This post is being written by request of my most recent WWOOF host. WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is an awesome way to see a country, but it really doesn’t need my promotion. WWOOFing has created quite a name for itself in New Zealand. Pretty much every traveler I’ve come across has at least heard of WWOOFing and many are actively participating or seeking WWOOF opportunities. This is good and bad. It’s great that the community is growing, but it also creates heaps of competition.
My most recent hosts are getting 4-6 requests per day in the summer. Per day. With competition like that, if you’re looking to WWOOF, you really have to put forth the effort and put yourself in the best light possible. I’m looking at you, 18-year-old Germans.
I’ve learned almost every time I come across a traveler while, in New Zealand, 80% of the time they are from German, and 99% of those Germans are under the age of 21. It’s common in Germany for kids to graduate high school and take a gap year working or traveling abroad. The result of this is very young Germans in many countries, especially in New Zealand.
A few days before embarking on my second WWOOF experience, I was speaking with a young German girl who was interested in WWOOFing but was hesitant because she was so young and hosts were likely to assume because of her age she would not be independent or mature enough to do well. I kind of shrugged this off, thinking surely that’s not the case, but then I arrived at my WWOOF host’s house and within a few hours, my host volunteered that the situation the German girl described is exactly the case.
I was a little surprised, to be honest, but he said the young Germans have categorically and consistently been the worst WWOOFers. According to him, they need a lot of direction and with no real work or life experience under their belt yet, they end up causing more trouble than they are worth. My hosts urged me to pass along advice to the next young WWOOF hopeful I meet. He actually encouraged me to start a business and sell my advice (he’s a very entrepreneurial spirited man) but since I don't have the time or interest in doing that, this blog post will have to do. Here are the top tips for landing a WWOOF job in New Zealand, according to a real WWOOF host.
1. Treat your profile as a job application.
If you’ve never held a job before, stop what you’re doing and Google how to write a resume and cover letter. Any advice worth its salt will tell you the meat of your application needs to show that you, the WWOOFer, are providing a service that will make your employer’s life easier. How are you going to solve a problem they have? What skills of value can you provide? WWOOF is great for the cultural exchange aspect of travel but when you get down to it, it’s really a job. The host provides room and board and you provide labor. WWOOF is becoming more popular every day so to stay competitive and land a job, you have to communicate why your abilities are relevant and how you will ultimately benefit your host.
2. Stop writing about how you’re looking to find yourself.
Your host couldn’t care less. They don’t care if you’re on a self-discovery journey to enlightenment. They don’t care if you running away from heartbreak back home. They don’t even care if you’re just trying to figure out what the hell you want to do with your life before you start university.
In fact, double check your entire profile to see if it sounds at all self-centered. If it sounds like you’re putting your needs first, odds are you hosts will hit delete.
“I need accommodation in this area and I’m happy to help out at your house,” or “I want to be near the beach” should not be in your profile or letter to your host.
3. List your skill set.
This seems so obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this. In part, this could be due to the fact that few WWOOFers have any real farm or agriculture experience. That’s totally okay. Most places will teach you the things you need to know about their property. Still, you should list out the things you can do. This could be anything. Maybe you’re good with animals, maybe you can cook, maybe you’re willing to clean, maybe you can provide childcare, maybe you like to work outdoors. If you’re a self-starter and independent worker, say that. Describe your personality in how it relates to your work ethic. This little paragraph about what you can do and what you like to do will get you a long way.
4. If you do have professional work or have studied a particular field, list it.
If you have done any professional work or volunteering, list it on your profile. It may seem completely irrelevant to working, but perhaps your IT experience is a skill they need. Maybe your graphic design skills can help your WWOOF host revamp their website. Maybe your volunteer work at a language exchange center will be useful to them. Your experience sets you apart from everyone else so don’t forget to add this part. If you studied a particular area in school, list that as well.
5. Show that you have read your host’s profile.
No one wants to get a mass copy-and-paste email from a WWOOFer. It’s insincere and will give the impression that surely someone else will host you. Personalize your letter and show you read their profile. Mention things you’d like to get involved with on their property or say how you picture yourself fitting in.
6. Have a few nice photos.
A sunset silhouette shot of your jumping in the air on the beach is probably a very lovely photo, but it does you a disservice on your WWOOF profile. Your hosts want to see a photo of your face. Choose a photo where you are the only person in the picture (or you are easily identifiable). Take a look at a handful of photos of yourself and choose the one where you look the most approachable. I’m not saying you have to have a professional headshot or even don a wide, toothy grin, but your photo should communicate that you’re a friendly person who will fit in nicely in a new, strange environment.
I’m not saying you have to throw out any personality or criteria you might have of your host. At the end of the day, WWOOFing is a two-way street and you need to ensure your needs are met as well as making sure you’re being useful to the host. If you follow the step above, however, you’ll at least be able to get your foot in the door and start a conversation with a host. After that, feel free to run through you WWOOF host checklist and if it’s a match on both ends, go for it! WWOOFing, when done right, can be a truly rewarding experience where you not only get to see another culture first hand but also might pick up a new skill or two.