Cutting the cost of finding work

The irony of finding a job to earn money is that the process itself can be a costly exercise.

For people entering the workforce there is the cost of buying office attire or work tools, the possibility of relocating and travel costs associated with commuting to a new job.

There are also costs for those already employed and switching jobs. However, these may not be as high and there is always the possibility the new employer will cover some expenses.

Work and Income have a range of transition-to-work grants offering financial assistance for those entering employment.

In the past five years the Ministry of Social Development has provided 420,000 people more than $100 million in transition-to-work grants, which averages out at about $250 per person.

The grants cover three categories: job-seeking assistance, job-placement assistance and bridging finance.

Job-seeking assistance payments offer up to $300 in a 52-week period, while up to $1500 a year is available for job-placement and accounts for $66.7m or about two thirds of all transition to work grants. Bridging finance offers up to $250 per week for a maximum of two weeks.

Any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident aged 16 years or older looking for a job, moving into a job, or between jobs can apply for a grant if they meet certain criteria. The job must be for 30 hours or more per week and the applicant must have income and assets under a certain limit.

The money can be used to pay for costs associated with starting work, including relocation, work clothing and safety equipment, travel and bridging finance to help meet living costs until the first pay cheque.

Many of those seeking transition to work grants are students. Massey University career development consultant Grant Verhoeven said the financial situations of graduating students varied greatly "from the student with a $30,000 student loan and $20 in bank, living on toast and baked beans, to a student who has had support through their qualification and comes out debt-free."

Students need to invest in suitable smart clothing for job interviews and any subsequent job. "Office attire comes in two forms, what you need to get an interview and what you need once you get the job."

Being well-presented at an interview was essential to form a good, lasting first impression, Verhoeven said.

To get the most out of study costs, students should use their time wisely while gaining a tertiary education. That included gaining useful work experience and relevant skills before graduating.

"It's not just about getting the degree, it's about developing those skills throughout.

"Be aware it may be hard to get work going into the summer period so start early. Build up the work and contacts as you go through rather than just at the end," Verhoeven said.

While students shouldn't feel they have to accept the first job they get offered, they should be careful about being too aggressive in salary negotiations, he said.

It was important to research the job market to find out what other similar roles were being paid and be open to the negotiation process. Charity Dress for Success helps women who have been out of work for some time or have never worked at all.

It assists women in gaining financial stability by providing free professional clothing, a support network and career development tools.

Dress for Success Auckland executive director Lani French said it helped about 1800 women in the city last year.

As well as providing clothing it also helps women accessorise and feel confident going into a job interview.

"They're completely different women when they leave," French said.

"It's amazing what a transformation it makes to them when they walk out the door.

On average an outfit cost $160, she said.

"We dress them from top to toe."

This included shoes, clothing, handbags and makeup, she said.

Dress for Success also provided free confidence building advice, career advising networks and help with resumes and interview skills.

After women secured a job they could come back for a second dressing and become a member of a Dress for Success women's group, French said.

Many of the women who used the service had never even considered owning a suit before, she said.

The charity operated by donations of clothing, money and contributions from sponsors. French said people often underestimated what was required for women getting back into work such as finding money for child care and travel.

"There's so many costs outside of what they wear every day. It's more about being able to get them contributing back again and feeling valued and worthy."

Employers can also be asked to help cover the costs of starting a new job.

The Inland Revenue Department says any work- related relocation payments made to employees were tax- free to them if certain criteria were met.

Dundas Street Employment Lawyers partner Susan Hornsby-Geluk said employers were not obliged to pay for an employee's relocation costs but there was no harm in asking.

"I don't think any employer is going to be offended.

"It comes down to how much they want the employee and what is negotiated between the parties."

When trying to negotiate relocation costs or compensation there needed to be a degree of realism, she said.

"If the employee is hotly sought after and it's a competitive situation then certainly they should seek relocation costs."

People looking to start a new job by being self employed or a contractor faced significant start-up costs which should be considered, she said.

Such costs included legal and accounting support, information technology and hardware.