The workplace in Israel is constantly changing. The market, once characterized by its stability, where the main aspiration was tenure and security, is turning into a dynamic market, characterized by frenetic striving for promotions and constant upward mobility.
Faster, higher, stronger.
Senior professionals, who face the challenge of searching for work each morning, understand that they must prepare themselves in advance. This is done by maintaining a web of connections they can call upon when needed.
'A friend brings a friend'
This is a global trend that came somewhat late to the Israeli market. Yet it is remarkably compatible here due to the market's small size and its characteristic lack of formality.
As a result, we have witnessed a growing trend in recent years, in which most of the senior positions (intermediate level and above) are manned by means of "a friend brings a friend."
Several organizations have set a declared goal of increasing the rate of new employees recruited using this method: mainly to cut costs, but also in the belief that this type of recruitment increases the chances of recruiting successful employees (if only because successful employees will most likely bring their successful friends).
In this reality, those who grew up in Israel naturally have a clear and significant advantage: military service, university, previous work experience, even connections from school and the neighborhood. All of these create an amazing and effective network of acquaintances that, in time of need, translate easily into a new job.
A relative disadvantage
The relative advantage that Israelis have is also a relative disadvantage for new immigrants. Along with the language and cultural barriers comes the need to understand a new market structure: New immigrants face the challenge of developing networks from scratch in a new, unfamiliar environment.
This is quite a challenge.
Part of my job at the nonprofit organization Gvahim, which seeks to assist new immigrants with higher education integrate into the Israeli workforce, is to meet those immigrants facing this complex task: to penetrate the wall surrounding the Israeli market for the first time.
"I wish someone would give me a chance," I often hear. But the tools at their disposal, compared to those of their Israeli counterparts, are very inadequate.
In a market where the rules are based on acquaintances and social networking, no matter what education or experience they may have, native Israelis will always have the upper hand.
Immigrants who invest resources in building their networks can integrate into Israeli society in a relatively short time and find their place in the workforce.
The best advice I can give any newcomer who wishes to build a career in Israel is: connections, connections, connections! Build, develop, maintain and expand them. All the time. This is a significant investment but also one with a high payoff.
However, the immigrant must understand that networking, although a successful and effective tool, requires patience and a lot of hard work. Expecting results after a short period of time is unrealistic and will most likely cause disappointment and despair.
This is an intensive and seemingly never-ending task that consists of building an infrastructure and sowing seeds. If you plant them right, and care for them as needed, they will yield fruit. But this will not happen overnight, and one should have realistic expectations.
A task with no end
First of all, one must understand that networking is a task that does not end with finding a job. Despite having a clear beginning, the task has no end and one must continue to invest time and resources in it throughout one's professional life.
The challenge before us as "senior professionals," especially as immigrants, is to make ourselves visible!
Imagine you have a brand name. What would you do to build, establish, differentiate and make this brand as attractive and recognizable as possible? How would you build your marketing campaign?
You'd most likely start by conducting a market analysis: identifying the target market for the brand, determining the advantage of your brand relative to the competition, etc.
The process is no different for senior professional networking. You must treat yourself as a brand and carefully study the market in which you operate. Conduct an in-depth analysis of the relevant industry: What is the field's character? Who are the key players (companies, position holders, etc.)? Where does the balance of power lie? Which companies lead the field? Which do the most recruiting? In which it is less favorable to work? What are the challenges facing all these companies? What strengths do you have that are of value to them?
A relative advantage
You should also clearly determine what relative advantage you have. This relative advantage is your winning card in your process of self-promotion, and it is your defining value. Try to determine what additional value you present other than professional skill and experience in comparison to your competition: Is it global experience? Contacts in international companies? Languages? Perhaps even knowledge about foreign culture and mentality?
There is no doubt that for multinational companies that have a branch in Israel, or Israeli companies that have targeted the international market, these are all significant strengths, and it is worthwhile to be aware of them and emphasize them accordingly.
