a coding test. Which was my biggest worry.
The reason I wasn't originally applying for tech jobs was that I hadn't studied anything for close to a year and had no desire to take a test. I remember sitting in the hostel reviewing old notes, taking online sample tests, and watching YouTube videos.
The test was one hour with six questions. Five of them were multiple-choice, related to algorithms and basic concepts. But #6... I literally had no idea. A pure coding question using a framework I had no prior experience with. As soon as I saw it, I decided not even to attempt it. I figured I might as well make sure the others are right rather than making up an answer. The next day I received a response that I would need to have a live coding interview with a senior engineer from Singapore. Wow. Not only did I now have to write code, but I had to do it with a stranger staring at me through the webcam.
To this day, I don't know how well I performed. But they hired me none the less.
Even as I write this, looking back on these events, I can't explain how or why any of it worked out the way it did.
A temporary year abroad turning into three years. Traveling to more countries than I have to other states. Being offered the job I didn't know I could have until I found it.
As I told you in the beginning, this is not a guide on searching for a job. Unless you're searching for a job you don't know exists, then maybe it is.