Ten Steps to Finding a Job in Hawaii

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Ten Steps to Finding a Job in Hawaii2017-10-25T18:53:51+00:00

Honolulu from Punchbowl by Kyle Hasegawa is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original

The Best Way in Finding a Job in Hawaii

I’m going to share my secrets on what I believe is the best way in finding a job in Hawaii. By far the most common kind of email we get is “I’m a professional <something> and want to live in Hawaii. How can I find a job doing what I’ve been trained for?”

I’ve lived in Hawaii since 1984, launched half a dozen startup companies and have hired hundreds of people.  Knowing what I know now I can practically guarantee that if you follow each of these ten steps, you will not only find a job in Hawaii, but you will also quickly discover if this place is for you, or rather more accurately, if you’re meant for this place.

Step 1: The most important thing to know when finding a job in Hawaii

If there’s anything you should take away from this page it’s this: the way you will find a great job in Hawaii is by connecting with people who live and work here.  Going through Craigslist ain’t gonna cut it, though you might find some manini (small, insignificant) job to hold you over.  The few good jobs we have here go to people who know people.  Know this: if you can get a solid referral from a solid person in Hawaii, your job prospects will be 1000% higher than someone sending blind emails via LinkedIn or Craigslist.  In other words: get referral, get job in Hawaii.  No referral: good luck with that job hunt.

Step 2: Online is your lifeline to connect with people when finding a job in Hawaii

Now this is one thing I didn’t have in 1984 and OMG if I did!  The Internet is not just your connection for reading articles and blogs about Hawaii.  Far more important is that you can use the Internet to directly connect with people who live in Hawaii.  I can’t overstate how huge this is.  While you will ultimately have to physically be here to make the real connections, you can make a ton of good connections with real people online at all the usual places, especially Facebook and LinkedIn.  You should resolve to make at least 10 but preferably 25-50 connections with people who will recognize your name online. Here’s the test: if one day you meet a person at a party that you’ve conversed with online and introduce yourself, their response should be “Hey!  So nice to finally meet you in person!”. If you can get to that point with 25-50 people I can almost guarantee you’ll get a job in Hawaii.

Step 3: Do your research on your profession when finding a job in Hawaii

You need to become an expert on what’s going on in Hawaii as it relates to your profession. You should know :

  • What the average salary is
  • How many people like you are already employed
  • What the job market is like in terms of supply and demand
  • Who the top 10 employers are
  • What niche you can fill in this market
  • What it’s going to cost you to live here, within a +/- 5% per month accuracy.

Knowing what’s going on in your industry in Hawaii shows that you’re spending the time to get to know this place. You’re already at a disadvantage because you’re an “outsider” and most outsiders don’t stay here too long (which is why we don’t like hiring them). Demonstrate (with actions, not words) that you’re committed to this place and you’ll greatly increase your chances in finding a job in Hawaii.

Step 4: Connect with local communities in finding a job in Hawaii

This goes hand-in-hand with Step 2 above. For your profession, find all possible associations, meetups, luncheons, trade shows, etc.  Once you’ve discovered them, get involved.  Of course you can only do so much if you’re not physically living here, but do whatever you possibly can to connect with as many people as possible and be as genuine and sincere in your desire to help them. By creating these connections you will be in a really good position for a smooth transition to meeting those same people in person when you actually get here.

Step 5: Plan to live on 6 months with no income

You’re going to go through a ton of “birthing pains” when you get here, otherwise known as the “Baptism by Fire”.  Hawaii is going to be a massive change to your life in nearly every way you can imagine: culturally, financially, geographically, physically, etc.  There will be many things to freak out about and the last thing you want to be freaking on is your finances.  Come here expecting to not make a penny for six months. If you did your homework in Step #3 above you will know exactly how much money you will need.

When I came to Hawaii in my early 20s I had about 6 months saved and I’m so glad I did. I starved for nearly a year before I finally found some work that actually paid money. I’d say that today it’s much more financially difficult to get started here than it was back in the 80’s so your planning is that much more vital.

Step 6: Volunteer to help with everything to help finding a job in Hawaii

Assuming you’ve performed all of the above and now you’re physically here, congratulations!  Get ready for your “Baptism by Fire” :)  The best way to connect is to help others. That’s probably a universal rule but here in our island culture, the power and benefit of helping others is magnified by 10x.  Hawaii has tons of non-profit organizations and they are always looking for volunteers of one sort or another. Find your favorites and “Report for Duty”.  Take whatever volunteer position you can. Get busy!  You’ll have plenty of beach and fun time after you’re on your feet and working in a paid job. Until then, pack your schedule with volunteer work. Everyone wants to recruit someone who is busy. Busy people are people in demand. Get busy.

