We’ve all heard similar stories. A backpacker takes a job in the middle of nowhere, only to realise that they’ve ended up with the boss from hell, or that the job description doesn’t exactly line up with reality. They’re stuck there, with no way out, working as something or for someone that they’d really rather not.
The flipside is also true – more than a few employers have been let down by backpackers who have left far earlier than promised, or who have treated the position more as play than work.
These issues can be avoided if you ask the right questions nice and early, during the interview. If both the employer and potential employee put all of their cards on the table, the likelihood of a frustrating, disappointing or challenging experience will evaporate.
What are these magical questions? Let’s take a look at 12 – six from the backpacker, six from the employer – that will help to ensure that yours isn’t the latest working holiday horror story.
If you feel like we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the list!
Questions to ask an Employer during an interview
So you’ve locked in an interview with a potential employer. Whether in person, over the phone or on a video call, here are the questions you need to ask.
How much, how and when will I be paid?
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems” sang Notorious B.I.G., but most backpackers know the opposite to be true. Let’s face it, you’re probably not working for the fun of it. Getting fair pay for fair work should be at the top of the agenda, so ask the employer to clearly define what your hourly rate will be, how you will be paid (be wary of cash in hand, as this is often unofficial and undocumented) and when you’ll see your pay. Some harvest work is paid at a piece rate, so in this case you should ask what the rate is, how much produce you are expected to harvest, and what other workers currently earn on average.
What hours will I be expected to work?
Ask how many hours you’ll be expected to work per week, and the times you’re likely to be working. Expect late nights for hospitality, early mornings for farm work, and inconsistent hours as an au pair. In au-pairing and other ‘work where you live’ positions the line between time on and time off can seriously blur, so make sure it is clear and agreed upon before you accept the position. Question marks should be raised if the employer expects more than 40 hours per week from you.
What is your business address?
This is a simple check that will help to confirm the business is legitimate. Ask for the business name, address and ABN (Australian Business Number), and look the company up after the interview. Make sure everything matches. Run an ABN Search here. If Google can’t find them, you should decline. Check out our guide to staying safe on your working holiday for more information!
How many other staff do you have? How many are backpackers?
Will you be working alone with the employer, or as part of a bigger team? Will other backpackers be working with you? Each situation has its own pros and cons, so these questions are simply there to help you get an understanding of whether you’ll thrive in this employer’s workplace.
What are my responsibilities?
What tasks will you be responsible for? By drilling down for specific information, you’ll be able to paint a clear picture of what a working day will look like, allowing you to better judge whether this is the job for you.
Is the accommodation provided? At what cost?
Many employers, particularly those in remote areas or who offer live in roles (au pairs and on site pub staff, for example), will provide accommodation to their backpacking employees. Sometimes it’s included, sometimes it isn’t. Whatever the case, be sure to factor in any accommodation costs when shopping for work. When possible ask to see the accommodation or some photos.
Questions an Employer should ask during an interview
Just as important are an employer’s questions to the potential employee. Good communication at the beginning will avoid misunderstandings popping up when you’re deeper into the process. An incredible amount of resources are wasted when you make a bad hire, so choosing the best candidate is simply good business. Here are the questions that will allow you to do just that.
How long are you allowed to be in Australia?
First and foremost, a backpacker’s ability to work is constrained by the conditions of their visa, so it’s vital that you know exactly how long you can legally employ them.
Have you done similar work before?
The perks of experience are real for even the most basic and monotonous of jobs. Your employee will be able to perform better and faster if they’ve done this sort of work before, and will also be more prepared for what the job entails, reducing the likelihood of a walk out.
Where are you currently? (remote interviews)
If the potential employee isn’t in your local area, you might be interviewing them via voice or video call. In that case, where are they? If they’re a couple of states away, it’s important to realise that the plans of a backpacker are prone to change, and this should be factored in to your final decision. It’s not to say that they won’t make it, but they are a riskier proposition than someone who has walked up your driveway and knocked on your door. A remote applicant may also lack an understanding of your area. Do they know how remote it is? How difficult it is to get to? Will they enjoy their time here, or will they spend it wishing they were somewhere else?
How long do you expect to work here?
Two weeks? Three months? Longer? Many backpackers will answer this question with whatever they think the employer wants to hear, so it’s important to drill down further…
Do you have any responsibilities or engagements coming up that might see you leaving early?
This question will help to clarify the backpacker’s previous answer. If you get the sense that they might move on sooner than expected, take the chance to drill down on their answer. Remind them that they’re more likely to be hired if they’re completely open and honest.
Are you comfortable with the living and working situation?
Once you’ve thoroughly explained what the potential employee can expect from the experience, ask them how they feel about it. This will allow them to ask any unanswered questions and alleviate any remaining concerns. By this point it should be relatively clear as to whether the backpacker is a good fit for the position or not.