Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Manager, Dampier Downs Station.
Earlier this year I wrote a blog about what it takes to be a ringer. As the year draws to a close and employers and employees alike are beginning to think about what next season will bring, I thought I would write about what an employer looks for when recruiting staff. I should point out though, this is just my perspective and other stations will have different priorities. Also, a small-family-run operation like ours will have different criteria and selection strategy to that of a large pastoral company.
So, what can you do to give yourself the best chance of getting a job? Again, here are my top five tips.
Despite the vast geographic spread of northern Australia, this really is a small, tight-knit industry and word of mouth is a powerful force. While I may not know your previous employer personally, chances are I will know someone who knows someone who does.
Good references, therefore, are essential. When recruiting staff for a remote cattle station, we are not just looking for someone who is going to work for us, but also live with us. We want to know the person we employ is going to fit with our family. A glowing recommendation from someone I know and respect is almost a guarantee of a job, while two ordinary references from those I know only by reputation will see you at the bottom of the list.
Getting recruitment right (as I am fast discovering) is a time consuming, painstaking process and if your previous employer was happy to see you go, I will be moving right on to the next resume in the pile.
2. Get some skills
The more skilled you are, the more likely you are to land a job – especially if you don’t have cattle experience. Learning to weld, understanding basic mechanical processes, and getting a truck license are a few things you can do to make yourself more attractive to potential employers. Even if you don’t end up working on a cattle station, these are skills that are transferable to a range of industries and will be useful for life.
There is a whole suite of other courses you can do to improve your chances. If you have your heart set on working on a place that uses horses – learn to shoe. Attend a horsemanship clinic or book yourself in to a low stress stock handling school. While these may be less useful outside the cattle industry, they demonstrate to potential employers that you are serious about getting into the industry. It is also a good place to meet prospective employers. A lot of station jobs never get advertised, they are simply filled by people who are in the right place at the right time.
However – and this is important – do not claim to be able to do something unless you really can. There is nothing worse than hiring someone for a specific skill only to get them all the way out to the station and discover they have no idea what they’re doing. It can also be dangerous. Claiming to be highly experienced with horse/bikes/cattle/whatever can end badly if your employer takes you at your word and you have over-exaggerated your abilities. This is an industry where you need to know you can rely on your mates to get the job done and avoid accidents. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, particularly through inexperience. Just be honest about your capabilities – a good employer will take the time to train you properly but we do need to know your limits.
Personally, I am very wary of people who change jobs in the middle of the season. Of course, there may be legitimate reasons why you would leave a job mid-season and if this is the case it is a good idea to make these reasons very clear in your application. However, if your resume shows a regular pattern of moving on it suggests that you are unreliable and fickle and would also be unlikely to stick it out with us.
Either that or you have been moved on by previous employers. This is a really bad sign as good employees are hard to find and stations tend to hold onto them tightly. So before you decide to throw it all in because you’ve been given a job you don’t like or the boss has just hauled you over the coals for doing something dangerous, inappropriate, expensive, or just plain stupid, think about it from your employer’s perspective and ask yourself is it really that bad?
Accepting personal responsibility for your actions and being able to receive constructive criticism are essential for your ongoing professional development. While no-one should be subjected to abuse or belittlement in the workplace (or anywhere, for that matter), there is a world of difference between receiving a well-deserved rocket and being bullied.
4. Read the job ad
Nothing gets an application moved to my reject pile faster than someone asking a question for which the information has already been spelled out in the job advertisement. Not bothering to read the ad says to me that the applicant is lazy, disinterested, or just likely to be someone who is going to waste my time. Not a good start.
Additionally, not being able to follow simple instructions such as ‘email xxx for more information’ is a sure fire-way of getting a thanks-but-no-thanks letter. You have to appreciate that the recruiter has probably received a ton of resumes and requests for information and will have a preferred system for dealing with enquiries.
Attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions are essential criteria for a station hand and if you can’t get it right at the beginning you will be overlooked, no matter how much experience you have or how outstanding your resume.
5. Follow up
You’ve scoured Gumtree, Facebook, and the employment section of the rural papers. You’ve polished up your resume and have applied for a swag of jobs. Unfortunately, you still have not received an offer. What is going wrong?
One way to find out is to seek some feedback as to why you were unsuccessful. This may result in you hearing some difficult home truths, but at least you will know what you can work on to improve your chances in the future. You never know, perhaps you only just missed out and the successful candidate doesn’t work out. Demonstrating your ongoing commitment to finding a job may just elevate you into the position. Or perhaps the employer knows someone who is looking for staff and jogging their memory will see your details passed on. Tenacity and perseverance will pay off in the end.
I feel very privileged to be part of this industry and I whole-heartedly believe there is a strong, viable future in it for anyone who is willing to give it a go. It’s not for everyone – the hours are long and the work is physically demanding – but for those who take satisfaction from going to bed knowing they have genuinely made a contribution during the day, it is infinitely rewarding.
So get out there – the world is waiting.