Is BUNAC right for you?

Warning: You are about to read an account of the BUNAC program by someone that wanted to yell fcuk England not one but twice during her six month stay. Read on at your own discretion.

BUNAC advertises itself as a program for the everyman, albeit an adventurous everyman. I doubt you can get rejected to not give them money for an info packet and a little administration work. Actually the more everyman you are the better, extra brownie points if you are from California and look typically Californian (Englanders seem to love people from California). If you want to temp in London, then you’ve hit the jack pot, universities in California seem to be the only cluster of schools they (the temping world) seem to respond to from the U.S. Oh, so you graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara, lovely.

Keep the image of the everyman in mind and then add on the stereotypical characteristics you might imagine a temp worker to have. (My stereotypical characteristics post-BUNAC involve happy, energetic, females ready to take on the office world without economics degrees or lack of interest perhaps in large hiring sectors such as sales or consulting) Now ask yourself actually how far removed are you from being an happy, energetic everyman, with a confident telephone voice and you will know how successful you will be at temping in London with a BUNAC. If you find yourself being any sort of deviant version of this formula well, then I suggest you try and work in the UK through another method unless you don’t want to temp and want to work in a bar instead or a restaurant, store or café, not quite the easy finds in and of themselves as well.

If you have desires of using this BUNAC work visa coming from the U.S. as a stepping stone to a career in London, this program is probably not for you unless your networking skills are phenomenal. Technically, this program is supposed to help you travel and experience the U.K. for an extended period of time and enable you to support yourself as you do this. Therefore, it’s called a “working holiday,” and not “living in the UK with a worthwhile career.” I personally saw one person from New Zealand turn his working holiday into a “still living in London with a career” but it’s rare, especially if you are an American. If you try and use the BUNAC to find paid career-related work, it’s most likely not going to happen unless you are lucky or already have some connections working for you.

If you worked hard in high school to get into a good college and also worked hard in college because you liked learning then this program is not for you. Having worked so hard to be academically competitive and then to have to take a spelling test at a temp agency, I can personally attest that this is soul killing. If you are masochistic and want to kill your soul, by all means go and spend three hours of your life taking the spelling, typing, Microsoft Word and Excel test ending with an interview with an overly cheery recruiter by which point there is no way in hell you would also be as cheery. Let me point out here that if you are not cheery after these three hours, then no amount of credentials will be able to convince the recruiter that you would be cheery after eight hours of filing or faxing or audio-typing. Therefore, you will never be called for a placement. And at least in 2002, the temp agencies were not sharing or transferring test scores between agencies, so you’ll probably have to break your soul five or six more times, depending on how much you can take before you get a job.

If you are in anyway shy and/or introverted, have the social skills of Eeyore, or cannot lie about the length of your visa then multiply the average time it takes the everyman to get a job statistically calculated by BUNAC and change the word day to a month. So if it takes the everyman 1 or 2 days to land a job then it will most likely take you 1 or 2 months. At this point, you will start to question your abilities as a functioning human being and wonder why individuals who don’t even speak English can find temping jobs and you, an American college graduate, cannot.

If it is not easy for you to find a date or it takes awhile, then landing a temp job in London with the BUNAC will probably be just as hard. As many career articles and the “What Color is my Parachute?” book tells you, finding employment is much like dating. It all hangs on the notion of whether the employer wants to spend massive amounts of time with you and this they can basically figure out in the first five seconds. Also, I found that temp recruiters cannot see the bigger picture so when a firm wants someone with an energetic telephone voice, they literally just look for an energetic telephone voice.

I remember the best temping opportunity that I came across during my stay consisted of eight hours of filing at 9 pounds (the best offer I was to get) an hour with a bunch of “fun” Australians at a prestigious architectural firm that had developed projects such as the Millennium Bridge. In order to get this position, the recruiter was looking for one thing, whether I had a sense of humor, thereby being fun to work with. Unfortunately, after my spelling test I was not able to convince the recruiter that I would be a fun person to work with. Also, these recruiters expect a lot of appreciation. If they sense anything less of enthusiastic joy for whatever they have to offer you then it will go to someone that can or at least has the common sense/brains to pretend to be enthusiastic about filling for eight hours and not figure things out a few years later.

Being an American in London is also not an advantage or least it wasn’t for me. I don’t know if the British are still sour over the American Revolution but I found that my American accent was not looked upon highly. It was almost better to be French and barely speak the language than speak English with an American accent. Also, half of Australia and New Zealand and maybe a fourth of Canada are also in London trying to find work with longer work visas than the ones BUNAC provides for Americans plus they do not need to be students or recent graduates, not to mention people from the EU. So as an American, you are literally fifth on the hierarchical employment rung, with Englanders topping the list, then perhaps EU members, then Australians/Kiwis, and finally the Canadians. I put the Australians over the Canadians because as mentioned above Englanders seem to like people from warm weather environments or countries, so the Australians have this advantage over the Canadians.

Ultimately, doing something like the BUNAC involves lots of luck. You can be socially awkward, introverted but if you’re lucky, then BUNAC can work out for you and sometimes amazingly so. Check out some of the stories on the BUNAC website of what sort of jobs other Americans found in the U.K. and you’ll see that some of them had amazingly good luck. But one thing to keep in mind is that if you go into this experience thinking you deserve at least an office job then your attitude will be sniffed out in no time by these temp recruiters and it will lead straight to the Belgian Waffle Company where I eventually worked near the end of my stay flipping waffles and only able to get working hours on Muslim holidays.

Overall, even for individuals that are highly energetic, extroverted with extremely polished social skills, I would suggest not temping. Jobs actually exist where they have someone entering data or filing or faxing or audio-typing for eight hours straight and you can’t even stick something on your forehead that says “I’m on a working holiday.” If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would head straight for a real London experience like working at Harrods or the London Eye or maybe even a pub. The best way to get these jobs is to grab The Loot (a free magazine published in London) right when it comes out in the morning and call immediately and say that you want to work in the children’s shoe department at Harrods or whatever is listed and then lie (unless it’s actually true) and say you’re going to be in London for the next six months (or however long the work visa is now) and that you just arrived.