Step 7: Connect and network with everyone when finding a job in Hawaii

As you work your way though the volunteer jobs, build a “Rolodex” of people you meet and do your best to memorize their names, hopes, dreams, and connections. Your phone’s contact list should build rapidly as should your FB and LinkedIn friends.  Remember, this is not about you; it’s about them.  The more you focus on helping others achieve their dreams and aspirations, the quicker you will find yours.

What you will quickly discover in Hawaii is that everyone knows everyone.  And the sooner you become one of those “everyone” people, the sooner you will make all the connections you’ll need to find the job you want.   Here’s how you know your are succeeding: you’ll strike up a conversation with someone new and the two of you will quickly discover people that you both know. When that starts happening often, you know you’re well on your way to becoming part of the crowd.

Step 9: Embrace the culture which will help finding a job in Hawaii

Your goal is to get to know as many people as you can and show them that you are someone embracing our culture and our people.  Embracing Hawaii’s culture is probably a book unto itself so I can’t go into it here but it’s one of the most important things you will need to do in order to be accepted here. Hawaii’s culture is globally unique and by a very large margin. There’s simply no place on earth like this and it’s absolutely definitely not like the US mainland.  While Hawaii is legally part of the United States, it’s culturally nowhere near it.  Genuinely embracing our culture means you will let go of yours. If you can get through this vital step, you have arrived. How long does it take? You’ll find people who will jokingly say that they’ve “Only been here for 15 years” which means to say that Hawaii’s culture is extremely complex and many outsiders have a very difficult time figuring it out.

Step 10: Give back like crazy will definitely help finding a job in Hawaii

I don’t know how much this matters in other parts of the world as I spent my entire adulthood in Hawaii, but giving back to the community here is highly valued. Virtually no one moves to Hawaii for financial gain and certainly no one comes here because it’s cheaper to live.  We’ve come to Hawaii because there is something about this place that has touched the root of our soul and we don’t want to live anywhere else. We struggle mightily to make it work here and because of that, we all help each other through that struggle.  Giving back to Hawaii and it’s people means you’re fully vested in Hawaii’s future.   If you are really meant for this place, you will give it the most important resource in the universe and that is yourself.  Once you fully realize the truth of this, your job and future will be easy. You’ll be “one of us” and probably be helping someone else figure out their way.

Still reading? Then you’ll want to see current job listings!

Browse current Hawaii job listings now


  1. Kristy 12/14/2018 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Been living on Big island for way too long, Kaua’i before that. I need O’ahu now..

    • Peter Kay 12/14/2018 at 11:30 am - Reply

      Going to be a lot easier for you than for folks coming from the mainland. At least you have local ties.

  2. Jonathan 11/01/2018 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Hi Peter,

    I would just like to thank you for writing this article. Very helpful. In due time my girlfriend and I will relocate to Puna. You’ve helped us in making adjustments to our plan. Many thanks again!
    –Jonathan & Annette

  3. Kristi Scharine 10/22/2018 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I’ve been coming to Hawaii since I was 8 years old I’m 34 years old now and I just got back to Hawaii after being away for about 15 years but I still love it, it’s people, culuture, food, and essentially everything about it. I’m hoping to find a CNA job here in the next couple of years. I want to work on the mainland for a year or so so I can get up some savings so that I can afford to live here and pay my bills and be able to live comfortably. Another words hit all my needs and have a some left over for some fun things. I’ve lived and traveled all over the Pacific Rim and Asia. I’m just wondering what you would suggest? Right now I’m in Wisconsin and working as server at a restaurant I will be looking for a CNA job as soon as I pass my licensure test. Just wondering what you would suggest. Thanks! Kristie Scharine

    • Peter Kay 10/22/2018 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Not clear on what you need to know that’s beyond what I listed on this page.

  4. Wookjin Sim 10/19/2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

    My name is Wookjin Sim and I am a native Korean who holds a permanent U.S. resident card and I am currently living in the mainland. I truly wish to get a job and live in Hawaii. I have a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and have some work experience in international sales and marketing here. Do you think if there is any chance for me to get a job at Hotels as I am not a Hawaiian resident?

    • Peter Kay 10/19/2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Follow the steps and you have a good chance. I’d recommend you take the quiz too

  5. Gaurang 10/09/2018 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Hi Peter,

    I am in my 40s, want to relocate to Kauai. Is it good idea to live with roommates? While, working as volunteer and part time jobs.

    • Peter Kay 10/09/2018 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      When was the last time you lived with room mates while you worked part time jobs and volunteered? How far below the poverty line have you lived in the past 5 years?

