Sunday, January 31, 2010

Still Dreamtiming for Australia

A week ago, I was at the library searching for jobs online when I came across an interesting ad on Craigslist about working in Australia and New Zealand. The information meeting was being held at the Marriott hotel in downtown Portland on Tuesday, 26 January...which all Aussie-philes know as AUSTRALIA DAY! For those who aren't Aussie-philes, this day is their version of Independence Day, though they never actually declared independence or fought a revolution against Mother England like we rebellious Yanks did. Anyhow, I thought this was a good sign. In fact, I had completed my vision board for 2010 just a few weeks ago and one of the pictures on the board was of the Sydney Opera House, just below a picture of a plane and a phrase I found in a magazine ("Now hiring!"). So, upon seeing this job opportunity, I thought, "Is it really this easy?!?"

I've never done a vision board before, but I have written lists of things I wanted to experience and had forgotten about them only to learn years later after rediscovering the list in my piles of paperwork that I had done many of the items on that list. A Vision Board works in a similar way, except that instead of a list, you have visual images to look at for inspiration. I will tell you what, just looking at my Vision Board several times a day does make me feel really good, excited, inspired.

The job opportunity is with an organization called International Student Volunteers, which I have never heard of, so of course I had to check them out online. As I read about this organization and the countries in which they operate, I realized that I did hear from a lady who used to work here about some travel company that caters to volunteerism overseas. I was intrigued because one of the countries was Thailand, which is something on my list of places to visit. My mom says she doesn't want to go back for a visit (she's been this way ever since her mother passed away in 1990, though she has many other relatives we could visit whom I had only met as a 4 year old or have never met at all). If I can't convince the family to make a return trip someday (a huge dream in my book), then I'd like to do a two week volunteer assignment (followed by two weeks of personal travel).

I got excited reading about the organization and felt that this was exactly the kind of place I would like to work. The job opportunity, on the other hand, had some red flags for me. They indicated that they wanted someone with a LOUD voice, which mine most certainly is not, though I can project when I need to. It also required that one is available to travel to Australia (or New Zealand) by mid-February. The job is a 12-week contract, so it would be over by May with the possibility of future contracts. The ad gave brief details about what the job would require, but interested people would learn more about it at the presentation. So, I decided, why not? I'd send my info in to attend and see if this is really for me.

On Tuesday evening, I dressed in my best and headed to the Marriott downtown. It was held in a small conference room, which soon filled beyond capacity. Many of the other people were young, in their 20s mostly. It reminded me of the job opportunity presentation I went to when I was new in Portland and looking for a job. Horizon Air was hiring and interested people had to attend a presentation at a hotel conference room near the airport. Same deal.

The presenter was a guy in an Australian accent. He explained the job in full detail. As I learned more, I realized that there was simply no way this job was for me. They weren't kidding about having a need for a loud voice. Basically, the job is a recruiter for International Student Volunteers. They are hiring about ten people (they have held presentations in major cities on the west coast in the past week). The job consists of going to universities, one per week for twelve weeks. The recruiter goes to the university on Friday to learn the geography and where all the major classes are. Then one has to print booklets of information and sign up sheets. This may include working on weekends, though you definitely have time off to see things. When Monday morning rolls around, you're expected to hit 15 to 20 classes each day (three per hour) and ask the professor if you can make a short announcement to the class. Some lecture halls have more than a thousand students. You collect names and then enter those names into a database at the end of the day. This goes on Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday, you have to give a more in depth presentation on International Student Volunteers every single hour in a conference room you reserve. On Friday, the process repeats itself at a new university.

The company pays for your flight, hotel, rental car, gas, food, and printing expenses. The catch is that you don't see the money until the end of your contract. You get paid by how many students you get to sign up and pay the non-refundable $500 deposit on one of ISV's programs (which costs upwards from $3,000 for a month-long program). The best sales people earn more than $2,000 a week (meaning that they signed up 20 students who paid the deposit). That was interesting to learn...part of the non-refundable deposit goes into paying the salaries of these recruiters. The other catch is that you have to pay for your flight to Australia and rental car and the company will re-imburse you afterwards. The reason, as the Aussie guy said, is because in the past, there have been a few people who stepped off the plane in Sydney and decided not to go through with the job they were contracted for, so this is a safety measure for the company to know that the people they hire are serious about wanting to do this demanding job.

After the presentation, he answered some questions and then allowed anyone to leave who felt that this opportunity is not for them. The same thing was done at the Horizon Air presentation. I had stayed for that one, even though several red flags were raised in my mind. This time, I knew better. Definitely not for me. There were several people who left after the intro session and I heard someone remark, "Our chances just improved a lot!" Someone had asked why hire Americans and not Australians to do this? I already knew the answer to the question before the presenter said anything. Isn't it obvious? They have an Australian guy to recruit recruiters in America and they are hiring people in America to work in Australia for 12 weeks. Its obviously about the accent, which the presenter confirmed. Something about an accent makes people sit up and take notice.

So, I walked out of there. Beaming, actually. I had an inkling before I went that it was not a job for me, but I like to learn as much as I can about almost anything, so I don't view it as a waste of time. While I like that there is an organization like this offering a unique opportunity for students (but they don't discriminate against people who are long out of college who want to participate in their programs), I disagree with the marketing style. The university I attended did not allow anyone to interrupt class to make an announcement. That's what information booths on the quad were for. True, they get a captive audience this way, but it just seems too aggressive. Looking at the data the website offers, they have increased their participation in the programs every year, expanding to different countries every year or so. Last year, over 4,000 students participated. The presenter said that a recruiter has to create a sense of urgency for students to sign up and pay the non-refundable deposit as soon as possible. The recruiter does not get paid until the deposit is paid, for one. For another, the non-refundable deposit does not mean the student will necessarily go on the program. What a racket! I kind of have an ethical objection to that kind of marketing.

Mostly, though, my voice is simply pathetic. I actually lose my voice if I talk too much or too loudly, so this is definitely not meant for someone like me. The idea of interrupting 20 classes per day to make the same scripted announcement (loudly and quickly) is simply not in my skill set. Plus, this job was meant for extroverted people. Its frustrating that so many jobs out there are geared towards extroverts and loud people. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes introverts are better at a job, better at focusing. I'm not a salesman, anyway, as I don't have a capitalist bone in my body. I think its great that there is an organization that offers opportunities for college students to go to another country and do some volunteer community projects as part of their experience. But like any kind of travel agency, you exist and people seek you out. Advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on television help spread the word. But interrupting classes to pitch directly to students and then using high pressure tactics to get as many deposit paying students as possible in order to get paid just seems a bit too much.

At any rate, it was a nice little fantasy for a couple days. Between Sunday's discovery of this job opportunity and Tuesday's presentation, I can't begin to tell you how much I thought of myself in Australia. Its been a dream of mine since I was 11 years old. When I left the presentation, I kept thinking to myself, "I will get to Australia one day." It's only a matter of time. This opportunity is not the one for me. So, I return back to the dreamtime!

1 comment:

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