The tools at your disposal are first and foremost informational ones such as the Internet, communities and forums. You should, however, try to take the initiative and schedule meetings with elements of your target industry as much as possible. The purpose of these meeting must be clearly defined: to learn and to be advised. Don't be tempted to advertise yourself at this stage. Be patient and perform this task gradually and effectively.
Initially you should invest in understanding the market; only afterward should you start the search itself. Shortcuts in the process are akin to wasting your resources. I heartily recommend avoiding them.
While the appointments with said position holders should be done via your contacts, they should also be done directly. If you present yourself and your goals correctly - sharing, advice, thoughtful consideration - and you leave an impression of confidence, you'll be surprised to find how cooperative Israelis are and how much they love to help out. And, of course, how flattered they are when sought out for advice.
In the second stage, after learning about the market and its needs, you must engage in two parallel but separate courses of action: the contacts channel and the companies channel.
The contacts channel
Even if you are an immigrant, you probably know at least a few people in the local market. Even if you start with only two or three contacts, if you do it right, this number will increase exponentially.
Schedule an appointment with your contacts, tell them that you are in the process of determining a profession and ask them for advice and help. Come to the appointment prepared, with clearly defined goals. During the meeting present your professional background and your goals and ask them for their opinion: where do they think you could integrate and how they could advise you to do so.
Use your aliya story as a connecting factor. Do not hesitate to focus on personal elements. Remember that you are in Israel; here, even the professional is personal.
At the end of the meeting, ask directly how they can help and who they can put you in contact with. The more focused you are and the more accurately you indicate which companies you would like to meet, the more effective the meeting will be. Check with them regarding their preferred means of a follow-up: if it is convenient for them that you call, e-mail, etc.
The companies channel
In addition to the meeting with your contacts, you must act to reach each of your target companies. The tools at your disposal are wide and varied: Check who you know in the workforce of your target companies and ask them to help you open the doors there.
Use professional networks such as LinkedIn and check if your contacts are connected to senior employees in these companies. If they are, ask them to introduce you. If you haven't found a connection, try searching for the employees in the company (either via the company Web site or LinkedIn), find their contact information and contact them directly via e-mail.
Tell them about yourself. Be sure to mention your immigrant status and personal background, and ask how they can help. Always strive for a face-to-face meeting.
The name of the game and the secret to success is the combination of quantity and quality: as many meetings as possible, and as targeted as possible, to maximize effectiveness.
Another channel at your disposal in the marketing campaign you are building is Web 2.0. Today, every self-respecting brand uses the Web platform to sell itself and to spread its message.
Try to be as active as possible on social and professional networks. Connect to LinkedIn, the Marker Cafe and even Facebook. Write a professional blog (even if it's in English). Respond to the content, connect to professional forums and contribute your professional knowledge. Remember that your task is to make yourself visible, and the Internet allows you to advertise yourself to your targeted audience quickly and easily.
It is important to understand that a connection to these channels is not by itself enough. You should be active all the time, initiating and writing, thus establishing your brand's authority in the field.
In addition, stay alert at all times and updated on developments and trends that characterize the professional field to which you belong: Were big deals signed? Which companies issued stocks? Have companies acquired other companies? Have companies raised money? Have certain companies grown? Have new firms entered the Israeli market?
All of these are potential opportunities. The earlier you recognize them, the more you can leverage your knowledge.
Participation in professional conferences is also a complementary tool to gather knowledge and to expand your professional and social network. Map out all the relevant conferences in your field and make an impression. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to those holding key roles and to try to initiate a meeting with them. If you come equipped with the right approach, sooner or later there will be results.
Finally, do not forget: Networking is something that never ends; it requires continuous investment. When you do find a job, call to thank each of the contacts who helped you (including those who helped less). Be sure to contact them from time to time: to update, to catch up and just to chat. Remember that the most effective and powerful networking is built not for immediate payback but eventually serves you well.
Keren Chehanovich is the former general manager of a leading executive search firm in Israel. She currently provides consultancy and business-development services for Small & Medium Business and is a Gvahim board member.