  6. Mary Ann 09/02/2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

    I work in a hospital as a registered nurse in the Bay Area. I am interested in working for a hospital in Honolulu, how do I get in touch with Kaiser or Queens Medical Center?

    • Peter Kay 09/03/2018 at 11:00 am - Reply

      Not sure what you’re asking for that can’t be handled with a Google search

  7. Amanda 08/26/2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Hi Peter! My husband and I are moving over to Oahu next year. He will have no problem finding a job, as he is a Physical Therapist. I’m a district manager, and I’m sure it’s practically impossible to land a leadership role right off the bat. Are there any recruiters you’d recommend?

    • Peter Kay 08/26/2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      I have several in my network. I’ll message you directly.

  8. Mesake Kolikeirasea Tudrau 08/16/2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Yes very helpful to start with in seeking job opportunity in Hawaii.

  9. Anne 08/15/2018 at 7:46 am - Reply

    Hi, Peter. Recently retired, I’m thinking of buying a little place and living on Oahu or Maui maybe 3 – 6 months out of the year. Any tips for finding parttime employment as a senior?

    • Peter Kay 08/15/2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      I would first find a place to volunteer for 3-6 mos out of year and after you get settled you would be in a good position to find a paying job.

  10. kim McBride 06/26/2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Hello I’m kim Kimakona and my wife is connie we are the McBrides I was able to read your information on what you had to say. I’m a camera man in the film Industry and I’m also a film Editor and I owned my own production company I also have a full 6×12 Grip trailer to film movies and a cameras as well. I started out as still photographer and still do this. So would work be hard for me to find in some local TV station as filed camera operator for them. Thank your for information.

    Kim Kimakona McBride

  11. Jody 02/27/2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Peter!!!! Mahalo for sharing so much! I am now moving from you tube to your website! So much good info here! Jody (Jojo)

  12. Victoria Henry 01/31/2018 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Hi, my family, myself my husband our two children and my mother, are seriously thinking about moving to hawaii in the future. My husband is a paramedic and my mom is a phlebotomist. Is that doable? We currently live in georgia so while we arent used to things like high rent we are used to high power bills and things of that nature.

  13. Shirley 01/09/2018 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Are you hiring??

    • Peter Kay 01/09/2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Lol you missed me by almost 20 yrs, back when I had an army of extremely talented web developers.

    • Peter Kay 01/11/2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Lol well clearly you’re not following the 10 steps!

  14. Marlen Pasquini-Ibach 12/06/2017 at 7:40 am - Reply

    Aloha Peter!
    We enjoy your articles and expertise. We have been going to Hawaii every year on our vacations and there is no other place so beautiful like Hawaii. Finally we will fulfill our dream and move to the Big Island.
    Mahalo for all the mentoring always!

    Marlen and Steven

    • Peter Kay 12/06/2017 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Oh that’s so awesome! Please make sure to share what you learned so we can help others like you. Congrats!

  15. Brad Shunk 12/05/2017 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Is it frowned upon to have foreigners buy properties and businesses for the purpose of eventual sale? I think I would like to come to Hawaii with the ability to buy an existing business and grow it or some properties to fix and sell. However I’d want to maintain the spirit of giving not taking away from the economy but adding to it. What other options are there apart from needing a job first. If I had $250000 how could I start differently than just having to start over. Maybe I could buy run down homes and fix them up with the intention of keeping them affordable for families.???

    • Peter Kay 12/05/2017 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Great question Brad! Though I targeted this piece for those seeking a job, the principles equally apply to investors and business owners as well. Get connected with the local community and you will find a niche you will fit in with. The key is to get connected to community with the right intent in your heart (which you seem to have).

  16. Suzie Hykaway 12/05/2017 at 8:00 am - Reply

    I’m a Canadian citizen with enforcement background as a primary and health coaching as a secondary. Any hope for someone from Canada or in my fields of work? Doubt I would be able to do anything in law enforcement since I’m not a US citizen. I saw RN when I entered health coach into the search but I don’t have any medical training.

  17. Mark Cua 12/05/2017 at 7:28 am - Reply

    Work as a. Line cook in. Ohio I’m 53 I’m I to. Old to. Move I’m. In good health

  18. Terri 11/18/2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

    I was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Now my husband is gone and my children are grown. I would like to move back to Hawaii. I am a disabled veteran. I read your column. How would I get to know someone in Hawaii?

    • Peter Kay 11/18/2017 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Social media is probably the best way and I mention that in the piece.

      • Terri 11/19/2017 at 8:27 am - Reply

        Yes you did mention that in your column.

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